WASHINGTON, D.C. (Aug. 6, 2014) — Six jurisdictions have received Research Infrastructure Improvement (RII) Track-1 awards from the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).
The $20 million awards will bolster science and engineering academic research infrastructure in the U.S. Virgin Islands and five states: Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota. Each five-year award will support fundamental research; science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and workforce development in areas relevant to the jurisdictions' economic and other vital interests.
"These projects exemplify the national imperative to engage in cutting edge research, provide educational opportunities for future generations of scientists, stimulate the economy and create jobs," said Denise Barnes, head of NSF's EPSCoR program. "Additionally, these projects are impressive in their complexity, state-wide scope and integration of individual researchers, institutions and organizations as well as in their role in developing the diverse, well-prepared, STEM-enabled workforce necessary to sustain research competitiveness and economic growth."
Each award targets technologically relevant strategic themes. The research, education and outreach activities also consider economic and environmental factors related to the consequences of climate disruption. Several jurisdictions are tackling the scientific underpinnings of sustaining crop yields for agricultural production (Missouri, South Dakota and North Dakota); two jurisdictions are focusing on coastal ecological challenges (Maine and the U.S. Virgin Islands). Energy and sustainable materials with a focus on economic drivers and end-users are central themes for two jurisdictions (Kentucky and North Dakota).
A summary of each award is provided below in alphabetical order by jurisdiction.
Kentucky — University of Kentucky Research Foundation, PI: Rodney Andrews
Kentucky faces significant challenges as the energy economy transitions from traditional coal mining to renewable resources. Kentucky's RII award, "Powering the Kentucky Bioeconomy for a Sustainable Future," will focus on bio-inspired nanocomposite membranes, biomass feedstocks and electrochemical energy storage. The project will drive and accelerate the growth of the emerging bioeconomy within Kentucky through statewide multi-institutional interdisciplinary collaborations that incorporate elements of chemistry, biology, physics and engineering. Strong ties between academic research and industry will confront the Green Grand Challenge, help train students and create jobs for an increasingly larger and diverse science, technology, engineering and mathematics educated workforce. The project provides a STEM-based educational framework that will encourage meaningful participation of under-represented and minority student populations in the emerging knowledge-based economy.
Maine — University of Maine, PI: Michael Eckardt
Maine's coastal communities and ecosystems face increasing pressure due to climate disruption, sea-level variability, declining fish stocks, erosion of long standing traditions and shifts in socio-economic conditions. These concerns are shared by coastal communities throughout the world. Maine's RII award will explore critical benefits of coastal resources through establishing the Sustainable Ecological Aquaculture Network (SEANET). SEANET focuses on the interdependencies and sustainability of coastal ecosystem services, urbanization, commercial fisheries, aquaculture developments and coastal recreation in the context of social-economic demographics. This award is a multi-institutional, public-private partnership that uses Maine's 8,000 kilometer (4,971 mile) coastline as a living laboratory to study physical oceanography, biophysical, biogeochemical, socio-economic and policy interactions that have local, bioregional, national and global implications. Educational and outreach activities will focus on providing research and field-based experiences that engage underrepresented groups in SEANET. Workforce development activities will be integrated with the research, education and outreach components of the award to promote interest in sustainable marine resource careers.
Missouri — University of Missouri-Columbia, PI: John C. Walker
The increasing incidence and severity of drought has serious consequences for agricultural sustainability. Missouri's RII award, "The Missouri Transect: Climate, Plants and Community," focuses on improving the capacity of plants and crops to adapt to climate variability. The award integrates high-resolution climate data, high-throughput genomics and phenomics with stakeholder engagement. Studies of plant responses to drought will be coupled with seasonal-range climate forecasts, computational analysis and modeling of metascale environmental sensing data to improve agricultural resilience to the weather and climate-induced stressors that affect water availability, soil moisture and crop yields. The multi-institutional award includes researchers and students from universities across the state of Missouri. The new knowledge about adaptation and resilience will be translated into learning tools and opportunities that inform Missouri citizens about climate variability and its predicted impact on agriculture and natural resources.
North Dakota — North Dakota State University, PI: Philip Boudjouk
Agriculture, energy and advanced manufacturing economies in North Dakota will be strengthened through research lead by "INnovative and Strategic Program Initiatives for Research and Education-North Dakota" (INSPIRE-ND). The award will focus on the effects of climate change on the nation's food and biofeedstocks and develop sustainable and economically viable materials. INSPIRE-ND participants will conduct fundamental and applied research on regional climate and sustainable materials sciences. Research activities are integrated with workforce development and STEM education. The award will enhance the scientific computing infrastructure in North Dakota. The multi-institutional award includes North Dakota's comprehensive research universities and undergraduate institutions, community colleges, tribal colleges and private industry partnerships.
South Dakota — South Dakota State University, PI: James Rice
The emerging knowledge economy in biosciences is the impetus for South Dakota's award, "Biochemical Spatiotemporal NeTwork Resource" (BioSNTR). BioSNTR will apply imaging and molecular biology to predict cell functions, signaling processes and growth-factors. BioSNTR's capacity to map biochemical molecular circuitry will advance the science and technology of high-yield crop production and cellular mechanisms that affect human and animal health. BioSNTR involves research universities, undergraduate institutions, tribal colleges and universities, independent research laboratories and businesses. This award will provide opportunities for students at the high school, undergraduate and graduate levels to engage in research, workforce development and scientific innovation. BioSNTR's transdisciplinary, multi-institutional bioscience research and education activities will promote collaborations among South Dakota's universities, undergraduate institutions, tribal colleges and private research organizations. Training of students at all levels (K-12, undergraduate, graduate and postdocs) will create a strong and diversified STEM workforce to advance innovation in the state.
U.S. Virgin Islands — University of the Virgin Islands, PI: Henry Smith
The U.S. Virgin Islands (VI) encompasses a group of small tropical islands located in the Caribbean Ocean, over 1,100 miles from the southeastern U.S. coastline. The Virgin Islands support an array of biodiverse ecosystems that are vulnerable to impacts from multiple environmental, weather, climate, social and economic perturbations. A key concern is the capacity for coral reefs to adapt to changing water quality. This award will develop, test and evaluate climate change mitigation strategies with a focus on coral reef ecosystems and the stewardship of natural resources. The VI Institute for STEM Education Research and Practice will develop best practices to meet formal and informal education needs relevant for developing workforce capacity in the territory and beyond.
EPSCoR is a program designed to fulfill NSF's mandate to promote scientific progress nationwide. Twenty-eight states, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam are currently eligible to participate in elements of the program. Through this program, NSF establishes regional partnerships with government, higher education and industry that effect lasting improvements in a state's or territory's research infrastructure and research and development capacity, and hence, its academic competitiveness.