NSF EPSCoR: Enhancing Alabama’s Capacity in Nano/Bio Science and Sensors  (Grant # EPS– 1158862)


Principal Investigator: Dr. Mahesh Hosur, Tuskegee University
Co-Principal Investigators:  Drs. Frank Bartol (Auburn Univ.), Chris Lawson (Univ. of Alabama at Birmingham), Anup Sharma (Alabama A & M Univ.), and Karen Boykin (Univ. of Alabama Tuscaloosa)

The Alabama Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (ALEPSCoR) Research Infrastructure Improvement (RII) award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) (2008-2013 performance period) has created an integrated, statewide partnership among multiple academic institutions, including: Alabama A&M University (AAMU), Auburn University (AU), Tuskegee University (TU), the University of Alabama (UA), the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), and the University of South Alabama (USA).

 ALEPSCoR-RII-3 aims to enhance research capacity and competitiveness in the emerging, interdisciplinary area of nano/bioscience and sensors. This focus was developed via statewide efforts over the past several years aimed at identifying strengths and opportunities in Alabama that could be best built upon to enhance research capacity and competitiveness.

 

Mission of the Alabama EPSCoR RII-3 is to establish a multi-campus nano/bio science and sensor research and education infrastructure for the State of Alabama that will allow researchers and research centers to be nationally competitive and ultimately self-sustainable.

 

The Alabama EPSCoR RII-3 Vision is to enable internationally-competitive nano/bio research and contribute significantly to science and technology-related education, outreach, and economic development in Alabama.

 In order to achieve the vision, a set of coordinated research and education activities, and capacity-building strategies are conducted by four interrelated, multi-institutional thrust areas coupled to cross-cutting outreach initiatives. Tuskegee faculty members are involved in two of these thrusts.

 The Nano and Biomaterials  Research Thrust, led by Dr. Mahesh Hosur at TU, involves the development of new nanostructured materials with enhanced thermal, physical, mechanical, and biodegradable properties. The tasks being carried out are divided in three main areas: polymeric nanocomposites, advanced green composites, and synthesis of nanoparticles for drug delivery applications

 The Biotechnology Research Thrust, led by Dr. Frank Bartol and Dr. Raymond Henry at Auburn University (AU), is developing and using organismal models to identify mechanisms of adaptation to natural and manmade environmental challenges that enable development and testing of nanomaterials and nanoscale devices. The Biotechnology Thrust serves as the life sciences arm of the ALEPSCoR Bio-Nano Program. 

 The Optics and Sensors Research Thrust, led by Dr. Chris Lawson at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) in association with UA involves research into a wide range of new spectroscopy based tools for analysis of organic and inorganic materials.

 The Nanofabrication Research Thrust, led by Dr. Anup Sharma at AAMU, is applying cutting-edge nanoengineering to develop molecular sensors, regimented nanomaterials and nanostructures with applications in chemical, biological, and thermo-electric devices.

All these thrust areas have education and outreach activities which focus on coordinating and collecting data on
education, diversity, outreach/partnering, and workforce development efforts in the state relevant to the science and technology foci of ALEPSCoR-RII-3. The broader impacts goal of the education, outreach and diversity program is to ensure that research and information generated by the ALEPSCoR program is broadly and widely disseminated in a clear and accessible manner, and that it functions to stimulate the student pipeline into STEM programs feeding into NBS.  Expanded contact allows for increasing demographic, geographic, institutional, and curricular diversity. Together, the thrust leaders have organized and participated in outreach activities such as the Research Experience for high school students, Research Experience for Teachers, Research Experience for Undergraduates, the Teaching Enhancement Award (TEA) program, and Science and Technology Open House. These activities have seen participation from all thrust areas where the faculty members have addressed an audience including community leaders, K-PhD students, and elementary-through-high school teachers. Other NSF funded programs at TU including MSP, CREST, HBCU-RISE, and PREM have been and will continue to be leveraged to carry out these activities. The newly funded math and science partnership (MSP) spearheaded by Tuskegee researchers provides an opportunity for the STEM faculty to develop modules that is being introduced in the middles school science curriculum in the black belt region of Alabama.

 Alabama State Support to NSF EPSCoR through Graduate Research Scholars Program

Graduate students who represent the next generation of researchers and innovators are critical to the advancement of Alabama’s high-tech human resource capacity. To assist our institutions of higher education in training this next generation of scientists and engineers, investments are required to attract the brightest and best scholars who will contribute to the state’s vision of economic growth and prosperity. Since its inception 2006, the Alabama Legislature has supported EPSCoR research in the state via the Graduate Research Scholars Program (GRSP), funding more than 130 exceptional graduate students during that period. Students are selected competitively by a team consisting of one campus coordinator from each Ph.D. granting institution in the ALEPSCoR Program. Renewals are granted subject to satisfactory progress in a given year and available funding. The goal of the ALEPSCoR GRSP is to invest in Alabama universities to expand research output and attract eminent senior faculty and quality graduate students. The program objective is to provide a highly trained workforce to fuel the growth of high technology companies in Alabama. The quality of work generated as part of the first six funding rounds was both cutting-edge and novel. Encouraged by the success of the program, researchers have leveraged state funds with other research based resources to supplement the GRSP Program and increase participation in the program. The next GRSP award competition will take place in May 2013 for effective award starting in Fall 2013 for up to one year period.

 Since the GRSP program’s inception, 168 students have been supported with a state investment nearing $6M. It is critical to note that of these 168 graduate students supported by the state funded GRSP program, 106 students were associated with NSF RII grants for total of $3.6 M. Thus, the state funded GRSP program has provided critical graduate student support for performing NSF RII research. This state support for NSF RII research has led to the achievement of 51 Ph.D. and 22 M.S. degrees as of the end of 2012 for students performing NSF RII research. During FY 2012-13 alone, Round 7 of the GRSP is supporting 42 students, 22 of which are associated with the NSF RII grant.

 Thus, the state supported GRSP program is providing vital support for graduate students performing RII research, i.e., students performing research in those areas targeted by the state as high priority development areas. 

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