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NSF Awards $24 Million in Grants To Promote STEM Workforce

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $24 million in grants for science and engineering researchers to look at infrastructure improvements in Maine, New Hampshire, Nevada, Idaho, New Mexico, South and North Dakota, Vermont, Delaware, and Rhode Island. Examples of projects include research on the creation of bioprocessing technologies for alternative energy production, health of coastal lands, and sustainable, efficient water use.

The funding, dubbed Track-2, which comes from NSF's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), will go toward four regional projects that will each receive up to $6 million over three years. The research will be completed by experts at regional institutions in their respective states.

According to the NSF Web site, Track-2 funding promotes "opportunities for collaborations among EPSCoR jurisdictions in all areas of science, engineering, and education supported by the National Science Foundation. RII Track-2 proposals must describe a clear, comprehensive, and integrated vision to drive discovery, and train a skilled workforce capable of solving science and engineering challenges of regional, thematic, and national relevance."

The projects include:

  • Michael Eckardt of the University of Maine and Jane A. Nisbet of the University of New Hampshire will research complications related to closing of shellfish beds and issuing beach advisories following discovery of significant pathogenic bacteria in coastal regions. While coastal recreation brings in $400 million in Maine and New Hampshire, Eckardt and Nisbet will look at the intersection of science and decision-making when it comes to closing coastal recreation areas. They will begin their work in the Gulf of Maine;
  • Gayle Dana of the Nevada System of Higher Education, Peter Goodwin of the University of Idaho, and William Michener of the University of New Mexico will investigate why "the mechanisms responsible for observed and projected changes affecting water resources in high-elevations are poorly understood, especially with respect to snow, surface and groundwater linkages, and interactions with vegetation." The three states will develop a Western Consortium for Watershed Analysis, Visualization, and Exploration designed to lead to the development of new models looking at water and ecosystem services in local areas;
  • James Rice of South Dakota State University and Philip Boudjouk of North Dakota State University will look at sustainable resources based on biomass processing through the Dakota Bioprocessing Consortium. "Through research and development, DakotaBioCon plans to become a recognized intellectual leader in biomass bioprocessing that can help regional, national and global societies transition to a bio-based economy. DakotaBioCon will facilitate the development of novel bioprocessing technologies for the sustainable production of high-value chemicals and materials from renewable resources. They will have a special emphasis on products derived from crops as economically viable substitutes of imported petroleum-based chemicals," according to a news release from the NSF;
  • Judith Van Houten of the University of Vermont, Daniel Leathers of the University of Delaware, and Jennifer Specker of the University of Rhode Island will look at the interactions among aquatic ecosystems, water quality, and land use. They will investigate how policy makers and managers can make key decisions based on the placement of environmental sensors in each state. "These sensors will yield information about the export of carbon and nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus from the watershed over time, including periods of high or low water flow associated with the storms and droughts that are predicted to become more frequent as climate changes," according to the NSF news release. In addition, the trio will conduct an investigation into how stakeholders could practically use the information collected.

"These RII awards enable diverse teams to leverage the expertise of their individual researchers and delve into solving challenges that have a direct impact on the economies of their regions," said Denise Barnes, head of NSF's EPSCoR program. "With NSF funding, these teams may also create and sustain a diverse STEM-enabled workforce in their regions that contribute to a brighter economic future for America as a whole."

For more information about EPSCoR, visit nsf.gov.

About the Author

Tim Sohn is a 10-year veteran of the news business, having served in capacities from reporter to editor-in-chief of a variety of publications including Web sites, daily and weekly newspapers, consumer and trade magazines, and wire services. He can be reached at timothyjsohn@gmail.com and followed on Twitter @editortim.

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