June 17, 2016 The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Hawai'i, Nebraska and Vermont $20 million each through its Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), which promotes world-class research nationwide.
The five-year Research Infrastructure Improvement (RII) Track-1 awards will bolster science and engineering research infrastructure at multiple institutions within each of the three states. The awards are aimed at expanding research frontiers and developing a diverse and nimble workforce trained in STEM disciplines through innovative combinations of research, education and public outreach.
"These awards exemplify the kind of collaborative, innovative research that EPSCoR stimulates," said Denise Barnes, Head of NSF EPSCoR. "They target critical regional priorities, including improving crop productivity and security, understanding and adapting to changing environmental conditions, and maintaining a safe water supply. By tackling locally relevant issues, the researchers and students engaged in these projects build a foundation for improved education and economic development in these states, while also advancing scientific research both nationally and internationally."
All three projects will advance fundamental research at the interface of science and society in ways that can be applied to other regions and pressing issues across the country and globally.
Hawai'i and Vermont are developing innovative approaches to ensure sustainable water supplies in the face of intensive land use and climate change. Hawai'i focuses on understanding how the state's unique volcanic geology influences groundwater features, while Vermont is concentrating on surface water in forested and agricultural areas. Nebraska will establish a Center for Root and Rhizobiome Innovation to develop tools and technologies for more rapid, precise and predictable improvement of crops to increase production and resilience to climate change.
Each award is organized into research themes that align with the individual state's most recent science and technology plan. An overarching theme across the three awards is to promote the transition to a knowledge-based economy by building research and data analysis capacity and through workforce development. These aims will be achieved through partnerships between academic, industrial, private and governmental institutions.
In addition to fostering cutting-edge research, these EPSCoR RII Track-1 projects include multiple elements to enhance STEM education, inclusion of diverse populations, and the professional success of early-career scientists and engineers. The lead institutions and principal investigators for the three awards are listed below.
University of Hawai'i (Gwen Jacobs, Principal Investigator)
This project addresses the critical need for Hawai'i to maintain its supply of fresh water, most of which comes from groundwater sources that are under increasing pressures from population growth, economic development, and climate change. The project will provide detailed understanding of the underground geologic features that determine the flow paths of subsurface water, which are particularly complex in Hawai'i due to its volcanic origins and subsequent history. The project will be administered by the University of Hawai'i System through its campuses at Mānoa and Hilo. Other participants include Hawai'i's community colleges and Chaminade University, a private institution serving Native Hawai'ians. The project team will also engage and collaborate with federal, state and local agencies and community groups concerned with water management. Training and education initiatives will prepare a diverse workforce capable of meeting the research and policy-making challenges of the future.
University of Nebraska (Fred Choobineh, Principal Investigator)
The Center for Root and Rhizobiome Innovation will greatly improve knowledge of how plants interact with their environment via their root systems and associated nitrogen-fixing bacteria. A deeper understanding of the plant-root system will enable new technologies to provide society with more secure and resilient crops. The Center will involve researchers with expertise across diverse disciplines, including plant biology, microbiology and chemical ecology. In addition to its research agenda, the project will include programs to improve the quality and accessibility of STEM education across grade levels throughout the state. The project will be administered by the University of Nebraska and will include participants from its Lincoln, Kearney and Medical Center campuses. Also participating in the project are Doane College, a Primarily Undergraduate Institution, and two Tribal Colleges -- Little Priest Tribal College and Nebraska Indian Community College.
University of Vermont (Judith Van Houten, Principal Investigator)
The Lake Champlain Basin is an enormous economic and ecological asset to Vermont, but the lake and surrounding area are increasingly under threat from extreme weather events. Adaptive strategies are needed to increase resiliency of the combined social-ecological system and protect lake and drinking-water quality. This project will support collaborative, team-based research in ecology, hydrology, social science and modeling. The project will advance the field of coupled social-environmental system research and the development of Integrated Assessment Models to enable managers and policy makers to assess a range of adaptive management strategies. Hands-on activities will engage and interest middle-and high-school students in STEM and lead to advanced training for a new generation of STEM researchers. Six Vermont universities and colleges will participate, led by the University of Vermont, with Castleton University, Lyndon State College, Johnson State College, Middlebury College, and Saint Michael's College.
EPSCoR fulfills the foundation's mandate to promote scientific progress nationwide. Twenty-five states, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam are currently eligible to compete for EPSCoR funding. Through this program, NSF enables development of regional partnerships involving government, higher education, industry and the private sector to effect lasting improvements in a state's or territory's research infrastructure and research and development capacity, and hence, its academic competitiveness.