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NSF Grants Enhance Science and Engineering Research Capacity Across the USA

Published: Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Last Updated: Wednesday, July 24, 2013
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Four projects representing a total of $24 million in new grants aim to inform policy making and address strategic, regional issues.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) today announced funding for four projects aimed at fostering world-class research through regional improvements to research infrastructure. Each of the projects represents a consortium of regional institutions that will receive up to $6 million over a three year period in Research Infrastructure Improvement (RII) Track-2 awards as part of NSF's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).

Together, these RII, Track-2 awards involve researchers from multiple institutions in 10 states and address important research challenges such as the health of coastal lands, sustainable and efficient water use and the development of novel bioprocessing technologies for alternative energy production.

"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."

A brief description of the projects as well as the lead principal investigator and institution for each of the four awards appear below.

Maine and New Hampshire

Michael Eckardt, University of Maine; Jane A. Nisbet; University of New Hampshire

The New England SusTainability Consortium (NEST) will utilize cutting-edge theories and methods from a range of disciplines including the emerging field of sustainability science to tackle problems related to the closure of shellfish beds and posting of beach advisories due to high levels of pathogenic bacteria in coastal regions. With the value of coastal recreation estimated at some $20 billion nationally and $400 million in Maine and New Hampshire, coastal closures represent a significant sustainability problem with complex and interacting economic, social and environmental dimensions. As long-term trends indicate worsening coastal pollution, this research will inform choices and provide a promising model for interactions between science and decision-making.

NEST will mobilize the collective capacity of New England universities and colleges in order to strengthen the connections between science and decision-making. Beginning with Maine and New Hampshire, the team will use the Gulf of Maine as a laboratory to investigate interactions between coupled natural and human systems.

Nevada, Idaho and New Mexico

Gayle Dana, Nevada System of Higher Education; Peter Goodwin; University of Idaho; William Michener, University of New Mexico

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. Idaho, Nevada, and New Mexico will create a Western Consortium for Watershed Analysis, Visualization, and Exploration (WC-WAVE) whose overarching goal is to advance watershed science, workforce development and education with cyber-infrastructure (CI)-enabled discovery and innovation.

WC-WAVE CI will enable researchers to create better models to understand the processes that govern a large proportion of water and ecosystem services to communities. These systems are affected by climate change, which impacts the water storage, flow moderation and water quality improvement. Interactions among precipitation, vegetation growth, fire regime, soil moisture, runoff and other landscape properties create systems in which even subtle changes in climate may lead to significant environmental and economic impacts.

South Dakota and North Dakota

James Rice, South Dakota State University; Philip Boudjouk, North Dakota State University

The Dakota Bioprocessing Consortium (DakotaBioCon) brings together researchers from two neighboring states, North Dakota and South Dakota, to develop sustainable resources based on biomass processing. Bioprocessing of renewable resources addresses strategic national security priorities by reducing national dependence on imported oil and creating new jobs.

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.

Vermont, Delaware and Rhode Island

Judith Van Houten, University of Vermont; Daniel Leathers, University of Delaware; Jennifer Specker, University of Rhode Island

Collaborative research in Vermont, Delaware, and Rhode Island will address and integrate two grand challenges in environmental science and management: the complex interactions among land use, water quality and aquatic ecosystems; and how this knowledge can be used by managers and policy makers to inform decisions about resource management. The research will involve the placement of an extensive network of environmental sensors in key areas 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.

At the same time, the researchers will conduct a series of laboratory and field experiments and agent-based modeling to determine how stakeholders will accept and use the data collected by the sensor network. The overarching goal is to assist stakeholders in their policy-making by linking the results of experimental economics analysis of environmental data to environmental governance and market mechanisms designed to sustain and improve water quality and quantity.

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