A major grant announced Wednesday (June 7) by the National Science Foundation and Gov. Joe Manchin will enable West Virginia University to hire additional faculty to advance nanoscience, engineering and education in the state, officials said.


The $9 million science and technology grant, the largest ever awarded by NSF to West Virginia, will go to WVU , Marshall University and West Virginia State University over a three-year period. The state will match it with an additional $4.5 million, bringing the total to $13.5 million.


�€?This award is going to enable WVU to fill nine new faculty positions to further advance our commitment to research and education in the areas of nanoscience and engineering,�€? said WVU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Gerald Lang.


�€?We truly appreciate the support of the Foundation and the state. These funds will complement and add to the University’s significant financial investment in these areas.�€?


Nanotechnology involves the observation and manipulation of material smaller in size than a wavelength of light. One nanometer is one-billionth of a meter. In comparison, a human hair is about 100,000 times as wide.


WV Nano is a campus-wide, interdisciplinary program aimed at advancing nanoscience, engineering and education, and is driven by faculty across the physical and health sciences and engineering. It focuses on existing research strengths, including cancer cell biology. Other focus areas have the potential to link with and advance forensics and biometrics research, both major University initiatives.


Larry Hornak, a professor in WVU ’s Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, is the University’s lead scientist on the grant. He also is interim director of WV Nano.


�€?This award expands WV Nano to a statewide scope, advancing our core nanoscience and engineering foundation,�€? Dr. Hornak said. �€?This includes people, tools and systematic operational changes to enable interdisciplinary work at the schools, modeled after those pioneered by WV Nano over the past two years.


�€?While the people and tools it will bring on campuses will accelerate the efforts of all research in various areas of the nanosciences and engineering, this particular project focuses on molecular recognition,�€? Hornak added.


Molecular recognition is an extension of biometrics to the molecular level through exploration of new biosensing technologies that combine advanced materials and integrated device concepts with biomolecular science and technology, he explained.


�€?Advances in these areas will have widespread impact in security, health, energy and environmental applications,�€? he noted.


The award also focuses on strengthening and broadening participation in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines among women and other underrepresented groups, one of the primary criteria for receipt of an NSF award. This will be accomplished by a collaborative program among the three participating universities to encourage undergraduate and graduate study within STEM disciplines that support research and education in nanoscience and engineering.


The grant will be administered by West Virginia Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, also known as WV EPSCOR .