West Virginia University will use nearly $10 million from a National Science Foundation grant awarded Monday to uncover cutting edge ways to enhance public and environmental safety, prepare a workforce for new high tech jobs, inspire teaching careers and implement improvements to high performance scientific computing.

The Research Infrastructure Improvement grant, announced by U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, is the largest NSF award in West Virginia history and was officially given to the West Virginia Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research. WVU will play a key scientific role in the work that will fuse nanotechnology and biology to focus on applications that will help protect America from threats to public safety and the environment.

Additional objectives of the project are to improve science education, workforce development and broaden diversity. WVU will receive nearly $10 million over five years for its part of the overall $20 million initiative. Other recipients include Marshall University and West Virginia State University.

“This $20 million National Science Foundation grant, focused on bionanotechnology, will build our research capacity, contribute to job growth and ultimately change lives for the better,” said WVU President James P. Clements. “The good news about EPSCoR comes on the heels of another prestigious NSF award to WVU, the ADVANCE grant, which will help us further advance diversity and enhance our competitiveness in the sciences.

“I want to offer a huge thank you to Sen. Rockefeller for his leadership on science and research, and for his tireless efforts to increase funding for the EPSCoR Program,” Clements said. “I congratulate the team of faculty who, along with staff from the Higher Education Policy Commission and the state EPSCoR office, developed a winning proposal. I am especially proud of and grateful to the WVU researchers who worked long and hard to make this accomplishment possible.”

David Lederman, Robert C. Byrd Professor of Physics in the WVU Eberly College of Arts and Sciences is the technical co-principal investigator on the project.

“The main objective of the project is to create an interdisciplinary center based on bionanotechnology that focuses on the basic science and engineering required for portable sensors to detect environmental threats and portable biometric devices,” he explained.

He said there are several target applications for the research including: sensors that can detect environmental contaminants near industrial areas before they become a public threat; sensors that assess whether new nanomaterials are toxic; and sensors that use DNA or protein recognition techniques to quickly identify individuals that could pose a security threat.

Curt M. Peterson, WVU vice president for research and economic development is a co-principal investigator on the grant. He said the efforts build upon significant expertise developed during the past four years. He said the new award complements new faculty hires, shared cutting-edge experimental facilities and development of student research projects.

“A second major goal of this project is to develop a West Virginia workforce prepared to succeed in a high technology based economy,” Peterson said. “This effort will allow students, faculty and staff at WVU, Marshall University and West Virginia State University to perform important and transformative science, technology and education projects that will benefit the public and lead to economic development while, at the same time, leading to improved public security and environmental safety.”

The effort will also enhance the quantity and quality of teachers in science, technology, and mathematics by offering comprehensive graduate and undergraduate education experiences and programs in introductory physics and chemistry for West Virginia educators.

The roster of WVU researchers involved with the initiative gives testimony to the multidisciplinary nature of the research. Key WVU personnel, in addition to Lederman, include: Larry Hornak, professor in the Lane Computer Science and Electrical Engineering department of the College of Engineering and Mineral Resources; Nick Wu, associate professor in CEMR’s Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department; Peter Gannett, associate chairman of Pharmaceutical Science; Yon Rojanasakul, professor of Pharmaceutical Science; professor of Pharmaceutical Science; Jeffrey Carver, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction literacy; Paul Miller professor of physics; James Lewis, associate chair, department of physics, cyberinfrastructure coordinator; and Lisa Holland, associate professor in the C. Eugene Bennett department of chemistry, graduate eduation coordinator and bioengineering facility coordinator.

In the three participating institutions, WVU, Marshall and WV State, the project will translate into new faculty positions, laboratory equipment and cyberinfrastructure improvements on the three campuses, as well as five post-doctoral positions and 40 graduate students.

With $2 million in matching funds from the state of West Virginia and $2 million from participating universities, this $24 million project begins immediately and will continue for five years. The state’s winning proposal, officially titled “Bionanotechnology for Enhanced Public Security and Environmental Safety,” involves 42 senior faculty collaborators and nearly two dozen support staff from the Higher Education Policy Commission and institutions.

“When an investment of this magnitude is made in West Virginia, the story doesn’t end with the amount written on the check,” said Rockefeller, a long-time champion of EPSCoR.

“This is about research, innovation and creating good jobs – I have every confidence that we will see this award intensify as faculty members are recruited, research ramps up and new discoveries are made. This is seed money for greater technology-based economic development in West Virginia and it’s a testament to the progress we’ve already made.”

“Higher education fuels economic development nationwide, and this precisely the type of infusion that helps West Virginia grow and diversify,” said Gov. Joe Manchin. “I am truly proud of our faculty members who compete on such an impressive level. In addition, I thank our congressional delegation for their steadfast leadership on EPSCoR, which has allowed our state to compete for federal research dollars time and again.”



CONTACT: Gerrill Griffith, WVU Research Corp.
304-293-3743; gerrill.griffith@mail.wvu.edu

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