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News Release 16-095

NSF announces $55 million toward national research priorities

EPSCoR RII Track-2 awards build coalitions, train workforce

Researcher Stephen Foulger works at the Advanced Materials Research Lab in Anderson, South Carolina.

Researcher Stephen Foulger works at the Advanced Materials Research Lab in Anderson, South Carolina.

August 22, 2016

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has made 11 awards totaling $55 million aimed at building research capacity to address fundamental questions about the brain and develop new innovations at the intersection of food, energy and water systems.

The cooperative agreements are through NSF's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) as part of its Research Infrastructure Improvement (RII) Track-2 investment strategy. RII Track-2 builds national research strength by initiating collaborations across institutions in two or more EPSCoR jurisdictions. These four-year awards support 27 institutions in 18 eligible jurisdictions.

"These awards represent a tremendous value for the scientific community, as they foster research into some of the most pressing issues facing U.S. society while simultaneously supporting collaborative research programs and workforce development," said Denise Barnes, head of NSF EPSCoR. "Whether by expanding our knowledge of the brain, or by improving how our water, food and energy systems work efficiently together, these projects hold the promise of transforming our daily lives."

The RII Track-2 awards support research while also requiring award recipients to invest in developing a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce -- particularly of early-career faculty researchers.

The project titles, principal investigators, lead institutions, and funding totals for the 11 awards are listed below.

Research into fundamental questions about the brain

Probing and Understanding the Brain: Micro and Macro Dynamics of Seizure and Memory Networks
Leonidas Iasemidis

Institution: Louisiana Tech University

This collaborative project between institutions in Louisiana, Arkansas and Alabama will investigate the origins and impacts of brain seizures associated with epilepsy, a disorder affecting 1 percent of the global population. Epilepsy can serve as a window into brain function because it causes different types of impairment depending on the location of seizures within the brain. In this project, researchers will conduct long-term, in-depth recording and mathematical analysis of neural activity in humans and animals to uncover the causes of seizures, as well as the impacts of seizures on higher brain functions such as memory.

The Creation of Next-Generation Tools for Neuroscience -- Noninvasive Radioluminescence Approaches to Optogenetics
Stephen Foulger

Institution: Clemson University

Optogenetics is a transformative method in neurobiology that uses light to precisely activate neurons. The method is currently limited by the inability of visible light to penetrate deep within the brain. This project brings together a group of uniquely qualified chemists, engineers and neuroscientists from South Carolina, Alabama and New Mexico to overcome that limitation by creating a novel, non-invasive method for optogenetic brain stimulation involving low-dose x-ray activation of radioluminescent nanoparticles.

Neural networks underlying the integration of knowledge and perception
Jared Medina

Institution: University of Delaware

This project brings together an interdisciplinary team of neuroscientists from Delaware, Nevada and Nebraska to probe the complex relationship between existing knowledge and new information obtained through sensory perception. The project establishes collaborative research capacity in neuroimaging, neurostimulation and neuropsychology among the three jurisdictions that will provide training and research support to students and faculty, and serve as a model for multi-institutional consortia.

Neural Basis of Attention
Peter Tse

Institution: Dartmouth College

Focused attention is critical to countless daily tasks, from operating machinery to maintaining safety in high security settings. This project forms a consortium of neuroscientists in New Hampshire, Montana, Rhode Island and Nevada to develop a greater understanding of attention. The goal of this project is to develop a unified model of attention that applies across multiple domains, from single cells to large brain circuits. The consortium expects to establish lasting collaborations, build industrial partnerships, expand the neuroscience workforce, and extend educational opportunities to traditionally disadvantaged groups.

Research at the nexus of food, energy and water

Sustainable socio-economic, ecological, and technological scenarios for achieving global climate stabilization through negative CO2 emission policies
Benjamin Poulter

Institution: Montana State University

This project establishes a coalition to examine the consequences of an economy based on bioenergy and "carbon capture and sequestration" (the process of capturing waste carbon dioxide from power plants and at other sites so the greenhouse gas is kept out of the atmosphere) in the Upper Missouri River Basin. The team, which includes researchers from Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota, seeks to identify a framework of carbon mitigation strategies that would minimize conflicts with food security and clean energy production priorities.

Sensing and Educating the Nexus to Sustain Ecosystems (SENSE)
David White

Institution: Murray State University

This project expands and enhances the capabilities of Kentucky and West Virginia to study surface water, providing a foundation for understanding how agriculture and hydropower production affect water quality. Experts in engineering and aquatic ecology will install more than 30 new measurement systems in hydropower reservoirs and agricultural watersheds across the two states. Studies will focus on identifying the presence, extent and timing of harmful algal blooms as they relate to water quality.

Emergent Polymer Sensing Technologies for Gulf Coast Water Quality Monitoring
Jason Azoulay

Institution: University of Southern Mississippi

This collaboration between Mississippi and Alabama develops advanced polymer-based sensing technologies to detect pollutants in Gulf Coast aquatic ecosystems. Assessing and managing sustainable resource utilization in the Gulf Coast requires rapidly deployable, highly sensitive, specific sensors. The project combines approaches from chemistry, biochemistry, geochemistry, marine science, computational science, polymer science, and engineering to achieve this vision.

Center for a Sustainable Water, Energy, and Food Nexus (SusWEF)
Nelson Cardona-Martinez

Institution: University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez

SusWEF initiates a strategic research and education partnership between researchers in Puerto Rico and South Carolina to address problems at the nexus of food, energy and water systems. The project aims to identify technologies that will lead to more sustainable agricultural practices, increased energy efficiency, and improved soil and water quality.

Improving Water Management, Treatment and Recovery in Oil and Gas Production
Edward Peltier

Institution: University of Kansas Center for Research Inc.

More than 20 billion barrels of water are contaminated in the United States each year as a byproduct of unconventional oil and gas production. This project establishes a collaboration between researchers in Kansas and West Virginia to develop innovations to reduce the need for fresh water in oil and gas production and more safely reuse or dispose of the water used in those operations.

Collaborative Research and Education on Synergized Transformational Solar Chemical Looping and Photo-Ultrasonic Renewable Biomass Refinery
Hongtao Yu

Institution: Jackson State University

This consortium among researchers in Delaware, Mississippi and Wyoming studies the technological potential of novel biochar-based materials for carbon dioxide capture, water purification, and food production. Biochar, a plant-matter based charcoal, is a byproduct of some biofuel production. This project would develop technologies to improve the sustainability of biofuel production and use.

Assembling Successful Structures: Lignin Beads for Sustainability of Food, Energy, and Water Systems
Dorin Boldor

Institution: Louisiana State University Agricultural Center

This partnership between Louisiana and Kentucky researchers seeks to produce advanced materials from lignin, a class of organic polymers found abundantly in plants and particularly in wood. Its goals include deriving value-added chemicals, byproducts of biofuel production that can serve as alternatives for chemicals on which industry depends. The interdisciplinary team of chemists and engineers will perform laboratory studies and computer simulations to provide the foundation for future technologies to enhance sustainable food, energy and water systems.


Media Contacts
Rob Margetta, NSF, (703) 292-2663, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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