Wilson awards $425K to campus research projects

Three Amherst campus projects this week received $425,000 in grants from President Jack M. Wilson as part of an effort to spur research and innovation across the five-campus system.

“If Massachusetts is to remain a global economic leader, public and private higher education institutions must join with the business community and the Commonwealth to invest in innovation,” Wilson said. “These awards position the University to attract greater federal and private support, and build on the successes of our chancellors as they strengthen UMass campuses in fields critical to the economic future of every region of our Commonwealth.”

The largest of the three campus grants -- $200,000 -- was awarded to MassNanoTech, an interdisciplinary research center established earlier this year to study nanoscale fabrication and development. The funds will also support the establishment of a university-industry consortium with leading Massachusetts and out-of-state companies and development of a $15 million proposal to the National Science Foundation for a nanoscale science and engineering center. This proposal builds on the work of 25 scientists from three different colleges who have attracted more than $22 million in research and development since 1997, placing UMass Amherst number seven on the national list for nanotechnology research. The project is led by professor James Watkins, Chemical Engineering, and Mark Tuominen, associate professor of Physics.

A grant of $125,000 will support the development of the Security, Emergency Preparedness and Response Institute (SEPRI), an interdisciplinary organization researching issues of security, preparedness and emergency response to threats and disasters. The intent is to position SEPRI to win an $18-million Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence grant for emergency response management and to compete for other opportunities.

The technical focus would be on directed decision-making and networking in support of emergency preparedness needs. The campus has prepared the groundwork for this activity over the past year by organizing faculty, developing links with other universities, agencies and companies; and positioning itself to compete in emerging federal competitions. The project is led by professor Abhi Deshmukh, associate professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering.

The BayState Medical/UMass Amherst Biomedical Research Institute received $100,000 to advance the Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Initiative, which is building a biotechnology cluster in Western Massachusetts. This proposal builds on a successful record of research collaboration between the Amherst campus and Baystate Medical Center in Springfield. The award will position the institutions to compete for state and federal research and development funds. The project is led by Biology professor Lawrence Schwartz.

Wilson announced the grant program in January after the governor and lawmakers passed legislation designed to build the state’s research capacity. Leading policy and business organizations such as MassInsight Corporation and the Massachusetts High Technology Council have also been making the case for a coordinated science and technology strategy to maintain the state’s competitive edge.

“These grant awards make UMass an even bigger player in the state’s science and technology marketplace,” said Mass. High Technology Council president Christopher R. Anderson. “Maximizing the UMass system’s collaborations with the state’s diverse technology economy and private universities will allow it to compete with any state university system in the nation – a goal that must be achieved for Massachusetts to meet its future economic and technological potential.”

Other awards included $250,000 for biomedical imaging collaborations by the UMass Medical School; $150,000 to UMass Lowell to assist in the planning for a bio-pharmaceutical center; $90,000 for the Intercampus Graduate School of Marine Science and Technology to develop major proposals for state and federal funding of research related to ocean monitoring, sensors, modeling and imaging; and $100,000 to the Dartmouth and Boston campuses’ Marine Information Technology Initiative, an effort aimed at adapting information and technology developed over decades by the U.S. Navy to address port security problems in homeland defense.