In 2016, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded $20 million in EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Improvement (RII) Track-1 funding to a Nebraska team for five years of collaborative research on soil-plant systems, focusing at the root and rhizobiome level: to improve maize varieties’ performance to better feed the world’s growing population. Via NSF’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) operations, this project (#1557417) establishes a Center for Root and Rhizobiome Innovation at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), engaging researchers from UNL, University of Nebraska at Kearney, Doane University, and the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Maize, or corn, is the primary subject of study, though the research aims to transfer to other crops. CRRI plant scientists, microbiologists, biochemists, geneticists and ecologists pursue systems-level understanding of root metabolism by comparing plants’ variation and performance connection to root exudates and rhizobiome diversity. In developing and applying synthetic biology tools to root-rhizobiome interactions, the Nebraska team assesses plants’ responses to root exudate compositions and environmental stresses.
In 2014, NSF awarded nearly $6 million to Nebraska and Kansas for collaborative research, through an EPSCoR RII Track-2 award.
For this project—Imaging and Controlling Ultrafast Dynamics of Atoms, Molecules, and Nanostructures (#1430493)—physicists, chemists, and electrical engineers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Kansas State University and the University of Kansas work together to advance the imaging and control of how light interacts with matter. The work aims to benefit laser technology, solar energy capture, nanotechnology, and optogenetics (the neuroscientific study of genetically light-sensitized neurons).
In addition to the research, the consortium’s planned education, outreach, and workforce development activities involve partnerships with small colleges in Nebraska and Kansas, summer workshops for high school physics teachers, and a variety of programs for students. The grant was one of three science and engineering regional consortia to receive funding totaling nearly $18 million for 2014-17 through NSF EPSCoR.
In 2013, the National Science Foundation awarded an RII Track-3 grant, Framing the Chemistry Curriculum (#1348382), to develop a sustainable two-semester chemistry course sequence at Nebraska Indian Community College (NICC) and Little Priest Tribal College (LPTC). Mark Griep, a professor of chemistry at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) is the principal investigator. He leads a group guiding course creation and implementation with topics relevant to the Native American community. In this work, case studies become laboratory modules that integrate with other STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) learning for broader impacts. The “Framing” labs advance Native Americans’ pursuit of higher education in STEM fields, for a stronger STEM workforce. The project’s methods and assessment track measurable outcomes shared through outreach, publications in tribal college and science education literature, and presentations.
In 2010, Nebraska gained an NSF EPSCoR Track C2 award, #1010094, to expand cyberinfrastructure for targeted educational purposes throughout the state. Funding for NeURON—the Nebraska University Regional Optical Network—extended a fiber optic backbone ring that started with programs in Lincoln and Omaha. The project’s multiphase plan, led by the University of Nebraska, upgraded internet connections at many of the state’s small and tribal colleges, and enhanced high-bandwidth connections for the state’s research universities. The results allow for advanced computational collaborations for high-energy physicists and other researchers, and additional distance learning offerings by smaller colleges. NEURON’s final stage extended high bandwidth capability to the Grand Island (central Nebraska) area, which enabled upgrades at educational operations in the western part of the state, including 200 K-20 sites as well as the Nebraska Statewide Telehealth Network.
A three-year NSF RII Track-2 grant (#1010674) was awarded to Nebraska for building a consortium of five universities and two computing centers in Nebraska (NE) and Puerto Rico (PR). This consortium, Collaborative Research for Cyberinfrastructure-enabled Computational Nanoscience For Energy Technologies, brought together the expertise and resources of both jurisdictions to form a critical mass of computational materials scientists. The project developed an adaptive cyberinfrastructure that provided access to local and national computing resources, and research-based education for postdoctoral fellows, graduate and undergraduate students in computational nanoscience. The consortium enabled new collaborative cutting-edge research in energy technologies, expanded opportunities for research in four-year colleges, and increased participation of underrepresented groups in STEM fields in both Nebraska and Puerto Rico.
In 2010, Nebraska EPSCoR gained a five-year Research Infrastructure Improvement (RII) grant, #1004094, from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to further develop its research and education infrastructure. This $20 million Track-1 project in Nanohybrid Materials & Algal Biology funded establishment of two research centers with 34 faculty members from six Nebraska institutions. An additional year of funding ($2 million) was awarded in 2015 to provide continuing support for these activities.
The Center for Nanohybrid Functional Materials (CNFM) targets the discovery and exploitation of new sensing and separation principles based upon placement of chemical or biochemical sensing elements in 3D-ordered nanostructures. The Nebraska Center for Algal Biology (NCABB) focuses on algal lipid biosynthesis and its regulation, and contributes to our understanding of molecular, biochemical, and genetic processes in algal systems.
By mid-2015, this project generated 218 journal articles or other peer-reviewed publications and $38.6M in funding through 222 grant applications. The project has supported training for 133 undergraduates, 103 graduate students, and 33 postdocs. Also, four new faculty members have been hired and retained at UNL with the support from this Track 1 award. In addition, this project has established robust STEM education and outreach activities for K-12 students--e.g., week long camps and summer research opportunities for high school students, reaching over 2,000 individuals each year.
In 2007 Nebraska EPSCoR received a three-year Research Infrastructure Improvement (RII) grant, #0701892, from the National Science Foundation to continue development of research and education infrastructure. Dr. F. Fred Choobineh, P.E., Director of Nebraska EPSCoR is the Project Director. The grant included cooperation and collaboration among Creighton University (CU), the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), and the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC).
Grant funds supported the pursuit of deeper understanding of the global gene regulatory processes that define a species, its variegated cell types, and its inherent responses to environmental stimuli. Chromatin is a dynamic complex of DNA, RNA, and protein in the nuclei of eukaryotic cells. Fundamental questions regarding the role of chromatin in defining gene expression networks, and the direct modulation of these processes by cellular factors, represent key unknowns of complex biological systems. This RII supported unification of biological sciences and engineering expertise under one umbrella, creating a strategic research niche and opportunities for major contributions to Epigenetics research (the study of heritable changes in gene functions not associated with changes in DNA sequence).
According to chromatin area coordinator Dr. Sally Mackenzie, the research improved understanding of "the cellular context in which genes are expressed. We understand how individual genes might influence particular features, such as eye color or predisposition to disease, but we don't fully understand how suites of genes are coordinated to influence processes of development or an organisms response to its environment. Understanding these complex genetic processes could help us, for example, to enhance a plant's ability to adapt to environmental changes or to influence an animal's aging process."
"The project's engineering aspects are focused on understanding the force-displacement behavior of plant cell walls to design a nanodevice that can insert short strings of RNA into a plant cell in a reliable manner. We need a clear understanding of the penetration process, the development of new methods of insertion via nanofiber manufacturing, and integration of the two for building functioning nanodevices," said bioengineering area coordinator Dr. Joseph A. Turner. This grant broadened and strengthened science education and outreach as well as faculty development, economic development and technology transfer.
In 2004, Nebraska EPSCoR received a three-year Research Infrastructure Improvement (RII) grant from the National Science Foundation to continue development of research and education infrastructure. Dr. F. Fred Choobineh, P.E., Director of Nebraska EPSCoR was the Project Director. The grant (#0346476) included cooperation and collaboration among Nebraska's four major research universities: Creighton (CU); the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL); the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC); and the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO).
Grant funds were used to create the Metabolite Signaling Center (MSC) at UNL for studying molecular response to metabolites using primarily genomic technologies to better understand the influence of chemicals in food on human and animal growth and development, an emerging area of critical importance for Nebraska's economy. One goal of the research was the development of agricultural products with value-added compositional changes that have beneficial effects on human health. The MSC was among the first centers in the country to focus on effects of plant metabolites on gene expression and development in the consuming organism. Using genomics technologies such as microarrays, genome sequences, cell-based bioassays, and whole animal physiological studies, MSC scientists examined the influence of dietary molecules on human biology. Dr. Steve Ladunga was hired as a professor and bioinformatics director. With fifteen years of bioinformatics experience in industry and academia, Dr. Ladunga conducts his own research and collaborates with MSC faculty. Likewise, Dr. Ji-Young Lee's research was a welcome addition to MSC efforts to learn more about dietary molecules' effects on human physiology. Dr. Lee is an assistant professor of nutrition and health sciences. Her research focuses on better understanding cholesterol and fatty acids' effects on regulatory mechanisms of macrophages in order to reduce coronary heart disease.
Funds also were used to create the Nebraska Center for Cell Biology (NCCB) at CU, where researchers study the dynamic behavior of cells using sophisticated optical imaging instruments to develop expertise in applications that range from physics to cell biology and neuroscience. Additional information is available at here. The NCCB hosts an annual conference. The NCCB's outreach plan makes its advanced instruments accessible to remote users through Internet 2.
The grant supported planning for large-scale projects in nano-materials science to create a nationally competitive, multi-disciplinary research team in a new class of electronics and sensors: passively cooled high power/high temperature devices. Because the NCCB's Reflectance Mode Scanning Confocal Microscope could provide unique images based on the optical response of various nanostructures, nano-material researchers work closely with the NCCB in imaging these structures to complement those currently available with light and electron microscopy and spectroscopy facilities of the established UNL Center for Material Research and Analysis.
Consistent with emergence of Omaha as a top information technology hub, establishing strong educational and research programs in Mobile Computing (MC) was a high priority for Nebraska. MC stimulates economic development by forming partnerships with local industries interested in high-quality wireless networks and mobile computing applications. Researchers in computer science and engineering at UNL and UNO are developing MC infrastructure (hardware, software, and personnel). The current grant supports a center that is being established at UNO to develop more secure and robust mobile/wireless computer networks
Area leaders were:
The grant initiated the Research and Development (R&D) Partnership program to help solve a specific problem identified by a Nebraska company where no scientific/academic solution is currently available, encouraging faculty from the state's major research universities to work on scientific and technology-based industry R&D projects. Nebraska EPSCoR anticipates awarding competitive grants annually in the amount of $25,000 each (to be matched by the industry partner). Stephen Reichenbach (UNL) and GC Image, LLC received the grant in 2005 for the project "Advanced Informatics for Comprehensive Two-Dimensional Gas Chromatography."
In addition to supporting R&D partnerships, the grant continued support for the Nebraska Engineering, Science, and Technology Internship Program (NESTIP). The technology, engineering, science, and math students, who serve as interns, provide technical expertise to Nebraska companies. For additional information, see the NESTIP page. With this award, Nebraska EPSCoR created a competitive FIRST Award grant program to assist Nebraska faculty members who are early in their academic careers in initiating their research programs. For more information, view the FIRST Awards page.
In 2001, Nebraska EPSCoR received a three-year Infrastructure Improvement grant (#0091900) from the National Science Foundation. The grant included cooperation and collaboration among research universities across the state (Creighton University, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Nebraska Medical Center, and University of Nebraska at Omaha) to build infrastructures designed to support development of informatics. The four areas of emphasis included:
The grant also supported continuing outreach efforts to: researchers and students at smaller Nebraska colleges; members of groups that are underrepresented in the sciences through the GEM (Graduate Education for Minorities), Women in Science, and Tribal College programs; support of beginning investigators through the Type II grant program; and the Nebraska Engineering, Science, and Technology Internship Program (NESTIP), providing opportunities for transfer of academic research capabilities and technology development to the private sector through collaborative projects with students.
A three-year cooperative agreement (#9720643) with the National Science Foundation, which began in February of 1998, centered around NSF EPSCoR's emphasis on developing infrastructure rather than supporting specific research clusters as in the previous agreement. The statewide EPSCoR Committee selected three targeted areas for infrastructure development including:
The UNL and UNO computational efforts were combined with the Great Plains Network project (also supported by NSF EPSCoR) to make these computer capabilities available to faculty on both campuses. The cooperative agreement also supported continuing efforts to increase research competitiveness through S&T planning, outreach and education, technology transfer, and faculty development.
The National Science Foundation EPSCoR Program funded five research clusters in Nebraska beginning in July 1993. The first three research clusters (behavioral biology, materials research, and metallobiochemistry) were funded for three years (1993-96) followed by two additional years (1996-98) of reduced funding. Two new research clusters (bioremediation of xenobiotics and gene expression in plants) were funded for a two-year period (1996-98). In addition, NSF research support included Nebraska EPSCoR's "Type II" grants that funded beginning investigators.