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$20M NSF Grant Designed to Promote Marine Research at URI, Partner Institutions

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) — The University of Rhode Island has won a $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation — the single largest grant in the university's history — toward molecular biology research in marine life science there and at eight partner academic institutions statewide.

URI leads a network of nine institutions that will use the funding, awarded through NSF's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, or EPSCoR, program. The EPSCoR funding will pay for new laboratory equipment at the Center for Marine Life Science at URI's Narragansett Bay Campus; the Genome Sequencing Center at URI's Kingston campus; and the Proteomics Center at Brown University. Part of the grant will support 37 graduate and 165 undergraduate students, the university said.

"We will acquire high-tech equipment that will enable us to compete for more and larger grants in the future, and we will provide jobs and training for hundreds of students, lab technicians, and others for the next five years," Peter Alfonso, URI vice president for research and economic development and the principal investigator for the grant, said in a statement.

Building on Rhode Island's long-term historical data on the biology and chemistry of Narragansett Bay, URI said researchers will examine the physiological changes taking place in some marine species; explore how climate change is altering coastal marine food webs; and investigate whether increasing ocean temperatures will increase infection and disease rates among marine populations.

URI serves as the project leader on the new grant, in collaboration with a statewide network that includes Brown University, the Rhode Island School of Design, Bryant University, the Community College of Rhode Island, Providence College, Rhode Island College, Roger Williams University, and Salve Regina University.

Brown and RISD will serve as co-PI's on the grant, which was announced Tuesday. Brown has upgraded its high-performance computing facilities in recent years. It joined IBM last year in announcing the opening of a supercomputer at the university's Center for Computation and Visualization capable of performing at more than 14 trillion calculations per second — nearly 50 times faster than what was previously available at Brown — with a peak performance speed of more than 14 teraflops.

RISD will investigate new approaches to imaging data and communicating science through its "Making Science Visible" initiative, which uses 2D and 3D modeling and mapping processes. RISD will also establish a series of collaborative studios and academic events intended to allow scientists to collaborate with artists and designers to explore complex problems.

Another portion of the grant will expand the Rhode Island EPSCoR Academy's enrichment, tutoring, and professional development programs for middle and high school students and teachers. In addition, the academy will provide 11 two-year graduate research fellowships, and 25 entrepreneurial fellowships.

The Academy includes all nine institutions and the Slater Technology Fund, which invests in technology startups; supports graduate fellowships at URI, Brown, and Rhode Island College; and facilitates networking between faculty and students.

To secure the NSF grant, the public-private Rhode Island Economic Development Corp. committed $4 million in cost-sharing over the NSF grant's five-year period.

"The funding will continue to build the infrastructure to enable us to work on some of the most pressing issues of our time and conduct science that is of broad societal interest," URI President David Dooley said in the statement.

Previously, URI had received $8 million in grants dating back to 2006 under EPSCoR, which assists states that have historically received less than 0.75 percent of NSF research funding annually. URI's first EPSCoR grant in 2006 established three shared research facilities for genomics, proteomics, and marine life sciences, including the purchase of equipment and the hiring and training of key personnel and graduate students at institutions throughout Rhode Island.

Rhode Island's series of biotech initiatives were designed in part to promote opportunities in marine sciences, life sciences, and high-tech careers for women and minority-group members.

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