The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently awarded $75.3 million for five new Engineering Research Centers (ERCs) that will develop cross-disciplinary research programs to advance technologies that address major societal problems and provide the basis for new industries.
For more than two decades, the ERC program has fostered interdisciplinary research and education collaborations, in close partnership with industry, based on the realities of technological innovation and the development of new products and services. Scientists and engineers from a variety of disciplines collaborate on broad-based high-risk engineering research, developing fundamental engineering knowledge and test beds for important emerging technologies.
"These centers will build on a well-developed understanding laid down by previous ERC generations about how to foster a collaborative, interdisciplinary culture in partnership with industry and other practitioners," says NSF Deputy Division Director for Centers Lynn Preston. "Through these relationships, the centers provide rich educational and research environments for preparing new generations of engineering leaders."
NSF supports ERCs for a maximum of 10 years while the centers develop a strong network of collaborations with industry leaders and a base of financial support that can sustain the center after "graduation" from the NSF program.
Including the new awards, NSF supports 22 Engineering Research Centers in the fields of bioengineering; earthquake engineering; design, manufacturing and processing systems; microelectronic and optical systems and information technology.
Brief descriptions of the new centers follow.
Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC)
The ERC will push synthetic biology engineering from time consuming, one-of-a-kind development efforts to the rapid creation of new products from standardized components. The efforts could impact the biotechnology, pharmaceutical, genetics and chemical fields, potentially leading to an entirely new landscape of diagnostic, therapeutic, and synthetic chemical industries.
SynBERC is based at the University of California at Berkeley, in partnership with Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Prairie View A&M University, and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). The ERC will also partner with the University of California Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) and the California Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) at Berkeley and UCSF to increase involvement of underrepresented minority students in the field.
The ERC has industry partners that include 12 firms committed to membership and representing suppliers of genetic tools and custom DNA components, pharmaceutical and chemical firms, and firms interested in developing simulation software and computational tools. Venture capital firms will advise SynBERC on start-up business opportunities.
Quality of Life Technology Engineering Research Center (QoLT)
QoLT is based at Carnegie Mellon University with the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) as its core partner. Through this partnership, the center engages faculty from Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute, and the H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy & Management, along with the Pitt Center of Assistive Technology in the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology, Pitt's Human Engineering Research Laboratories at Highland Drive VA Medical Center, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and several residential and institutional facilities for older adults and people with disabilities. To increase the diversity of engineers and scientists engaged in this field, the ERC will partner with the Florida/Georgia LSAMP, Chatham College, Howard University and Lincoln University.
Industry partners include 18 companies representing various fields including robotics, medical devices, consumer electronics, information technology and assistive technology.
Engineering Research Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power (CEFP)
CEFP is based at University of Minnesota in partnership with the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Purdue University and Vanderbilt University. Outreach universities include the Milwaukee School of Engineering and North Carolina A&T State University (NCAT). Outreach institutions include the National Fluid Power Association, Project Lead the Way, and the Science Museum of Minnesota. The ERC will form partnerships with the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Partnership (LSAMP) headquartered at NCAT, the Tennessee LSAMP headquartered at Tennessee State University; and the AGEP headquartered at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Industry partners will augment NSF funding with $3 million. With help from the National Fluid Power Association, more than 50 companies have agreed to provide support for the research center.
Mid-Infrared Technologies for Health and the Environment (MIRTHE)
MIRTHE is based at Princeton University in partnership with Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), Rice University, Texas A&M University and the City College of New York.
The center is collaborating with dozens of industrial partners and several educational outreach partners, including the Meyerhoff Scholars Program, a competitive program at UMBC that challenges gifted, underrepresented minority students to become leading research scientists and engineers, the UMBC and Rice University AGEPs, LSAMPs, Graduate Teaching Fellows in K-12 Education and others.
Engineering Research Center for Structured Organic Composites (C-SOC)
C-SOC is based at Rutgers University in partnership with the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Purdue University and the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez. Outreach partners include the City University of New York (CUNY) AGEP; the Midwest Crossroads AGEP; the University of Puerto Rico AGEP; and the Indiana, Puerto Rico, and CUNY/NYC LSAMPs. Pre-college outreach programs include high schools near the partner universities in New Jersey, Indiana, and Puerto Rico and a vocational high school in Puerto Rico.
Industry partners include 28 companies that are providing a total of $2.5 million in research funding in the first year. They include pharmaceutical and food manufacturers along with suppliers of manufacturing and analytical equipment.
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