MSU to serve as administrative lead for multimillion dollar research grant

By: 
CHARLIE BENTON
Staff Writer

Mississippi State University will collaborate with the state’s three additional research universities as part of a $20 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant.

The five-year grant was announced Tuesday, and will establish a center for emergent molecular optoelectronics. It was awarded through the NSF Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) program. Mississippi State will serve as the administrative lead. Several MSU faculty members will also be involved in the research. The University of Southern Mississippi will serve as the grant’s science lead. Jackson State University and the University of Mississippi will also be involved.

“There’s just multiple reasons why this is a great opportunity,” said MSU Vice President for Research and Economic Development David Shaw, who also serves as the grant’s principal investigator. “Anytime you have these types of long-term projects of this size that are funded by the National Science Foundation, it just creates a tremendous amount of momentum, that you can then capitalize on to leverage it in the other opportunities.”

Shaw also said it was important for MSU faculty and students to have the opportunity to work with their counterparts from the other three research universities in the state. He cited several past research projects MSU has been involved in with other universities.

“It really is a state of Mississippi win, and not just a Mississippi State win,” Shaw said. “It really gives all four of the research universities in the state to really work closely together. There’s already been a great deal of effort to lay down the opportunities for collaboration with graduate students, with faculty and even with undergraduate students to be participating in research projects that span across the different campuses.”

Shaw said different resources at the different universities would be utilized, including MSU’s Bagley College of Engineering, USM’s polymer science program and JSU’s computational modeling faculty.

“We actually have a schematic that we’ve drawn about all of the connections at the individual faculty and student level, and it’s pretty incredible to look at the interactions that are already taking place just based on the kickoff on this, and we certainly anticipate that growing.”

Research began this week following a preliminary strategic planning meeting last Thursday and Friday. Word of the approval came during the meeting. The proposal was submitted in fall 2017 to pass through a rigorous NSF approval process.

“In late spring, we had a number of questions posed about the proposal, which indicated that they were really seriously evaluating it,” Shaw said.

The grant will also bring new positions and new high-tech equipment to all the institutions involved.

“One of the goals of a project like this is really capacity development for research in the entire state,” Shaw said. “We wrote the grant in such a way that we’ll be adding new faculty that are funded by this program to each university to be able to literally expand the capacity.”

Arrangements will also be made for the equipment to be shared between the universities, even from different campuses.

“I think, obviously, we want to do some really good science, but I think if you go above and beyond that, what we want and expect is to not only do really good science for science’s sake, we want to use this a driver for economic development in the state of Mississippi in the area of optoelectronics,” Shaw said.

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