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University to partner on $20M scientific research grant

Marshall University researchers will be part of a $20 million scientific research project funded by the National Science Foundation. The award was announced earlier today by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, U.S. Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito, along with Representatives David McKinley, Alex Mooney and Evan Jenkins.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded the highly-competitive grant to West Virginia’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) to boost academic scientific research and upgrade infrastructure at Marshall University, West Virginia University, West Virginia State University and other state institutions. EPSCoR is facilitated by the state Higher Education Policy Commission’s Division of Science and Research.

“Our higher education community is to be commended for competing—and winning—time and again on the national stage to bring much-needed research funding and opportunities to West Virginia,” said Tomblin. “This funding will help to strengthen our state’s STEM workforce, which is critical to our ongoing efforts to grow our economy.”

Through a match partnership with participating universities, the $24 million project begins immediately and will continue for five years. The project is being led by Principal Investigator Dr. Jan Taylor, Director of the Division of Science and Research.

Marshall University Interim President Gary G. White said, “We are pleased to once again be part of this significant research funding from the National Science Foundation. Our scientists will be lending their expertise to this extremely important research, and we look forward to collaborating with the other universities. My hat is off to everyone who helped put together this successful proposal.”

According to Dr. Paul Hill, chancellor of the Higher Education Policy Commission, with this new funding West Virginia has now received more than $60 million from the NSF for the state’s EPSCoR program over the past 14 years.

“West Virginia’s competitiveness has improved markedly over the years,” said Hill. “Today, we are recognized as a growing research state. That is indeed something to be proud of—especially as we work to build a new economy through scientific research.”

Dr. John M. Maher, Marshall’s vice president for research, said infrastructure grants like this one play a major role in helping Marshall build research capacity.

“Creating the capability for our researchers to tackle problems of regional and national significance paves the way for the scientific advances,” he said. “The next big breakthrough in water research could happen right here, and this NSF award will have set the stage.”

Background on New Award

West Virginia’s winning proposal titled, Gravitational Wave Astronomy and the Appalachian Freshwater Initiative, will support basic and applied research in water resources and gravitational wave astrophysics.

The gravitational wave research will focus on early universe cosmology and galaxies, along with relativity, gravity and compact objects in the local universe. The tools and models developed through this project will provide valuable inputs towards solving astrophysics challenges related to low-frequency gravitational waves and electromagnetic models. The water resources research, coordinated through the Appalachian Freshwater Initiative, will investigate water quality in West Virginia as it relates to certain stressors.

The project also will bolster the STEM workforce in the state by providing specialized training in data mining, water quality monitoring, signal processing and electronics design techniques.

Background on EPSCoR

EPSCoR is a program designed to fulfill the NSF’s mandate to promote scientific progress nationwide. Twenty-four states, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam are currently eligible to compete for EPSCoR funding. Through this program, NSF establishes regional partnerships with government, higher education and industry that effect lasting improvements in a state’s or territory’s research infrastructure and research and development capacity, and its academic competitiveness.

In 2010, West Virginia was awarded a $20 million RII grant, the largest award in state history at the time. It was matched by an additional $4 million from the state and has supported research at Marshall, West Virginia University, West Virginia State University and other institutions for the past five years.


Quotes from West Virginia’s Congressional Delegation

“When we support our universities and colleges with the tools and resources they need to provide quality and affordable education, we lead our students to successful careers and ensure our future will be bright,” said Senator Manchin. “Enhancing STEM programs and upgrading infrastructure at our colleges and universities will open doors for our students and is crucial for West Virginia to remain competitive in the global marketplace. I am happy this grant will enable our higher education institutions to better prepare students in STEM and improve our workforce, our economy and our great state.”

“As a huge proponent of both EPSCoR funding and attracting more West Virginia students to STEM fields, I am so pleased that the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission is receiving this highly competitive grant. West Virginia’s higher education institutions continue to make our state proud, and I cannot wait to see the work they accomplish with the help of this funding,” said Senator Capito.

“Congratulations to our state’s research institutions for earning this grant. Cutting-edge research and innovation are the future of West Virginia’s universities and this award will help draw the best and brightest to the area. We need to transition our economy into new industries, and building our STEM workforce is an important step along that path,” said Rep. McKinley.

Rep. Mooney said, “This award is the well-deserved recognition of the hard work that is happening in the colleges and universities in our state. The research produced through the program will help prepare the next generation of workers to better leverage technology and enhance our nation’s science and engineering research.”

Rep. Jenkins said, “I served on the board of EPSCoR in West Virginia and saw firsthand the difference these programs make in our schools. EPSCoR brings together partners like Marshall University and West Virginia University, harnessing their collective resources to promote research and innovation. I fought successfully to preserve funding for EPSCoR as a member of the House Appropriations Committee, helping to defeat an attempt to completely eliminate this important program.  This grant is critical to preserving EPSCoR in West Virginia and maximizing its impact in our universities. By working together, we can make a difference in advancing scientific breakthroughs and developing an interest in the sciences and engineering in future generations.”