Success Stories

From FingerWorks to Spin In: Delaware EPSCoR supports entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs tend to have lots of ideas. That’s the easy part. Getting those ideas off the ground, over the inevitable hurdles, and into the hands of those who would buy them — that’s harder. Since its inception, Delaware EPSCoR has supported budding entrepreneurs as they develop their ideas into commercial products.

EPSCoR funds enabled the University of Delaware to create a new course, High Technology Entrepreneurship, team-taught by business and engineering faculty. Approximately 1,000 students have taken the course in which they work in teams to create “virtual companies.” About ten percent of those virtual companies have evolved into real companies that have remained in Delaware, contributing to the state’s growing high-tech economy.

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South Carolina's research team's new instrument to be a part of the next Mars lander

NASA has recently announced that South Carolina scientists, led by University of South Carolina chemist Dr. Mike Angel, are part of a team of scientists whose proposed instrument, called SuperCam, was selected to be part of the next Mars lander, scheduled to launch in 2020.

Whether or not life exists or might ever have existed on Mars is a question that has never been resolved with certainty.  Beginning with the Viking 1 mission in 1976, seven probes have landed on the surface of Mars and successfully transmitted scientific data back to  earth.  Those missions have not uncovered unequivocal signs of life, but they haven't ruled it out, either. One limitation of previous probes has been the lack of tools that could provide much molecular information about chemicals on the planet's surface.

Elemental analysis has shown, for example, a range of atoms that are present on Mars. But what's lacking is an understanding of how those molecules are linked together; that is, their molecular structure.  A carbon atom is bound to two atoms of oxygen to form carbon dioxide, and an oxygen atom is bound to two atoms of hydrogen to form water. Organic compounds, the stuff of DNA and proteins and all life on Earth, are made up of even more complex combinations of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and other atoms. In the search for life, determining the presence of organic molecules as opposed to detecting single atoms, is key to determining if the right organic compounds are present to have supported past or present life.

The 2020 Mars probe will carry an instrument never before used on Mars or any space mission. SuperCam, which will sit atop the mission's mobile rover, will include a standoff Raman spectrometer currently being developed at Los Alamos national Laboratory, similar in design to one first demonstrated by Dr. Angel in 1992 and being refined by his students today with the support of NASA/EPSCoR funding. Raman spectroscopy is a laser-based technique that allows the determination of molecular structure—how the molecules are put together. The standoff Raman system on the Mars rover will also be combined with standoff LIBS. The two analytical methods, standoff Raman and LIBS (which stands for laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy) can make spectroscopic measurements at a distance of many meters from the sample.  In both, a laser is briefly pulsed and focused on a sample of interest.  Raman scattered and LIBS emission light that is generated on the sample is collected and analyzed and the two techniques provide complementary information with a molecular-level description of the sample of interest—this is the real strength of the new SuperCam.  Further, the new technology will allow data do be collected from a distance of 20 feet or more, thereby extending the reach of the rover to obtain data.  South Carolina scientists have been leaders in the field of Raman and LIBS spectroscopy and its use to determine molecular structures in the gas, liquid and solid phases.  Dr. Angel and his colleagues have taken this expertise to another level by developing new ways to do chemical analysis in places where an instrument can't get too close.  Angel has since moved on to harnessing the technology to study hydrothermal vents in the deep ocean. And he's also helping develop the method to work from even greater distances so that a planetary orbiter can make Raman measurements from distances of several miles. That project is intended for a space probe to the Jovian moons, such as Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter, which is considered another prime candidate in the solar system for possibly supporting life.

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Written in the sand

Alaska NSF EPSCoR may not have come up with the idea for the Augmented-Reality Sandbox, but it’s taking the device to new heights.

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Structural thermal insulation composites

South Dakota’s NASA EPSCoR program is eligible each year for competitive research awards from NASA, providing $750,000 over a three-year period.  SD NASA EPSCoR research teams have received ten of these awards since 2007 for a total of $7.5 million.

David Salem, Director of the Composites and Polymer Engineering Laboratory at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology (SDSMT), has received funding through NASA EPSCoR for a project titled “Structural Thermal Insulation Composites.”

The project, led by SDSMT in collaboration with the University of South Dakota in Vermillion and the NASA Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Materials Science Division, is to develop lightweight, structural polymer composites with high thermal insulation properties for use in extra-terrestrial habitat construction. 

Materials developed at SDSMT include polymers that are loaded with hollow microcapsules and reinforced with nanoscale fibers.  The thermal insulation properties of many of these materials have been tested with advanced instrumentation recently developed at NASA KSC and have been found to have thermal insulation properties within the range of interest while also exhibiting robust mechanical properties. 

Two SDSMT graduate students supported by this project have spent approximately seven weeks at the NASA KSC collaborating with agency’s scientists.  One of these students has recently been awarded a distinguished internship at NASA Glenn Research Center while a third graduate student was awarded a prestigious NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship. 

Finally, the resources developed through Salem’s NASA EPSCoR award also significantly contributed to the formation of the Composite and Nanocomposite Advanced Manufacturing Center, established in 2013 by the South Dakota Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

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From bridge engineering to solar energy

Between 2010 and 2012, the Nevada System of Higher Education revenue was drastically impacted by a ten percent reduction in state funding that resulted in a loss of research capacity and workforce throughout Nevada.  This decrease in capital cost the state millions of dollars of potential grant funding annually, thereby diminishing the state’s capabilities for national research competitiveness, new science, innovation, and job creation.

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Rhode Island S.U.R.F.

Rhode Island NSF EPSCoR covers a lot of bases and cuts a wide swath with many initiatives in play across the Ocean State.     

In pursuing program goals, RI NSF EPSCoR draws on the collaborative power of the state’s nine institutions of higher education, a well-coordinated balancing act of human resources, facilities, events and activities.   

If there is any single sweet spot, however, where the myriad forces of RI NSF EPSCoR mesh, it can be found in the annual SURF program.  SURF advances technical and cognitive skills through 10-week independent research experiences in the labs of faculty mentors.   

Since the program’s inception in 2007, SURF has placed 215 fellows in the labs of 76 different faculty members at RI’s nine partner campuses.   The fellowships, awarded on a competitive basis, help students define a clearer picture of their career path while working to advance the field of science.   

SURF program participant Joseph Guerreiro has enjoyed significant benefits from the program: “The EPSCoR program helped me greatly in my academic and personal life.  It has helped guide me in a direction in a field that has so many options and different paths.  I also have learned more important skills for being a scientist by having the freedom to work on my own research project under my own conditions.”  

Guerreiro spent both summer 2013 and 2014 with SURF where according to him, his research experiences made a significant personal impact.  The first year, he worked in the lab of RIC Assistant Professor Breea Govenar, biology, investigating the effects of nitrogen addition on the growth and abundance of ribbed mussels in the Narragansett Bay that has come as a result of long-term release of wastewater directly into the bay, on the growth and abundance of ribbed mussels in Narragansett Bay.   

The project involved field collections, laboratory dissections, and statistical analyses.   It showed that wastewater input in areas closer to Providence leads to dense populations of very small mussels and low pollution farther south, in Jamestown, creates sparse populations of larger mussels.   The research was part of an important multi-year project that coincides with the Narragansett Bay Commission’s installation of a sewage abatement system that redirects sewage so that it will not go into Narragansett Bay, explained Guerreiro: “The hope is that over time there will not be such drastic effects on different areas of the bay.”

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Center for Sustainable Science develops proof-of-concept for new type of plastic

A discovery by researchers at North Dakota State University holds scientific promise that could lead to a new type of plastic that can be broken down when exposed to a specific type of light and is reduced back to molecules, which could then be used to create new plastic.

The research team focuses on biomass, using oilseed from agricultural crops, cellulose, lignin and sucrose to generate building blocks of molecules that are made into polymers to create plastics lessening dependency on fossil fuels. Their research has shown that they can break it down into the building blocks and re-make the polymer.

The proof-of-concept experiment outlines the work of researchers in the Center for Sustainable Materials Science at NDSU. 

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Montana OpTeC

Jumpstarted by MT EPSCoR in 1995, Montana State University’s Optical Technology Center, or OpTeC, was created to collaborate with a small handful of laser optics companies in Bozeman, Montana in the areas of physics, chemistry and electrical engineering.  The collaboration steadily grew, as did the number of companies. 

Today, more than 200 graduate students and 300 undergraduate students have been educated through OpTeC.  Pictured above is electrical engineering student Erwin Dunbar as he works with a silicon wafer in the Montana Microfabrication Facility at Montana State University. The lab is one of many operated by OpTeC faculty.  Bozeman now boasts more than 30 optics/photonics companies employing more than 500 people in the state—80 percent of whom are MSU graduates.

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Predicting turbulence

Development of Advanced Turbulent Flow Prediction Methods for NextGen Air Transport, a recently completed NASA EPSCoR project, has sought to enhance research competitiveness in Mississippi while addressing critical technology needs for NASA in the area of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulations for aeronautical and aerospace applications. A key aspect of the effort is the collaboration between Mississippi State University, Mississippi’s largest research university, and Jackson State University, the state’s largest minority-serving institution. 

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Tri-state collaboration to visualize unforeseen coastal hazards

The Gulf Coast region is inherently vulnerable to natural disaster. While rich with resources and history, this complex environment is a living laboratory for researchers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.  Eleven universities from the three states are leveraging their unique partnerships, proximity, and significant prior investments in cyberinfrastructure to advance science and engineering of coastal hazards across the region.  Participating institutions include: the University of Alabama at Huntsville, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, the University of Alabama, Mississippi State University, and the Northern Gulf Institute.  

Under the auspices of NSF EPSCoR, the Northern Gulf Coastal Hazards Collaboratory (NGCHC) was established in 2010 to advance research, enrich training, and inspire collaboration through innovative cyberinfrastructure.  

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