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Grant fuels grad student research

January 17, 2007

ASU will receive $1.85 million from the Science Foundation of Arizona (SFAz) as part of the foundation's Graduate Student Fellowship program.

In all, SFAz is giving out $4 million in the Graduate Student Fellowship program, which is geared toward challenging the leadership of Arizona 's research performing institutions to set quality standards for key graduate programs, and to use the investment to transform competent graduate programs into world-competitive programs.

SFAz invests in partnerships between nonprofit research institutions and industry; other science, engineering and math programs; and in the education pipeline to help Arizona create a knowledge-driven economy.

“By awarding these fellowships, we may be supporting a future researcher who transforms the medical field with a novel discovery, or the next tech company entrepreneur who employs thousands in high-quality jobs here in our own backyard,” says William Harris, president and chief executive officer of SFAz.

The $1.85 million awarded to ASU will fund about 37 graduate students for up to $50,000 each, says Andrew Webber, ASU associate dean of graduate studies.

“The funds will provide us with the ability to attract top-notch students in three specific areas: sustainable energy, the diagnosis and prevention of infectious diseases, and the interfacing of mechanical and computational technologies with people,” Webber says.

ASU had a particularly strong proposal before the Science Foundation of Arizona, adds Stephen Goodnick, ASU's associate vice president for research.

In the area of sustainable energy systems, ASU has a broad-based research portfolio ranging from semiconductor and molecular photovoltaics to fuel cells, and bioenergy conversion and biofuel production. This range of research will allow for training opportunities for students from almost all disciplines, Goodnick says.

For vaccines and disease prevention, ASU can draw from major multiple-laboratory programs in vaccinology, and a very large science and engineering base involved in end-to-end systems for detecting pathogens and monitoring individual health status. For the interface of humans and machines area, ASU has programs in place to provide visual interpretation for the blind, intelligent prostheses for those who have lost limbs, and brain-machine interfaces to re-establish neuromuscular function after injury.

“A key for us was that, with each focus area, ASU has very strong mentors,” Goodnick says. “We will build on these foundations and infuse fresh intellectual talent into these three important use-inspired research projects.”

The Graduate Research Fellowship grants are the first grants from SFAz, which has the goal of building world-class science, engineering and medical infrastructure in Arizona by fostering innovative research programs. The University of Arizona received $1.75 million in grants, and Northern Arizona University received $400,000 in this round of funding.

The graduate student fellowships are just one of several “investments” being rolled out by SFAz this year. Other investment programs are:

• Competitive Advantage Awards. These will fund the most competitive and strategically important programs across Arizona . The funds will support activities necessary to the development of outstanding, highly competitive research and technology development proposals.

• Strategic Research Groups. These funds will seed partnerships between researchers from research performing institutions and industry in strategic areas. The purpose of this investment is to increase the probability of Arizona attracting major, federal research center or large group grants. SFAz will establish up to 10 SRGs this year.

• Small Business Catalytic Funding. This will provide seed investments in innovation at Arizona's research performing institutions that have high-impact commercial outcomes. SFAz investments will use the potential of Arizona 's researchers to secure much larger amounts of funding for technology commercialization. The purpose of this is to create a catalyst for technology development, company formation and high-tech job creation in Arizona .

• K-12 Student and Teacher Discovery. This program will provide research internships for high school science and math teachers this summer. Up to 150 teachers will work in paid research-based programs throughout Arizona. A student focus of the program will spur involvement of K-12 students in scientific discovery activities, particularly focusing on students in rural areas of Arizona. The goal is to target students and teachers in an effort to stimulate experiences in math, science and technology, and bringing excitement of discovery back to the classroom.

The Science Foundation of Arizona is supported by a $35 million “21st Century Fund,” established in 2006 by the Arizona Legislature and Gov. Janet Napolitano.