Science faculty awarded $400,000 in federal funding for research, collaboration

NEWPORT, R.I. (Nov. 3, 2017) – Salve Regina’s science faculty have been awarded a five-year, $400,000 subcontract from the National Science Foundation that will support their research and collaboration efforts with partnering Rhode Island universities to help build the state’s science infrastructure and thereby bolster the region’s academic competitiveness.

It is part of $19 million in federal funding awarded to the Rhode Island jurisdiction of EPSCoR, the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, and a slice of the nearly $100 million awarded by NSF to five EPSCoR jurisdictions nationwide.

The successful grant proposal was written by faculty in the department of biology and biomedical sciences, including Dr. JD Swanson, Dr. Heather Axen, Dr. Anne Reid and Dr. Bernard Munge. Dr. Lisa Zuccarelli, associate professor and chairwoman of the department, is serving as the campus liaison and will work with the University of Rhode Island on the administration for this award.

“We are really excited that our students and faculty will participate in this statewide collaboration,” said Dr. Steven Symington, associate professor who was part of the project’s strategic planning team. “This grant will not only enhance our students training, it will aid in the understanding of the Narragansett Bay. It really would not be possible without the great work from our dedicated faculty.”

In addition to Rhode Island, these EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Improvement (RII) Track-1 awards are supporting similar efforts in Alabama, Kansas, South Carolina and Wyoming. Each award funds fundamental research and education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. The awards also promote workforce development in areas relevant to each jurisdiction’s vital interest.

“These investments by NSF promise to yield fundamental understanding in research areas of regional and national importance while catalyzing new educational and training opportunities for students and researchers,” said NSF Director France Córdova. “This year's EPSCoR awards continue to demonstrate the vitality of scientific inquiry and innovation, which is present in universities and research laboratories across the nation.”

Salve’s science faculty will collaborate with URI to establish the Consortium for Coastal Ecology Assessment, Innovation and Modeling (C-AIM). The consortium will coordinate research, education and workforce development across the state in coastal marine science and ecology to improve understanding of the microorganisms in Narraganset Bay, the largest estuary in New England and home to important ecosystem services that benefit fisheries, recreation and tourism.

Researchers will develop new models to predict pollution and harmful algal bloom events in the bay, build new sensors for nutrients and pollutants, and provide data and tools for stakeholders in the state. The project’s observational capabilities will be coordinated in an open platform for researchers across Rhode Island, providing real-time physical, chemical and biological observations -- including live streaming to mobile devices.

Rhode Island will leverage prior investments in coastal wetlands and marine monitoring infrastructure to address the complex interactions between the environment and ecological factors in Narraganset Bay. The project will develop new sensor technologies, deploy new observing systems, and develop complex predictive models for understanding and reacting to environmental change and pollution in the bay.

EPSCoR is a program designed to fulfill the NSF’s mandate to promote scientific progress nationwide. Currently, 24 states, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam are eligible to compete for EPSCoR funding. An overarching goal of the five new awards is to develop the scientific foundation and workforce capacity for transitioning toward a knowledge-based economy.