The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Rutgers University two grants worth $6.4 million to fund graduate research in clean and sustainable energy resources using biotechnology and nanotechnology. The foundation also has awarded the university up to $1.25 million to extend practices developed under earlier NSF graduate research grants. These will benefit Rutgers undergraduate and graduate students throughout the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.
The grants for clean and sustainable energy research are funded under the NSF's five-year Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program, which supports scientists and engineers pursuing doctorates in fields that cross academic disciplines and have broad societal impact. IGERT programs also involve collaboration with other institutions and support training for underrepresented minorities to enhance diversity in the science and engineering workforce.
Michael Pazzani, vice president for Research and Graduate and Professional Education said the awards are the fifth and sixth IGERT grants NSF has awarded Rutgers over the past six years. "Rutgers is one of few universities to receive two IGERT grants in 2009," he said.
Nanotechnology for clean energy generation and storage:
Rutgers will collaborate with Princeton University to apply nanotechnology to clean energy generation and storage and conduct an educational exchange program between the U.S. and Africa. The grant is valued at up to $3.2 million over five years.
"Nanotechnology is a burgeoning field of science and engineering that involves materials and structures thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair," said Manish Chhowalla, professor of materials science and engineering and the grant's principal investigator. He added that nanotechnology can help boost the output and efficiency of solar cells, hydrogen fuel cells and batteries so they can provide clean and abundant energy for transportation, industries and homes.
Graduate students supported by IGERT fellowships will study policy and economic issues related to clean energy development through the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton. Students will also participate in internships and exchanges with African universities and institutions through Princeton's US-Africa Materials Institute.
Renewable and sustainable fuels:
Rutgers will focus on replacing environmentally harmful fossil fuels with renewable, economically sustainable fuels in collaboration with universities in the U.S., Brazil, China and South Africa. The grant is valued at up to $3.2 million over five years.
"The development of biofuels and synfuels will require strategies adaptable to locations worldwide with diverse climates and geopolitical structures," said Eric Lam, the grant's principal investigator and director of the Rutgers Biotechnology Center for Agriculture and the Environment. Lam, who is also a professor of plant biology and pathology, said the program will prepare experts to shape America's future energy economy and policy by providing education in biotechnology, chemistry, ecology, engineering and energy policy along with real-world experience in government and industry.
Lam and his colleagues will collaborate with University of Puerto Rico and two historically black universities, Virginia Union University and Delaware State University. Extending ties established by the Rutgers Energy Institute, the project also will involve Peking University and Academia Sinica Guangxi in China; the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil; and, in South Africa, the University of the Witwatersrand.
Strengthening graduate study in science, technology, engineering, math:
The third grant is funded under a new NSF initiative to strengthen science, technology, engineering and mathematics education. Rutgers will use the five-year NSF Innovation through Institutional Integration (I3) grant to extend its IGERT curricula and practices to other graduate programs and to undergraduate research supported by the Aresty Research Center for Undergraduates.
The I3 grant, valued at up to $1.25 million, will help Rutgers draw on the experience and practices of its four established IGERT programs to enhance all graduate programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Grant funding also will be used to prepare students for higher education through undergraduate research experiences and graduate school transition programs.
"Training a new generation of scientists is a widely recognized national need," said Philip Furmanski, the grant's principal investigator and executive vice president for Academic Affairs at Rutgers. "This grant will support a new Graduate Innovation and Integration Center that will address student preparedness for interdisciplinary endeavors while increasing diversity among our graduate student population."
The new center will support and draw upon existing programs that provide summer research experiences for undergraduates and that recruit and mentor students from diverse backgrounds.