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A nearly $2.7 million, three-year National Science Foundation grant is funding a Mississippi-Louisiana collaborative research consortium.

The regional partnership received a competitive Research Infrastructure Improvement Track-2 award earlier this month through the NSF's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research. Known to most by the acronym EPSCoR, the program is designed to fulfill a critical NSF mandate of promoting scientific progress nationwide.

Scientists at Mississippi State and Jackson State universities, along with the universities of Mississippi and Southern Mississippi, will work with counterparts at Louisiana State University and other Bayou State higher education institutions on the project, according to a senior MSU administrator.

"Our team will develop new experimental and computational tools for accelerating development of smart polymers that have applications in medicine and material science," said Drew Hamilton, MSU associate vice president for research.

Hamilton, the grant's co-principal investigator, said the two-state team "will apply molecular modeling and cyber control strategies across the lifecycle of polymer development from bench-top synthesis to product manufacture, and tailor the design of smart polymers to meet pressing needs in drug delivery, environmental remediation and nanomaterials."

Since education and outreach are key EPSCoR components, the Mississippi-Louisiana consortium will be working to apply advances in the science of polymer characterization and materials synthesis as a central theme for activities that engage local schools, teachers, undergraduate and graduate students, as well as industry, he added.

"We hope to strengthen regional economic competitiveness by building a stronger workforce through coordination of our research with education and outreach," Hamilton said.

Other collaborative teams in Kansas and Nebraska and Arkansas and Missouri also received Track-2 funding. Collectively, the awards involve researchers from about 20 universities over a three-year period.

According to NSF officials, each consortium will implement a unique suite of relevant activities for developing a scientifically literate workforce and broadening participation of underrepresented groups in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, which collectively go by the acronym STEM.

"These consortia will spur technological innovations that drive economic growth and develop a diverse STEM-enabled workforce," said Denise Barnes, head of NSF's EPSCoR program.

In addition to MSU, Mississippi's EPSCoR program utilizes science and technology resources at JSU, UM and USM to stimulate sustainable science and technology infrastructure improvements at the institutions. The ultimate goal is to accelerate the ability of the researchers at the public institutions to compete for federal and private sector research and development funding.

For more about Mississippi EPSCoR, visit www.msepscor.org.

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