News: Press Releases

July 14, 2014

UMass President announces Science & Technology awards

  • The UMass System
Grant program has attracted $240 million in research funding, since 2004

BOSTON - July 14, 2014: President Robert L. Caret today announced $865,000 in grants to faculty members from the President's Science and Technology Initiatives Fund to support seven promising research projects. They range from using Big Data analytics in climatology and health care to developing radar-like laser technology known as LIDAR to study wind energy and ocean and forested environments.

The initiatives showcase a range of innovative research being undertaken by UMass faculty members that contribute to the growth of the Commonwealth's economy, especially in the science and technology areas, and extend the boundaries of human knowledge. The grants help accelerate research activity across all five campuses and position researchers to attract larger investments from external sources to expand the scope of their projects.

"With the level of the federal government's support of R&D still in question, we must do all we can to support the University's role in the state's Innovation Economy," President Caret said. "We are committed to strengthening our economic engagement in strategic areas such as clean energy, the environment, life sciences, and Big Data, and these grants are another step in that direction."

This is the 11th year for the President's Science and Technology Initiatives Fund awards - one of three funds that President Caret supports to help advance the work of University of Massachusetts faculty members. The other two are the Creative Economy Initiatives Fund and the Commercial Ventures and Intellectual Property Technology Development Fund.

Since 2004, the Science and Technology fund has provided $10 million to UMass researchers, which in turn has helped to generate $240 million in funding from federal and private sources. These science and technology investments have been one of the factors in helping the University grow its research and development budget to nearly $600 million.

The investments have helped to establish some of the most important R&D centers across the state, including the Center for Hierarchical Nanomanufacturing at UMass Amherst; the Center for Personalized Cancer Therapy at UMass Boston; the Center for Scientific Computing and Data Visualization Research at UMass Dartmouth; the Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center (M2D2) and New England Robotics and Validation & Experimentation (NERVE) Center at UMass Lowell; and the UMass Center for Clinical and Translational Science at UMass Worcester.

The fund's goals are to provide seed-level support to better position faculty researchers for larger, long-term investments; to advance strategic university research priorities; and to spur partnerships with state industry that leverage the university's expertise while enhancing the competitiveness of companies with which UMass is working.

Nearly 80 projects representing the breadth of academic inquiry at the University of Massachusetts have been funded to date. This year's projects receiving grants from the Science and Technology Initiatives Fund are:

  • UMass Cancer Avatar Institute: Dale Greiner & Giles Whalen - UMass Medical School - A proposed multi-campus institute that would provide mice engineered as "avatars" of individual human patient tumors, enabling technology developed for diabetes research to be used to integrate biomarker identification platform for multiple cancer types. The initiative has three components: establishment of a tumor bank, which has already begun via internal funds; clinical pathology evaluation of tumors in these specialized mice; and a new "humanized mouse core" to link the tumor bank to individual investigators in multiple cancer research fields. Award: $125,000 (not including an additional $25,000 "matching grant" provided by the Medical School, for a total of $150,000 in funding to the research team)
  • Center for Computational Climatology & Paleoclimatology: Robert DeConto & Raymond Bradley - UMass Amherst - An effort that brings together academic scientists and engineers, industrial researchers and users of high-performance computing resources to the issue of climate change. The grant will help develop a center for climate-related computation and numerical modeling of value to the Commonwealth and contribute to the field of climate science by applying "Big Data" computational analysis, modeling, data mining and visualization to climate change research. Award: $104,000
  • Center for MicroBiome Research: Beth McCormick - UMass Medical School - This project proposes to develop a center of research and education for the "microbiome," the term used to describe the ecosystem of the 100 trillion bacteria in the human body, in collaboration with UMass Amherst's new Life Sciences Laboratories and the UMass Dartmouth Center for Scientific Computing and Data Visualization Research. The exploration of the microbiome - and its role in health, development and disease - is a vast, mostly untapped area of biomedical research and therapeutic potential. The center proposes to use "big data" analysis (advanced computational and bioinformatics) to research microbiome-related genomic and clinical data and involves multiple industry partners. Award: $125,000 (not including an additional $25,000 "matching grant" provided by the Medical School, for a total of $150,000 in funding to the research team)
  • Mass. BioFoundry: Center for Discovery & Synthesis of Bioactive Molecules: Elizabeth Vierling & Susan Roberts - UMass Amherst - This initiative establishes a "biofoundry" with the goal of discovering valuable molecules from unique plant and microbial species and developing processes, either biological or chemical, by which they can be produced in quantities sufficient for medical or industrial applications. This research center will include a natural-products (3,500 plant species) library donated by an industry partner, along with related research equipment, valued at more than $1 million. The team will work with the Medical School's Small-Molecule Screening Facility and Northeastern University's Antimicrobial Discovery Center. Award: $150,000
  • Experimental Center for Environmental LIDAR (EXCEL): Supriya Chakrabarti - UMass Lowell - A proposed multi-campus, multidisciplinary center of excellence to develop environmental monitoring technologies via new, multiwave/multicolor "light-detection & ranging" (LIDAR) research and applications. The leadership team comprises multiple campuses and has established significant ties with external entities including universities (Boston University, MIT, Rochester Institute of Technology); military (Naval Air Systems Command and the  US Army Natick Soldier Research, Development & Engineering Center); state government  (Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection),  industry and others. Applications in terrestrial ecology, oceanography, and wind-energy generation are expected to create additional research advances, and "big data" applications are anticipated due to the large 3-D datasets and data-visualization requirements of the technology. Award: $150,000
  • Next Generation Biomarker Development Pipeline Program: Jill Macoska - UMass Boston - This award expands the scope of the Center for Personalized Cancer Therapy (CPCT), a joint effort with Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center (an S&T Fund grant recipient in FY2010) to create a first-of-its-kind "RNA-based" biomarker test platform that will enable faster tumor-identification and disease diagnosis and prognosis. Research will be conducted in partnership with Dana-Farber, the Harvard Cancer Center and UMass Medical School, initially targeting renal cancer, establishing ties with industry, and leveraging this work to attract additional companies seeking this novel research approach. Award: $75,000
  • UMass Center for Advanced Coatings, Mazdak Tootkaboni & Mehdi Raessi - UMass Dartmouth - This grant will help faculty pursue development of a center to conduct joint research with UMass Lowell's Advanced Composite Materials & Textile Research Lab to develop cost-effective, erosion-resistant coatings for the protection of polymer composite structures (for example, to solve the problem of wind-turbine blade erosion) using newly created protective coatings. Additional application areas involving military helicopters or commercial airliners are also being considered. Award: $136,000

In addition to the major awards, President Caret also awarded a planning grant to the following:

  • Next Generation Materials & Processes for 3-D Printing: David Kazmer - UMass Lowell - A planning seed grant to enable the Lowell campus, in coordination with the Amherst campus, to establish the groundwork to create a center for industry-university cooperative research in the area of 3-D printing materials, supply-chain and industrial processes. The proposed center would expand and strengthen the University's leadership in the area of advanced manufacturing and next-generation materials and processes to enable mass production of integrated products by 3-D printing. Award: $25,000

Contact: Ann Scales, 617-287-4084; Robert P. Connolly, 617-287-7073