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Peter Reinhart

Peter Reinhart calls the grant “an unprecedented opportunity to build a sustainable innovation engine.”


A team from UMass Amherst recently won a $5.5 million Accelerating Research Translation (ART) award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support and expand faculty and student researchers’ efforts to translate research conducted in campus laboratories into tangible solutions to real-world problems.

The UMass team, which includes the Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS), the Technology Transfer Office, the Office of Research & Engagement, and the Office of the Provost, is one of only 18 nationwide announced in the program’s inaugural year. It is the only award made in New England, and one of just three in the Northeast.

“NSF endeavors to empower academic institutions to build the pathways and structures needed to speed and scale their research into products and services that benefit the nation,” NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan said, adding that the ART program “identifies and champions institutions positioned to expand their research-translation capacity by investing in activities essential to move results to practice.”

UMass Amherst Chancellor Javier Reyes noted that “the resources and nationwide network that this award brings to the campus will open new opportunities for our researchers to make a positive impact on society and will strengthen their ability to contribute to economic development in the region and beyond.”

Provost Mike Malone added that “receiving ART funding from NSF is a vote of confidence in the excellence of campus researchers and the potential for their work to translate into products, spinout ventures, and social enterprises that solve important real-world problems.”

Each ART awardee will benefit from a partnership with a mentoring institution of higher education that already has a robust ecosystem for translational research. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) will serve in that role for UMass. As such, the UMass Amherst team will be able to take advantage of MIT’s research-translation prowess to develop individual faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate-student researchers, as well as its knowhow in the development of new startup companies.

“The project will equip diverse groups of scientists and engineers, from undergraduates to senior faculty, with skills to extend research excellence toward impactful translational outcomes.”

Roman Lubynsky, executive director of the New England Regional Innovation Node at MIT, has already begun to work with the UMass team as lead mentor, noting that “the IHE mentor role provides an ideal opportunity for us to build upon and expand our ongoing relationship with UMass Amherst, including facilitating access to and adaptation of best practices from across MIT’s translational enterprise.”


Seeking Impact

The four-year award will fund seed translational research projects, training to prepare postdoctoral fellows and graduate students for careers related to translational research, and a network of ART ambassadors, who will serve as role models, peer mentors, and advocates for societally impactful translational research.

In addition, UMass Amherst’s ART ambassadors will be part of a nationwide network of ART ambassadors from all funded institutions. Diverse, equitable, and inclusive efforts will prioritize and champion the involvement of members of traditionally underrepresented groups in every aspect of the project.

“This award provides the campus with an unprecedented opportunity to build a sustainable innovation engine that will prepare students and faculty to contribute to the innovation economy, shorten timelines between ideation and de-risked technologies, and result in enterprises that include diverse leaders in the development of technologies to address important societal needs,” said Peter Reinhart, founding director of IALS. “The project will equip diverse groups of scientists and engineers, from undergraduates to senior faculty, with skills to extend research excellence toward impactful translational outcomes.”

Reinhart will serve as the grant’s principal investigator. Co-principal investigators include Provost Mike Malone; Burnley Jaklevic, director of the UMass Amherst Technology Transfer Office; and Karen Utgoff, director of IALS Venture Development. Partner organizations include MassVentures, the Berkshire Innovation Center, Massachusetts Biomedical Initiatives, and Somerville-based innovation accelerator FORGE.

According to the National Science Foundation, more than $100 million was awarded to the 18 teams. Each awardee will receive up to $6 million over four years to identify and build upon academic research with the potential for technology transfer and societal and economic impacts, to ensure availability of staff with technology-transfer expertise, and to support the education and training of entrepreneurial faculty and students.

“Congratulations to the IALS team and the UMass Amherst campus on this significant award,” said Jeanne LeClair, vice president of Economic Development & Partnerships for the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center. “The center is incredibly proud of its significant investments in IALS as an anchor institution of our burgeoning Western Massachusetts life-sciences cluster. This award will only further spur innovation, translational research, and entrepreneurship for the region and our Commonwealth.”

Massachusetts Secretary for Economic Development Yvonne Hao added that “this ART award will help to grow the innovation economy in Western Massachusetts. The region has a lot to offer talented people who want to create new businesses, expand them, and to really succeed and thrive here.”


More Successes for IALS

The ART announcement came on the heels of two IALS core facilities receiving sophisticated microscopy instruments — the first such instruments to be located in Western Mass. — through grants totaling more than $3.2 million from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC).

The UMass Amherst grants are included in a funding package of more than $30.5 million to support life-sciences innovation, workforce, and STEM education across Massachusetts.

The first award of $1,655,774 will fund the IALS Electron Microscope facility’s purchase of a cryo-transmission electron microscope, technology that the microscopy facility did not possess, and which will be the first to be located in Western Mass., according to facility director Alexander Ribbe.

The second award, $1,555,276, will allow the Light Microscopy facility, under the direction of James Chambers, to purchase technology that was missing from its imaging portfolio, expanding light microscopy offerings for biomedical training and research at UMass Amherst and beyond.