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UMass President Announces Science and Technology Awards

BOSTON — UMass President Robert Caret announced $865,000 in grants to faculty members from the President’s Science and Technology Initiatives Fund to support several promising research projects. They range from using big-data analytics in climatology and healthcare 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,” 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 of awards from the President’s Science and Technology Initiatives Fund, one of three funds that Caret supports to help advance the work of UMass 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 and New England Robotics and Validation & Experimentation Center at UMass Lowell; and the UMass Center for Clinical and Translational Science at UMass Worcester.

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

• UMass Cancer Avatar Institute, Dale Greiner and 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 and 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: a project that 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 and Susan Roberts, UMass Amherst: an initiative establishing 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 library (3,500 plant species) 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.