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National Science Foundation makes
$9 million grant for Arkansas ASSET

Aug. 21, 2007 -- The Arkansas Science & Technology Authority today announced a major grant from the National Science Foundation to establish the Arkansas ASSET Initiative. ASSET will involve three Arkansas universities, including ASU.

Here is the news release from the Arkansas Science &Technology Authority:


Aug. 21, 2007 -- The Arkansas Science & Technology Authority has been awarded a $9 million grant from The National Science Foundation (NSF) to establish the Arkansas ASSET Initiative (Advancing and Supporting Science, Engineering and Technology).

The award was made through NSF’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, which is better known by its acronym, EPSCoR.

The ASSET initiative is designed to boost progress in two scientific research areas that are developing in Arkansas: plant-based bioproduction and wireless nano-bio-info-technology sensors. Both have potential for major economic development as well as regional and national commercial significance.

According to Dr. Gail McClure, vice president research at the Arkansas Science & Technology Authority and project director of the Arkansas ASSET Initiative, funds awarded to the Arkansas ASSET Initiative will be used to further develop the state’s research capabilities and support interdisciplinary activity that will:

  • enhance Arkansas’ research competitiveness,

  • create added research and training opportunities,

  • attract top scholars,

  • enable Arkansas to form new links with national and international programs, and

  • create new economic opportunities for industry and entrepreneurship. 

“The grant will also help develop knowledge- and technology-based economies that will augment Arkansas’ traditional rural/light manufacturing economy,” she added.  “The potential to further drive knowledge-based economic development is a key component within the two research focal areas, a strategy that is critical to the state’s future economic competitiveness.”

Recent strides to mobilize EPSCoR investments into knowledge-based commercial outcomes have been successful in Arkansas. This award will build on highly successful models to ensure “translational” productivity in these new target areas.

ASSET is categorized as “multi-institutional and interdisciplinary” because it involves several state institutions and scientists who work in several fields of study.  The grant will be very beneficial because it will help train entrepreneurs in the targeted research areas and support the commercialization of new technologies.

Grant funding will be provided to three Arkansas universities: the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. The goal is to emphasize high-tech and knowledge-based industries.

Calling the ASSET program a “breakthrough for the state,” Dr. Mary Good, Dean of UALR’s Donaghey College of Engineering and Information Technology, sees the grant as an opportunity for all three universities to work as a team.  “This collaboration is great for the State.  Faculty and students will get to know and work with one another, and make better use of facilities and professional knowledge at all three institutions.”

Adding that the project represents a new spirit of cooperation in the state, Good said the research has the potential to develop into commercial opportunities in Arkansas for technology-based start-up companies, as well as existing companies.

The grant focuses both on improving research infrastructure, or capability, while strengthening the potential for commercialization of the products that may be generated by research groups. 

Dr. Carole Cramer, director of the Arkansas Biosciences Institute at Arkansas State University, commented on the plant bioproduction research theme.  “This grant supports the development of a Plant Powered Production (P3) Center, a multi-institutional, cross-disciplinary center for research at the interface of agriculture, energy, environment, and health.  The EPSCoR funds awarded through ASSET will help support state-of-the-art instrumentation, and innovative research collaborations will create exciting opportunities to develop novel high-value products and technologies for the agricultural, medical, and industrial sectors in Arkansas.” 

One aspect of the grant will support the Wireless Nano-Bio-Info-Tech Sensor System and Center shared by UALR and UAF.  It will create a collaborative infrastructure for the design of arrays of nanosensors that can be integrated with wireless systems and fabricated with a specialized, yet low-cost, nanofabrication technology.

The second research theme, the Wireless Nano-Bio-Info-Tech Sensor System and Center jointly housed on the campuses of the University of Arkansas and UALR, will create a collaborative infrastructure for the design of arrays of nanosensors that can be integrated with wireless systems and fabricated with a specialized, yet low-cost, nanofabrication technology.

“This grant will enable our center to develop wireless sensors and networking technologies that will have a major impact on people and the way they live,” said the University of Arkansas’ Vijay Varadan. Varadan is a professor of electrical engineering, medicine and the College of Engineering’s 21st Century Endowed Chair in Nano- and Bio-Technologies. He foresees a wide variety of applications for the grant-funded research. “For example, we will develop wearable chemical and biological hazard sensors for fire fighters, police, and security personnel.  In addition, we will develop biosensors for human physiological and ambulatory monitoring, and the detection of pathogens in clinical, food, agricultural, and environmental samples. These are only a few examples of the kind of devices our center will create.”

McClure, the ASSET director, added, “Previous EPSCoR projects generated 16 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants in northwest Arkansas, and five new start-up companies developed as a result of past funding.  We hope to expand this effort in northwest Arkansas and replicate this model at the research universities in northeast Arkansas and central Arkansas.”

About the Arkansas Science & Technology Authority: The Arkansas Science & Technology Authority (the Authority) was created by statute in 1983 with the mission to bring the benefits of science and advanced technology to the people and state of Arkansas. This mission is addressed by strategies to promote scientific research, technology development, business innovation, and math, science and engineering education.

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