UH awarded $9 million federal grant to continue efforts to enhance state's research infrastructure

University of Hawaiʻi
Carolyn Tanaka, (808) 956-9803
External Affairs & University Relations
Posted: Jun 28, 2006

HONOLULU — The University of Hawaiʻi has been awarded a second grant of $9 million from the National Science Foundation‘s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (NSF EPSCoR). The three-year grant will continue to support activities of "Investing in Multidisciplinary University Activities through NSF Hawaiʻi EPSCoR: IMUA NSF Hawaiʻi EPSCoR," an NSF program administered by UH, as well as create more opportunities to obtain research funding from the federal government. IMUA NSF Hawaiʻi EPSCoR is intended to aid the state with its efforts to increase research infrastructure in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines.

The NSF grant will enable UH to improve Hawaiʻi‘s research infrastructure under the theme of "Collaborative Research for Ecology, Evolution and Cyberinfrastructure." The grant will provide support for research in evolutionary and ecological genetics, ecosystem responses to environmental change, and cyberinfrastructure for environmental research and education.

Additionally, the grant will be partially matched by funding support from the State Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism to enhance Hawaiʻi‘s workforce skills through private sector internships, mentorships, and other experiential learning programs in strategic technology areas that have the greatest potential for development statewide.

The principal investigator on the grant is Dr. James Gaines, Interim Vice President for Research of the University of Hawaiʻi System. The project co-directors are Dr Donald Price of University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo and Dr. Kenneth Kaneshiro of University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

"We are most pleased for the National Science Foundation‘s continued support for Hawaiʻi‘s IMUA EPSCoR program," said Hawaiʻi Senator Daniel Inouye. "This program will enable our state to continue to expand and diversify our State‘s research infrastructure, making us significantly more competitive in future bids for federal research funding."

Hawaiʻi Governor Linda Lingle reflected, "Our state is unique in the breadth and diversity of its environmental resources, and the EPSCoR IMUA II program will enable us to build on these strategic assets to strengthen Hawaiʻi‘s research and educational programs statewide."

"Our faculty and researchers at the University of Hawaiʻi are among the nation‘s finest. On a daily basis they contribute their expertise towards the betterment of Hawaiʻi‘s research infrastructure, particularly in our work relating to the islands‘ unique biodiversity," said UH President David McClain. "This additional funding from the National Science Foundation will ensure that we will continue to build upon existing EPSCoR projects, expand our scientific partnerships and further develop innovative research strategies of national significance."

UH Hilo Chancellor Rose Tseng is widely credited with being the impetus behind the initial effort to bring EPSCoR to Hawaiʻi. NSF EPSCoR was originally funded in 2001, under the auspices of a planning grant that allowed the state to identify its specific area of research through which to pursue a targeted infrastructure improvement. Tseng has continued to serve as Chair of the Statewide EPSCoR Committee, a task she now shares with Maurice Kaya of DBEDT.

Tseng states, "EPSCoR has enabled the Mānoa, Hilo and Community Colleges campuses to work together as a System to improve the science and technology research climate in the state. It has given recognition to the fact that UH Hilo is a place where research is carried out, and that has a direct tie-in to its community. We are excited to continue our participation in this project that allows the research, education, and economic development interests of Hawaiʻi to work together with such focus and drive."

Principal Investigator James Gaines states, "The EPSCoR program‘s vital strategic focus on improving our scientific and technological capabilities supports Hawaiʻi‘s involvement in EPSCoR and, in turn, is supported by it. Improving the competitiveness of local researchers is imperative if we are to remain the premier center for scientific inquiry in the Pacific Basin. The EPSCoR program is not only helping us expand our competitiveness, but also extending and enhancing collaborative partnerships among academia, private industry, and government statewide."

The grant follows the original IMUA I EPSCoR-funded project in 2003-2006 which focused on three research thurst areas: Envolutionary Genetics, Ecosystems Research and Information Technology for Environmental Research. A cadre of researchers and educators throughout the UH system who shared a vision and desire to improve research in Hawaiʻi, education about environmental sciences and the environment itself, combined their efforts to execute a number of projects in these areas.

Highlights resulting from the IMUA I EPSCoR award include:
· 14 new faculty members hired at the Mānoa and Hilo campuses;
· Establishment of four core research facilities at Mānoa and Hilo that implemented a "shared use" philosophy, enabling researchers access to state-of-the-art equipment for a wide range of projects;
· Establishment of the interdisciplinary graduate program in Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science (TCBES) at the UH Hilo campus that involves 33 faculty from the disciplines of Anthropology, Biology, Chemistry, Geography, Geology, Marine Science, and the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management, and 26 affiliated faculty in federal and state agencies;
· Development and deployment of environmental sensors on Kauai, Maui and Mānoa Valley to establish environmental monitoring technologies and to make environmental data available to a wide variety of researchers; and
· Development and implementation of methodologies for employing a geographical information system (GIS) to integrate a variety of ecological and genetic data, remotely sensed imagery and spatially referenced abiotic data.

"Both the legislative and administrative branches of Hawaiʻi‘s State Government recognize the critical importance and significant potential of science and technology-based innovation as drivers for economic development," said Ted Liu, Director of DBEDT. "A successful innovation-based growth strategy will rely on a resilient and competitive research infrastructure, as well as the ability to transfer research and development spin-offs from universities to the private sector for commercialization — all of which will be predicated on a workforce adequately trained in critical research and technological skills. Hawaiʻi‘s EPSCoR initiative will make this all possible."

Since its founding in 2000, EPSCoR Hawaiʻi has met its goal of increasing amounts of extramural grants that are awarded to the UH system with an overall increase of 118 percent system-wide, and a 107.5 percent increase at UH Mānoa. UH Hilo‘s funding significantly increased 484.4 percent and the UH community colleges 193.8 percent.

Also noteworthy is that since the implemtation of NSF EPSCoR in Hawaiʻi, its researchers have dramatically increased their number of proposals and the amount of awards obtained. From 2000-2005, the cumulative amount of awards funded to EPSCoR researchers rose from $1.58 million to $6.53 million—a 313.3 percent increase.

To learn more about IMUA NSF EPSCoR Hawaiʻi and associated projects, visit the web site at http://www.epscor.hawaii.edu/.

For more information, visit: http://www.epscor.hawaii.edu/