$3 million awarded for research and training

December 06, 2011

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- For years, scientists have used neutron scattering techniques to discover the molecular properties of materials. Technologies that have been developed using neutron scattering include new drugs, high-strength metals and cement, electronic and magnetic devices, and hydrogen storage materials. However, the United States is experiencing a shortage of scientists trained in these nuclear techniques. In an effort to combat the shortage, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a $3 million grant to the University of Missouri to train current and future scientists and thus, help build a scientific foundation for future discoveries.

"MU's Research Reactor (MURR) is a unique facility on MU's campus that gives us a fantastic opportunity for training scientists to use the current neutron scattering techniques," said Haskell Taub, a professor of physics in the College of Arts and Science and director of the training program. "In our program, we'll focus on three areas of research and interdisciplinary study: the molecular structure and dynamics of biological materials; the characterization of materials used for electronic devices, such as lasers and computers; and the structure of nanoscale materials, such as gold nanoparticles that have many uses including cancer treatments."

Over the last several decades, the United States has invested nearly $2 billion for new facilities that have the capability to conduct neutron scattering experiments, but very few individuals are qualified to use the facilities, Taub said. Graduate students who are working toward their doctorates will have the opportunity to apply for the training program. Taub hopes to train up to 20 students during the five year program, which will provide $30,000 annual stipend plus tuition and fees.

The project will use problem-based learning in the courses, including hands-on training at MURR, and follow the guidelines of Mizzou's writing intensive courses. These two instructional methods have been recognized as strengths at MU. Taub hopes that graduates of the program will develop communication and organizational skills required to collaborate with scientific teams in different parts of the globe.

The research and training program will be a collaboration among four universities: Indiana University, North Carolina State University, and Fisk University, which is located in Nashville, Tenn. MU is the lead institution in the program. At MU, faculty from five departments -- physics, biochemistry, electrical and computer engineering, mechanical and aerospace engineering, and biological sciences -- will participate in the program.

"We also will train faculty who have research that could benefit from neutron scattering, but are unfamiliar with the technique," Taub said. "Faculty who are trained in neutron scattering will partner with faculty from other departments who bring interesting science or engineering projects, but lack experience or expertise in neutron scattering. By doing this, we hope to expand the use of neutron scattering even further."

The grant is part of the NSF's Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship Program (IGERT) and is the first such award received by MU since the IGERT program began in 1998. MU was one of 18 universities to receive the award this year and will match the grant with $1.3 million. More than 410 proposals were submitted for the award.

"As Fisk University produces more African-American students who go on to earn doctoral degrees in the natural sciences than any other school in the nation, we are delighted to be partnering with MU in training our country's next generation of neutron scattering scientists," said Arnold Burger, professor of physics at Fisk University.

University of Missouri-Columbia

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