USM receives $4 million grant, Gulf Water Research

|This is a press release from The University of Southern Mississippi

HATTIESBURG, Miss. - Dr. Jason Azoulay, Assistant Professor of Polymer Science and Engineering at The University of Southern Mississippi, has been awarded a $4 million grant from the National Science Foundation to develop selective sensing technologies for detecting and analyzing pollutants in Gulf Coast ecosystems.

Azoulay is leading a team of 10 researchers across six institutions in Mississippi and Alabama on the project that combines approaches from chemistry, biochemistry, geochemistry, marine science, computational science, polymer science, and engineering.

“There is a critical need for research that enables new means of advancing knowledge associated with food, energy, and water systems,” said Azoulay. “This award provides the resources and infrastructure for the development of well-integrated interdisciplinary research and education partnerships to achieve significant and sustainable science that will have a profound regional impact.”

The grant is administered through NSF’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) as part of its Research Infrastructure Improvement (RII) Track-2 investment strategy. The RII Track-2 awards support research while also requiring reward recipients to invest in developing a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce – particularly early-career faculty researchers.

“These awards represent a tremendous value for the scientific community, as they foster research into some of the most pressing issues facing U.S. society while simultaneously supporting collaborative research programs and workforce development,” said EPSCoR Director Denise Barnes. “Whether by expanding our knowledge of the brain, or by improving how our water, food, and energy systems work efficiently together, these projects hold the promise of transforming our daily lives.”

Southern Miss will partner with researchers from the University of Alabama, the University of Alabama-Birmingham, the University of Mississippi, Mississippi State University, and Jackson State University on the four-year project.

The Mississippi Sound and the Mississippi/Alabama Gulf Coast represent a critical nexus of food-energy-water for the region and the greater United States, hosting important fisheries, aquaculture, trading ports, and off-shore oil exploration and production industries.

While the exploitation of the region’s abundant resources provides critical support to the human population and the economy, the ecosystem is severely taxed by factors including oil spills, agricultural run-off, and rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

Dr. Gordon Cannon, Vice President for Research at Southern Miss, points out that the Gulf of Mexico delivers a tremendous economic impact on the United States but historically has remained the least understood coastal body of water.

“An established network of researchers from multiple disciplines with shared instrumentation will be a valuable resource upon which Mississippi and Alabama, as well as the region as a whole, can draw to address problems that affect the Mississippi/Alabama Gulf Coast and the Mississippi Sound,” said Cannon.

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