New research clusters to focus on sustainability, environment

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

DENTON (UNT), Texas --  The University of North Texas today announced the formation of two new collaborative research clusters that will build on innovative research already under way on the campus. The announcement brings the total number of active research clusters at work to seven, following the initial announcement of the cluster initiative in September 2008.

UNT's collaborative research clusters are funded through a $25 million commitment by the university as part of a long-term effort to bolster research, strengthen the state's economy, and develop technology vital to addressing today's most pressing needs.

"Both of these new research clusters are directly focused on sustainability and environmental issues, research areas that UNT has a long and successful history of supporting," said UNT Provost Wendy K. Wilkins. "I'm very pleased to approve these two new clusters because of their potential worldwide impact. UNT is committed to finding new, creative, sustainable solutions to today's environmental challenges."

The creation of new plant-based products is the subject of one of the new clusters: Cradle-to-Cradle: Multifunctional Renewable Bioproduct Solutions, which will concentrate on the properties of plant materials and how they might be adapted to create new bioproducts. That could include, for example, such items as soy-based adhesives, new fibers with improved properties for construction or bio-based lubricants. This emphasis on sustainability, or cradle-to-cradle, underscores UNT's ongoing commitment to sustainability. The project will be led by Dr. Nandika D-Souza, cluster coordinator and a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in UNT's College of Engineering. The cluster team will include scientists from the departments of Materials Science and Engineering, Biological Sciences, Chemistry and Engineering Technology.

The second new cluster, Sub-Antarctic Biocultural Research and Conservation Program, will build on UNT's strength in biocultural conservation and environmental science. For several years, UNT has been working with the government of Chile, the Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity, the University of Magallanes and non-profit organizations, to integrate ecological and social aspects of research, education and conservation into a long-term initiative that will make the Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve a formal long-term ecological research site. This area lies at the tip of South America, and is the largest protected area in Latin America, 10 times the size of Yellowstone National Park.

UNT's new cluster will develop effective conservation and sustainable development practices for the region. The sub-Antarctic region of South America currently does not have the type of international long-term ecological monitoring that will be established by the Sub-Antarctic Biocultural Research and Conservation Program.  The cluster will be led by Ricardo Rozzi, cluster coordinator and associate professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion Studies in UNT's College of Arts and Sciences. The cluster team will include scientists from the departments of Philosophy and Religion Studies, Biological Sciences, Studio Art and Library and Information Services.

UNT's collaborative research clusters are enhancing and expanding innovative research by bringing together faculty from across colleges and disciplines to work together, exchange ideas and explore solutions, Wilkins explained. The development of each cluster will include hiring new faculty members, including senior level researchers with international reputations.

The clusters were selected from faculty proposals that include plans to address specific research problems by working across traditional disciplinary boundaries. A review committee chaired by Vish Prasad, vice president for research and economic development assessed the proposals and recommended to Provost Wilkins that two clusters receive full funding.

"The clusters are an integral part of UNT's comprehensive effort to expand research across the university," Prasad said. "The knowledge developed by our research clusters provides a strong foundation to build on as we continue our progress toward becoming a national research university."

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