University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez
Mayaguez, Puerto Rico

The University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez or Recinto Universitario de Mayagüez in Spanish , is a land-grant, sea-grant, space-grant state university located in the city of Mayagüez, Puerto Rico. UPRM is the second-largest university campus of the University of Puerto Rico system.UPRM has been accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education since 1946. Also, the engineering undergraduate program is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology , the nursing undergraduate program is accredited by the National League for Nursing and the Chemistry Department is recognized by the American Chemical Society . The College of Business Administration is going through the process of the AACSB accreditation. The Mayagüez campus of the University of Puerto Rico has been a member of Oak Ridge Associated Universities since 1966.UPRM continues its development in the best tradition of a land-grant institution. It is a co-educational, bilingual, and non-sectarian school comprising the Colleges of Agricultural science, Arts and science, Business Administration, Engineering and the Division of Continuing Education and Professional Studies. The College of Agricultural science includes the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Agricultural Extension Service. In 2009, the campus population was composed of 12,108 students, 1,924 regular staff members and 1,037 members of the education staff. Wikipedia.

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Agency: NSF | Branch: Cooperative Agreement | Program: | Phase: RESEARCH INFRASTRUCTURE IMPROV | Award Amount: 2.00M | Year: 2016

Non-technical Description

The project addresses the food-energy-water nexus for agriculture in the collaborating jurisdictions (PR and SC). Experimental and computation methods will be combined to better understand biomass deconstruction, the use of lignin for soil improvement, and to develop separation technologies for water treatment. The anticipated outcomes will lead to more sustainable agricultural practices, improved energy efficiency and soil and water quality. A comprehensive suite of education and outreach activities will provide training for K-12 teachers, research experiences for undergraduate and graduate students, and mentoring for early career faculty. These programs will recruit underrepresented minorities and women and broaden their participation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields.

Technical Description

This project will support complementary, collaborative research between the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez (UPR) and the University of South Carolina Columbia (USC) to address fundamental issues in biomass deconstruction, catalysis, lignin, and membranes separation technology for engineering improved agricultural sustainability. UPR will perform bottom-up design of nanostructured catalysts for targeted transformation of biomass waste into value added chemicals as well as the study of soil amendment using lignin. USC will focus on the development of advanced composites and membranes to remove contaminants of emerging concern from irrigation water.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: MACROSYSTEM BIOLOGY | Award Amount: 300.00K | Year: 2016

Soils that are unusually harsh (like limestone, serpentine, and gypsum) tend to support distinct floras that are rich in endemic plant species and are among many of the world?s biodiversity hotspots. Whether unusual soil ecosystems respond differently to climate change compared to ?normal? soil types is unknown. On the one hand, stress-tolerant plant traits typical of unusual soil flora may result in greater resilience to climate change. On the other hand, spatial isolation and anthropogenic disturbances, like habitat fragmentation, may make unusual soil ecosystems more vulnerable to climate change. This project will use a combination of field measurements, remote sensing, and climate modeling to determine how serpentine soils in the Caribbean region respond to ongoing and predicted climate change. This research represents the first comprehensive effort to understand how tropical serpentine soils respond to climate change, and consequently will vastly improve our understanding of these unique ecosystems. The information generated by this research will be useful for conserving biodiversity and for improving predictions for other unusual soil ecosystems around the world. The data collected during this project will enhance national and global databases, facilitating further research. This project will strengthen the workforce and increase diversity in science by providing training workshops for students and faculty in data management and analytical skills, integrating the data collected in this research into introductory biology teaching modules, and training four undergraduate and four graduate students in all aspects of the study from data collection to publication.

The proposed research will determine scaling relationships between functional trait diversity and environmental attributes of serpentine and non-serpentine ecosystems, quantify historical patterns and rates of land-use change of serpentine and non-serpentine ecosystems using satellite imagery, and model predicted ecosystem function by integrating soil and functional traits into climate and species distribution models. This project will measure key plant functional traits related to climatic tolerances and dispersal ability in serpentine and non-serpentine ecosystems throughout the Caribbean Basin. Soil chemistry will also be quantified, allowing a standardized comparison of soil characteristics across broad spatial scales. Climate and species distribution models will identify regions and species that are particularly vulnerable or resilient to climate change. Inter-annual trends in vegetation greenness and primary production will be analyzed using Landsat imagery data. Remote sensing analyses will determine the magnitude and rate of habitat fragmentation in serpentine and non-serpentine ecosystems and responses to inter-annual variation in precipitation. This project integrates fine-scale patterns of diversity with large-scale patterns of ecosystem change in a global biodiversity hotspot and will determine whether unusual soil ecosystems are uniquely resilient or uniquely vulnerable to climate change.

Agency: National Aeronautics and Space Administration | Branch: | Program: STTR | Phase: Phase I | Award Amount: 125.00K | Year: 2016

TDA Research Inc.(TDA) in collaboration with University of Puerto Rico ? Mayaguez (UPRM is proposing to develop a highly efficient CO2 removal system based on UPRM proprietary strontium exchanged silico-alumino-phosphate (Sr-SAPO-34) for closed loop space craft cabin air re-vitalization during deep space missions.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: Structural and Architectural E | Award Amount: 99.45K | Year: 2016

In its natural full-culm (hollow tube) state, bamboo has evolved to efficiently resist a variety of environmental loads. Its high strength, light weight, fast growth, and low energy and fertilizer requirements all recommend bamboo as a sustainable replacement for conventional materials that are resource and energy intensive. The primary objective of this project is to establish the framework and tools required to standardize the evaluation of the material and mechanical properties of full-culm bamboo and thereby place bamboo on the same footing as timber as a conventional building material. Through such standardization of non-conventional materials like bamboo, the triple bottom line of sustainable development (social equity, ecology, and economy) is advanced in a variety of international contexts, most notably in regard to social equity. In developing regions, standardization of non-conventional building materials serves technical, ecological and social goals empowering rural communities to directly participate in construction of safe and reliable housing as well as to sustainably develop local economies. In particular, this project will advance these goals by leveraging local resources in Puerto Rico and Haiti to sponsor a variety of training and educational activities for U.S. students.

This research will consolidate and significantly extend the extant body of knowledge and establish materials- and mechanics-based constitutive models for the behavior of full-culm bamboo as a functionally graded, fiber-reinforced material. Three representations of bamboo behavior will be developed forming the framework and tools required to evaluate the material and mechanical properties of bamboo for engineered applications. First, detailed analytical modeling is key to understanding the engineering properties of bamboo as a functionally graded material. An analytical model will be developed informed by innovative experimental methods focused on establishing through-wall and along-culm variation of fundamental mechanical properties. Second, surrogate representation of difficult-to-obtain engineering properties suitable for field test methods is necessary if broad adoption of full-culm bamboo is to be reliable. The approach taken will leverage the analytical platform developed in order to develop both empirical and mechanics-based representations of engineering design properties that may be obtained from practical field tests. Finally, a new framework for modeling uncertainty in bamboo material and mechanical properties, which can be can be highly variable, will enable reliable calibration of design equations. The approach will include stochastic generation of probability spatial distributions of mechanical properties implemented into the developed analytical model. The project will advance the science of modeling both fiber reinforced and functionally graded materials. Indeed, a better understanding of the naturally evolved optimal design of the bamboo material and culm, including its nonhomogeneity and variability, will inspire optimization of other structural engineering functionally graded materials.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: OFFICE OF SPECIAL PROGRAMS-DMR | Award Amount: 275.00K | Year: 2015

NON-TECHNICAL PART: The Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) in Reconfigurable and Multifunctional Soft Materials (RMSM) at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez (UPRM) will fund 10 undergraduate students for a 10-week summer research and educational experience. Students will be recruited primarily from schools that cannot provide them with opportunities for STEM research and will focus on promoting a vibrant, top-notch research culture by showcasing meritorious local scientists while strengthening partnerships with world-class research institutions. REU programs, in general, are designed to advance discovery and understanding while promoting teaching, training, and learning through hands on research and educational experiences for undergraduates. The RMSM REU program will continue fostering this legacy and will help students to strengthen their scientific communication skills through a series of seminars that focus on professional development. They will have the opportunity to learn a second language and immerse themselves in a different culture, while participating in exciting research. Finally, the participants will help to broaden dissemination to the next generation of researchers through participation in the UPRM Science on Wheels program and :Ciencia Puerto Rico website.

TECHNICAL PART: The RMSM REU will contribute to the pool of underrepresented scientists, inspiring young students to enter disciplines with transformative potential, such as finding methods to develop smart soft materials for new consumer products and biomedical applications. Students will conduct individual research projects in the development and characterization of soft materials and their ability to respond away from equilibrium. Knowledge in this area will open doors in a broad range of scientific disciplines, which encompass the major challenges in the development of novel materials. The chosen projects are relevant to ongoing research at UPRM yet were selected because they are suitable for an REU participant to make unique contributions during a summer session.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: CIVIL INFRASTRUCTURE SYSTEMS | Award Amount: 1.50M | Year: 2015

Electric energy networks are the cornerstone of the civil infrastructure of our society. These networks provide the energy essential to carrying out daily operations in education, health care, commerce, entertainment, defense, and government. However, electric energy markets, due to their vertical integration, often exclude customers from the processes associated with energy production, pricing, transmission and distribution. Smart grids and distributed generation schemes have been proposed as mechanisms to modernize energy grids and balance the current power structures in electric markets. In a smart grid, computers and communications networks are attached to the power generation, transmission, distribution and load elements, establishing a mechanism to gather information, control generation, control demand, diagnose problems, bid for prices in energy markets, and forecast energy consumption. However, a smart grid creates interdependencies between the energy network and the computer network since the energy network powers the computers that in turn control the operation of the energy grid. In this project, a team from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez (UPRM) will study smart grids and the interdependency between the energy grid and the IT infrastructure that is setup to manage it. This project champions a transformation of the electric grid, moving it away from being centered on centralized utilities that supply most, if not all, power services. Instead, the grid becomes a marketplace of third-party power-service suppliers, who compete to sell their electric services over the Internet. These services include energy block purchases, storage, billing, weather forecasting, energy demand forecasting, and other ancillary services. This brings in an important societal element - it empowers common citizens, whose homes are now renewable energy generation systems, to become suppliers and key actors in the energy market. This project is thus aimed at designing and developing the basic science and technology for an Open Access Smart Grid in order to create truly sustainable energy markets.

In this project, the smart grid is modelled as a collection of interdependent electric and cloud services, whose collaborative interactions help manage the smart grid. All the electric services (e.g., energy, storage, billing) are exposed to users as REST-based cloud services, enabling the development of algorithms and applications for customers, power producers, and other users to consume or subscribe to these electric services, collect operational data and customer feedback, and support analytics to predict electric energy demands. Microgrids and renewable energy systems will be important components in this framework, as they enable modularization of the grid into autonomous or semi-autonomous subsystems. The research team will develop methods to map reliable power microgrids into electric services that can be rapidly brought online to compensate for lost generation capacity or to obtain more affordable energy. A major challenge with microgrid systems is activating them without introduction major power disturbances in the system. Another challenge is forecasting the availability of renewable energy, which will be addressed this by developing rain-cell tracking frameworks for solar and wind output estimation services, and the determination of local sensors requirements to improve short-term forecasts services. Finally, the team will apply the social acceptance model to the development, implementation, management and assessment of the Open Access Smart Grid with the purpose of identifying the institutional change necessary for the integration of all stakeholders and the effective democratization of electric services.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Continuing grant | Program: | Phase: CENTERS FOR RSCH EXCELL IN S&T | Award Amount: 5.00M | Year: 2014

With National Science Foundation support, this project further develops the Nanotechnology Center for Biomedical, Environmental and Sustainability Applications at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez (UPRM). The Centers mission is to combine transformational research and education efforts in the area of nanoscaled materials by focusing on: biomedical, environmental remediation, and sustainability applications. Faculty members involved in the Center will investigate application-oriented processing of materials with properties and applications that depend on phenomena occurring at the nanometer scale: (1) Medical and Biological Applications; (2) Remediation of Recalcitrant and Emerging Contaminants from the Environment; and (3) Sustainability. This project will establish effective means to institutionalize research and education aimed at founding a sustainable platform at UPRM of international recognition. Through formative and summative assessments, a systematic project evaluation will provide information to ensure continuous improvement, focusing on achieving the proposed objectives.

Intellectual Merit:
Three interdisciplinary research groups will focus on the following areas: (i) Development of new nanoscaled materials for cancer therapy assisted by the application of magnetic fields and specialized light sources. Toxicity and transport will be assessed using model human cancer cell lines and other appropriate models. The goal of this research team is to create non-invasive therapeutics for treatment of patients suffering from diverse forms of cancer. (ii) Fabrication of a novel series of composites for the removal of emerging contaminants from water sources, including pharmaceuticals and personal care products, and selected pathogens. Additionally, researchers will work on processing new porous adsorbents for the selective and efficient capture of CO2 from the environment and enclosed habitats. (iii) Finding new nanocatalysts for the conversion of renewable resources. This research group will also develop new nanostructured composite materials using polymers as the main component and combined with specialized constituents, which are intended for the next generation of fuel cells applications. Finally, high performance and sustainable (low-energy consuming upon fabrication) concrete mixes will be formulated using specific nanoparticles.

Broader Impacts:
The Center for Biomedical, Environmental and Sustainability Applications will develop technologies for cancer therapy, water disinfection and air cleaning, and sustainability. Despite dramatic improvements in cancer chemotherapeutics, there is still an unmet need to understand the underlying causes of treatment failures. The knowledge acquired through the proposed activities will become invaluable for the development of novel cancer therapies and materials with applications in medicine. Center goals will also address global environmental challenges associated with water and air. Sustainability-related research will also be impacted by the Center. At the undergraduate level, the Center will impact the Undergraduate Certificate in Materials Science and Engineering program, as well as undergraduate research courses in the various engineering departments. The Center for Biomedical, Environmental and Sustainability Applications will develop a competitive cadre of Hispanic professionals well-prepared to contribute to the Nations nanotechnology workforce.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: Big Data Science &Engineering | Award Amount: 446.63K | Year: 2016

Honey bees exhibit highly complex behavior and are vital for our agriculture. Due to the rich social organization of bees, the overall performance and health of a bee colony depends both on a successful division of labor among the bees and on adequate reaction to the environment, which involves complex behavioral patterns and biological mechanisms. Much remains to be discovered on these matters as research is currently limited by our ability to effectively collect and analyze individual?s behavior at large scale, out of the laboratory. The technology developed in this project will enable biologists to study the individual behavior of thousands of bees over extended periods of time. It builds on innovative algorithms and software to analyze big data collected from colonies in the field. Study of behavioral patterns at such scale will provide unique information to advance knowledge on biological processes such as circadian rhythms that influence bee behavior in addition to playing an important role in animals and humans. The models developed will help better understand factors involved in colony collapse disorder, thus guiding future research on threats to such an important pollinator. This work will be performed through the tight collaboration of a multi-disciplinary team of researchers to combine the latest advances in computer science and data science with expertise in biology. It will provide the opportunity to train students from underrepresented minority on research at the intersection of these fields and to reach more than 600 undergraduate students, high school students, and the general public about how the Big Data approach can contribute to current scientific and ecological challenges.

The project will develop a platform for the high-throughput analysis of individual insect behaviors and gain new insights into the role of individual variations of behavior on bee colony performance. Joint video and sensor data acquisition will monitor marked individuals at multiple colonies over large continuous periods, generating the first datasets of bee activities of this kind on such a scale. Algorithms and software will be developed to take advantage of a High Performance Computing facility to perform the analysis of these massive datasets. Semi-supervised machine learning will leverage the large amount of data available to facilitate the creation of new detectors for parameters such as pollen carrying bees or fanning behavior, currently annotated manually. Predictive models and functional data analysis methods will be developed to find patterns in individual behavior based on multiple parameters and over large temporal scales. These advances are expected to help uncover mechanisms of individual variations previously unobservable. They will enable the first large scale biological study on the circadian rhythms of the bee based on the variations in behavior of individuals in multiple activities instead of reasoning on single activities or averages. Progress, datasets and software will be shared with the community on the project website (

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: MAJOR RESEARCH INSTRUMENTATION | Award Amount: 264.00K | Year: 2015

This award from the Major Research Instrumentation program and the EPSCoR program supports the development of a state-of-the-art time- and angle-resolved hemispherical elastic light scattering (TARHELS) instrument to observe light scattering with femtosecond resolution at cryogenic temperatures. The apparatus will be the first optical system of this kind, and provides unique capabilities beyond current limitations and will advance the standards for state-of-the-art instrumentation in a field at the forefront of condensed matter research. Multi-user access to the instrument will significantly increase and advance the research activity of the Physics Department at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez. Beyond its scientific impact, the project provides an excellent education and training opportunity for graduate students at the University of Puerto Rico, a higher education institution that serves and graduates the largest number of Hispanic STEM students in the United States. Students will receive extensive training in working with the modern ultrafast diffraction techniques that are frequently utilized in National Labs and the US industry.

This TARHELS instrument will provide unique possibilities for the ultrafast pump-probe surface spectroscopy of condensed matter, while enabling high-quality recording and spectral analysis of hemispherical scattering indicatrix with femtosecond resolution using large-scale aspherical reflective optics. The setup is designed as a computer-controlled apparatus that operates with external ultrafast laser pulse sources. The use of several geometries will enable monitoring of the light scattering of homogenous and surface waves. The project will also develop the user interface and algorithms for fast analysis of the scattering field. Collecting the time- and angle-resolved scattering over a hemisphere, the TARHELS instrument will provide the real-time reconstruction and visualization of transient autocorrelation function and power spectral density of the surface, enabling insight into the nonsteady state of multi-scale structural irregularities. Operating at low temperatures, the TARHELS system will yield substantially new information about nonequilibrium disorder of stochastic surfaces on the mesoscale, information about grain-size-dependent electron-lattice interactions, the role of electronic correlations in nonequilibrium quantum phases of matter, and multi-scale quantum condensed matter dynamics, including insulator-to-metal phase transition in different functional materials, correlated oxides, topological insulators and superconductors under strong laser excitation.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: I-Corps | Award Amount: 50.00K | Year: 2016

The broader impact/commercial potential of this I-Corps project will be realized first in pharmaceutical manufacturing where powder blends are required to prepare tablets. The new sampler will bring products to market in less time providing benefit to patients and pharmaceutical companies. The proposed device (sampler) will potentially protect employees in pharmaceutical plants from exposure to potentially toxic drugs. It will potentially be useful across a wide variety of industries and be suitable for powder blends such as vitamins, nutraceuticals, powdered milk, and other food products. The sampler will improve quality control and potentially lead to representative sampling in quality control, thereby reducing risk to customers and patients.

This I-Corps project will define the essential components and features for sampling powders in pharma and food manufacturing applications. The current technology does not provide representative samples from these important commercial products. Current approaches use a spear (thief sampler) to obtain samples from only a few pre-selected locations within the manufacturing equipment, and will typically fail to detect variations or problems outside of these locations. The spear also often alters the composition of the material that is sampled, providing inaccurate measurements of the composition of the powdered product. The new device will be based on best practices first established within the mining industry, which have not been adapted to the pharmaceutical and food industries due to lack of suitable sampling devices. The goal of the I-corps project is to develop powder sampling methods to improve the quality of powder based products, and avoid unnecessary product loss due to poor sampling practices.

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