University of Puerto Rico at San Juan
San Juan, Puerto Rico

The University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras , also referred to as UPR-RP, is a public research university located on a 289-acre campus in Río Piedras, San Juan, Puerto Rico.UPR-RP serves more than 18,000 students, 20% graduate, and grants an average of over 3,000 degrees a year. It is recognized by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as an Intensive Doctoral/Research University. As a public comprehensive doctoral institution, its academic offerings range from the baccalaureate to the doctoral degree, through 70 undergraduate programs and 19 graduate degrees with 71 specializations in the basic disciplines and professional fields. UPR‐RP has consistently granted the largest number of doctorate degrees to Hispanics in the US.UPR-RP is the largest campus in terms of student population of the University of Puerto Rico System, and Puerto Rico's first public university. Wikipedia.

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Kuffler D.P.,University of Puerto Rico at San Juan
Progress in Neurobiology | Year: 2014

Restoring neurological function to a damaged peripheral nerve separated by a gap requires axon regeneration (1) across the gap, no matter its length, and then (2) through the distal portion of the nerve, regardless of the time between the trauma and repair, and irrespective of animal or patient age. Sensory nerve grafts, the clinical "gold standard", and most alternative techniques for bridging nerve gaps, promote reliable axon regeneration only across nerve gaps <2. cm in length, and with few axons regenerating when nerve repairs are performed >2 months post-trauma or for patients >20 years of age. Three novel nerve repair techniques are discussed that induce axon regeneration and neurological recovery clinically under conditions where other techniques are ineffective: for nerve gaps up to cm long, repairs performed as late as 3.25 years post-trauma, and for patients up to 58 years old. The mechanisms by which these techniques may work are discussed. Although these techniques provide significant improvements in the extents of axon regeneration and neurological recovery, more extensive and reliable clinical recovery of neurological function is needed and will probably require the simultaneous application of multiple techniques. © 2014.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: MAJOR RESEARCH INSTRUMENTATION | Award Amount: 149.92K | Year: 2016

With this award from the Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) Program, the Chemistry Research Instrumentation (CRIF) Program as well as the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), Professor Dalice Pinero from the University Puerto Rico Rio Piedras and colleague Vilmali Lopez-Mejias have acquired a crystal X-ray diffractometer equipped with a copper source. Crystal diffraction is a powerful modern tool to determine the atomic structure of solid materials from small but relevant molecules to polymers and biological materials such as pharmaceuticals, natural products and DNA. The instrument is used in undergraduate research projects and in thesis projects of graduate students. The structural information enables researchers to understand the behavior and properties of the substances they synthesize, isolate and characterize. This information impacts the advance of basic science and technological progress from manufacturing of nanomaterials, pharmaceuticals and many other substances used in everyday life. The diffractometer is housed at the University of Puerto Ricos Molecular Sciences Research Center (UPR-MSRC), establishing a complete state-of-the-art X-ray diffraction facility that supports the research and educational efforts of multiple scientists across the metropolitan area of the island of Puerto Rico.

The single crystal X-ray diffractometer is used in structural analysis of solid materials. It is aimed at enhancing research in a variety of areas including (a) synthesizing and characterizing magnetic materials for memory devices, sensors, and imaging agents, (b) designing applications and mechanistic studies for crystallization on surfaces, (c) designing a non-aldol approach towards the synthesis of polypropionate derived natural targets, (d) developing layered inorganic compounds as hosts for catalysts and drugs, (e) isolating and structurally elucidating marine natural products, (f) structurally characterizing pharmaceutical solid forms obtained in continuous crystallization processes, (g) synthesizing new transition metal complexes based on pyrene derivatives with promising applications in memory devices; and (h) synthesizing and characterizing aromatic heterocyclic compounds as potential pharmacological agents.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Continuing grant | Program: | Phase: LONG TERM ECOLOGICAL RESEARCH | Award Amount: 1.50M | Year: 2016

This long-term research project in Puerto Rico integrates research, educational activities, and outreach to broad audiences through examination of responses of wet tropical forests to disturbances. Development of strategies to manage and conserve tropical forested ecosystems globally depends critically on understanding the mechanisms by which these ecosystems respond to natural and human-induced change. The program will train numerous graduate and undergraduate students, especially members of underrepresented groups, producing a cadre of collaborative, multidisciplinary scientists who can link population, community, and ecosystem approaches to provide a predictive understanding of environmental change. An active schoolyard program develops K-12 curricula in science and mathematics throughout Puerto Rico, including a new data jam workshop in which teachers will use the projects data to investigate basic ecological questions. The program will engage Puerto Rican high school students and teachers in educational programs at the El Verde Field Station. To date, 954 teachers and 1662 students have participated in an interactive teaching website, the Journey to El Yunque. The project collaborates with other large-scale networks including the National Ecological Observatory Network, the Luquillo Critical Zone Observatory, the Cloud Forest Research Coordination Network, and the Forest Global Earth Observatories, strengthening research infrastructure to tackle future challenges.

The Luquillo LTER project will, over the coming three years, explore the development of novel ecosystems resulting from the separate and combined effects of increased drought and hurricane frequencies as these disturbances are mediated by land use legacies. Researchers predict that novel ecosystems resulting from these altered disturbances will differ from previous and current ones both structurally and functionally, and will integrate biogeochemistry, productivity, and population and community ecology studies to understand these differences. Two new experiments will be added to ongoing efforts: a stream drought experiment in which stream flow is reduced by manipulation and a forest through-fall reduction experiment in which rainfall is manipulated. The stream experiment will manipulate stream flow to examine the short- and long-term effects of drought on biota and biogeochemical cycling. The through fall exclusion experiment will determine the impact of multiple short-term droughts on soil biogeochemistry as well as on microbes, seedlings, and litter organisms. Results from both manipulations will be incorporated into models to investigate long-term effects and to evaluate the feasibility of future large scale manipulations that are logistically challenging in the forested ecosystems. A novel canopy trimming experiment will continue to simulate hurricanes in order to examine the effects of changes in hurricane frequencies and to separate the effects of canopy openness from deposition of material to the forest floor on forest composition, soil carbon storage, nutrient dynamics, and forest floor community structure. Results will test the hypothesis that increased frequency of intense hurricanes will increase the dominance of shade intolerant species with cascading effects through other biota and biogeochemistry. This integration of observational and experimental approaches is powerful because the effects of these disturbances over long time periods are poorly understood. The potential to gain insight into the mechanisms whereby these disturbance regimes result in future non-analog ecosystems in tropical forests is high and will significantly advance understanding of ecosystem ecology.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Continuing grant | Program: | Phase: AERONOMY | Award Amount: 199.69K | Year: 2016

The award provides for the operations at Aquadilla in Puerto Rico an imaging radio array that would provide an excellent diagnostic capability for observing the radio wave effects generated by the powerful Arecibo Observatory heater in the F-region ionosphere. The InterAmerican University Aquadilla imaging facility would be capable of observing the spatial distribution of the heated region. This array would also detect and track the motions of these waves generated by the Arecibo heater system across the magnetic field line. It would also observe the growth and decay of the wave structures emitted by the heated region. A full time post-doctoral associate and the summer participation of three European graduate students would be supported with this award.

The award would support the use of the Aquadilla radio array in application to the study of a wide range of radio wave emissions generated by the Arecibo Observatory heating. The award would enhance the R&D capabilities of the atmospheric, space, and radio infrastructure at Inter American University and in Puerto Rico, and would support STEM undergraduate education and the development of graduate research programs. The project would promote collaborative use of the facilities of the Arecibo Observatory by local students and faculty, thereby supporting the longer-term future of the Observatory. The use and development of the array will drive the development of new radio techniques and technologies. Areas of technological application include imaging techniques, antenna technologies, over-the-horizon radar, long-range communications, and space-based communication and navigation. The work proposed here promotes the development of shortwave radio technologies. Shortwave communications, which do not depend on space systems, and of shortwave radar, against which stealth technologies are largely ineffective, are important and strategic technologies.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Continuing grant | Program: | Phase: Physiolg Mechansms&Biomechancs | Award Amount: 171.19K | Year: 2016

Squid and their relatives (other cephalopods such as octopuses) have the ability to change skin color with chromatophores, microscopic muscular organs that are under control of the nervous system. All work on the cellular mechanisms of chromatophore control in squid has focused on three related species that inhabit relatively shallow coastal areas that have prominent features like seaweed, rocks and coral on the ocean floor. Skin-color changes in these species are associated with camouflage, signaling between individuals of the same species and threat displays with other species. The deeper open ocean presents a radically different environment that is also inhabited by many squids, primarily of different taxonomic families from the one commonly inhabiting coastal waters. An important open-ocean family includes the Humboldt squid (Dosidicus gigas). There is little light in the ocean at depths inhabited by these squid during daytime, and visual features such as coral and rocks are non-existent. Novel color-change behaviors in Dosidicus include repetitive whole-body flashing, used for signaling between individuals of this species, and chaotic flickering that may underlie camouflage in the open ocean. Although these dynamic behaviors contrast with the more static patterns typical of coastal species, squids of both families employ temporal and spatial patterning to varying degrees. It is therefore likely that basic mechanisms for controlling the chromatophore network are the same in most, if not all, squids. Vertical control from the brain to the chromatophore muscles is known in the coastal squids, and may account for most chromatophore-based behaviors in those species, but behaviors like flickering in deeper-water species may be more influenced by processes within the skin itself that permit changes in chromatophores to spread from one to another without directly involving the nervous system. This hypothetical pathway would define a horizontal or distributed control system in the periphery that would permit autonomous behavior within the chromatophore network. This issue is the primary significance of the project. Understanding the fundamentals of horizontal control of chromatophores has the potential of being transformative to the field, because the current paradigm is that all control is directly exerted by the brain. Horizontal control is relevant to blood delivery to local tissues by circulatory systems, gut function and nervous system micro-circuits in vertebrates. Therefore, results from this project would also influence understanding of local control more broadly. From a wider perspective, results of this project will provide insight into the interactions of distributed (horizontal) and top-down (vertical) control mechanisms, a subject relevant to the general ability of complex systems to generate non-predictable, emergent phenomena. This concept is of fundamental interest to a broad sector of society, ranging from engineering to economics to politics.

An integrated approach will permit testing the hypothesis that control of the chromatophore network in squid involves peripheral mechanisms that are distinct from the neuronal motor-control pathway that descends from the brain. Spontaneous chromatophore activity that is independent of canonical neural control will be isolated by experimental manipulations in coastal loliginid squid (Doryteuthis opalescens), including chronic denervation and pharmacological block of neuronal activity with tetrodotoxin. In addition, a comparative approach will take advantage of an oceanic ommastrephid species, Dosidicus gigas, in which spontaneous, tetrodotoxin-resistant chromatophore activity is extremely prominent. Relevant methods involve molecular transcriptomics, cellular electrophysiology, immunohistochemistry with confocal microscopy and high-resolution electron microscopy. Specific aims are: 1) identify molecular and physiological properties of relevant ion channels and receptors that control excitability in the radial muscle fibers that operate individual chromatophore organs; 2) define structural, molecular and physiological features of coupling mechanisms between muscle fibers of neighboring chromatophores that define an excitatory transmission pathway within the skin; 3) elucidate the inhibitory role in controlling spontaneous chromatophore activity played by serotonin; 4) carry out parallel experiments in Dosidicus, a member of a family of ecologically important squid in which cellular studies of chromatophores have never been carried out. This project will support undergraduate and graduate student training, and includes significant efforts to involve students from groups underrepresented in STEM.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: ALLIANCES-MINORITY PARTICIPAT. | Award Amount: 1.07M | Year: 2016

The The Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program assists universities and colleges in diversifying the STEM workforce through the development of highly competitive students from groups historically underrepresented in STEM disciplines: African-Americans, Alaska Natives, American Indians, Hispanic Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Native Pacific Islanders. The goal of the LSAMP Bridge to the Doctorate (BD) Activity is to increase the quantity and quality of STEM graduate students from underrepresented populations, with emphasis on Ph.D. matriculation and completion. BD programs implemented in the nations institutions of higher education contribute to addressing one of the objectives in NSFs 2014-2018 Strategic Plan, namely to integrate education and research to support development of a diverse STEM workforce with cutting-edge capabilities. Since national security and economic vitality of the United States require a highly trained domestic STEM workforce, institutions engaged in the most advanced levels of research and innovation must do their part to train tomorrows leaders in STEM.

The University of Puerto Rico (Rio Piedras), lead institution for the Puerto Rico Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (PR-LSAMP), will administer its eleventh (11th) Bridge to the Doctorate (BD) Program during the 2016-2018 academic years. Implementation of the UPR-LSAMP BD Activity develops a highly competitive STEM education and research enterprise required to advance Puerto Ricos economic development and meets the national need for diverse STEM professionals.

UPRs BD program provides multidisciplinary training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines at the Ph.D. level to enable a seamless transition from the STEM baccalaureate degree to STEM graduate studies. Twelve students who received STEM baccalaureate degrees from PR-LSAMP institutions or from mainland LSAMP institutions will be selected and supported as BD Fellows. The program will continue to coordinate its activities with other NSF-funded projects that are managed by the Resource Center for Science and Engineering (RCSE) and by pertinent UPR graduate programs. The activities implemented will increase the number of Puerto Rican STEM undergraduate students who apply and are admitted to STEM PhD programs, and increase the number of these students who obtain STEM doctoral degrees. The total number of BD Fellows supported by PR-LSAMP since its inception would increase to 118.

BD Fellows participate in a series of development activities that provides or facilitates the BD Program including: scientific seminars on interdisciplinary or frontier research topics; seminars in ethics of science; and workshops to develop scientific research skills as well as written and oral communication skills. Fellows travel to and present at national and international scientific meetings and complete summer research internships at national and international partner research centers of PR EPSCoR and the Institute of Tropical Ecology (ITES). In addition, UPRs BD program implements activities that develop mentoring and teambuilding skills. The Role Model Seminar series brings BD Fellows into contact with successful nationally and internationally recognized researchers thereby creating a mentoring environment that further equips the Fellows to fruitfully incorporate themselves into the greater research/industrial community.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Continuing grant | Program: | Phase: RSCH EXPER FOR UNDERGRAD SITES | Award Amount: 175.52K | Year: 2016

This REU Site award to the University of Puerto Rico, San Juan, PR, will support the training of eight students for 10 weeks during the summers of 2016 - 2020. Research is conducted at El Verde Field Station, located at El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico. The program focuses on Tropical Ecology and Evolution -- the study of plant population biology, stream ecology and aquatic insect dynamics, forest ecology, arthropod biology, and coevolution in tropical rainforest. El Verde is the base of operations of the program and of many tropical researchers and the Luquillo LTER program. Students develop independent projects under the advice of faculty mentors, spending most of their time conducting research and attending seminars and workshops on scientific data analysis and techniques to study tropical systems. The program also provides workshops on relevant topics, such as graduate school application process. A responsible conduct in science component is also provided to discuss issues commonly encountered by students during their careers. Student selection is based on their research interest, academic record, and potential for outstanding research in biological sciences. The project PI makes a short list and mentors make the final selection.

It is anticipated that a total of 40 students, primarily from schools with limited research opportunities, will be trained in the program. This program focuses on students with interest in ecological research and in pursuing graduate studies. Students will learn how research is conducted, many will present the results of their work at scientific conferences, and some will publish their work in peer-reviewed journals.

A common web-based assessment tool used by all REU programs funded by the Division of Biological Infrastructure (Directorate for Biological Sciences) will be used to determine the effectiveness of the training program. Students will be tracked after the program in order to determine student career paths. Students will be asked to respond to an automatic email sent via the NSF reporting system. Applications are accepted starting in December every year. More information is available by visiting or by contacting the PI (Dr. Ramirez at

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: UNDERGRADUATE PROGRAMS IN CHEM | Award Amount: 202.08K | Year: 2016

This award from the Division of Chemistry (CHE) and the NSF Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) Program support a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Site at the University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras entitled, PR-CLIMB (Puerto Rico-Chemical Learning in Materials and Biomolecular applications) The PR-CLIMB REU Site is developed by Professors Arthur D. Tinoco and Professor Dalice M. Piñero Cruz who seek to provide undergraduate students a research experience that capitalizes on the academic and professional strengths of the university and Puerto Rico at large. As a minority-serving institution, the site offers a unique experience to a diverse set of students recruited from 2-year and 4-year institutions. In this nine-week program, students engage in fundamental studies of materials and biomolecules for potential applications in water purification, energy storage, sensing, drug design, and drug delivery. Students also are exposed to a variety of techniques in seminars and seven hands-on workshops that develop their skill sets in the biotechnology and pharmaceuticals fields. The REU site develops well-rounded students with strong communication skills who are able to become self-sufficient researchers and productive citizens.

The PR-CLIMB REU Site provides undergraduate students with high caliber interdisciplinary research experiences that inspire interest in Chemistry graduate programs and also in the Puerto Rican biotechnology and pharmaceutical job markets as a viable career opportunity. To overcome a current economic crisis in Puerto Rico, it is a priority to provide a first-rate intellectual experience that demonstrates the quality of the universitys resources and the islands job opportunities. Ten students conduct research in a diverse set of laboratories focusing on fundamental studies of materials and biomolecules that are engineered for applications in water purification, energy storage, sensing, drug design, and drug delivery. Through seven hands-on workshops, students obtain a broad training on biomolecular synthesis, chemical fractionation, purity assessment, activity assays, and characterization via spectral, structural, and electrochemical approaches. Seminars are offered on ethics in research, strategies for producing high quality research and public presentations, and funding opportunities for graduate work. In addition, professionals in academia and industry discuss their respective job fields.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: ADVANCES IN BIO INFORMATICS | Award Amount: 343.23K | 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 individuals 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: Continuing grant | Program: | Phase: ECOSYSTEM STUDIES | Award Amount: 397.84K | Year: 2016

Landslides are an important agent of change in mountain settings worldwide. Although the basic geological processes underlying landslides are relatively well known, increasing evidence indicates that the living components of ecosystem processes play an important, but largely understudied, role. In particular, plant root and shoot biomass - two important ecosystem attributes - are likely to influence the stability of hill slopes in complex ways. This project investigates the relationships between soil fertility, climate, ecosystem attributes, and slope stability in the Sierra de Las Minas, a mountain range in eastern Guatemala. This study area was selected because it is subject to periodic landslides and has a considerable history of previous research. The project integrates for the first time basic ecosystem concepts to better understand the evolution of landforms and landslides, suggesting that the division of vegetation biomass between roots and shoots is critically important. This is a highly interdisciplinary project that also will contribute to the engagement of women and underrepresented minorities in research and outreach, forge international collaborations, and provide for the dissemination of new knowledge that will be of interest to a wide range of stakeholders and scholars, including those interested in landform evolution, ecosystem and landscape development, carbon cycling, and sustainable management of regions subjected to landslide hazard.

Building upon previous work, this project takes advantage of the diverse lithologies and contrasting climates found in the Sierra de Las Minas, to test the overall hypothesis that variation in soil fertility inherited from different lithologies influences the partitioning of biomass between roots and shoots with consequences for slope stability, soil development, and ultimately landslide regimes. Variation in climatic conditions, however, may change the magnitude and direction of the observed effects. The work is organized around three specific goals and corresponding hypotheses: 1) examine the relationship between soil fertility and vegetation attributes that influence slope stability, 2) investigate differences in soil development trajectories in landslides underlain by different parent materials, and 3) evaluate the interactions between different soil fertilities and vegetation dynamics on landslides. These goals will be developed using a combination of geographic information systems and remotely sensed data, fieldwork, tree-ring studies, biogeochemical and geochronological analyses, and modeling.

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