UNT created two new collaborative research clusters in fall 2009 that will build on innovative research already underway 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," UNT Provost Wendy K. Wilkins says. "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 Nandika D'Souza, cluster coordinator and a professor of materials science and engineering in the College of Engineering.
The second new cluster, Sub-Antarctic Biocultural Conservation Program, will build on UNT's strength in environmental sciences and philosophy. For several years, UNT has been working with the government of Chile, the Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity, the University of Magallanes and nonprofit organizations, to integrate ecological and social aspects of research, education and conservation into a long-term initiative that will make the Cape Horn Biosphere Preserve 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 Conservation Program. The cluster will be led by Ricardo Rozzi, cluster coordinator and associate professor in philosophy and religion studies in the College of Arts and Sciences.
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 explains. 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 says. “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.”
Buddy Price with UNT News Service can be reached at Buddy.Price@unt.edu.