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Brown and the University of Rhode Island hope to expand research collaborations in the future, according to the vice presidents for research at both universities. In his April 8 inauguration speech, URI President David Dooley also said he wants to strengthen research opportunities between URI and Brown.
"I believe we both feel that it is important to bring our faculty together and let them develop strong research programs," Brown's Vice President for Research Clyde Briant wrote in an e-mail to The Herald. "Because of our geographic proximity and because of strong programs at URI in a number of fields, it is natural for us to collaborate."
Strengthening research collaborations enables both universities to take part in a greater number of research projects while bringing down overall costs, said Peter Alfonso, URI's vice president for research and economic development. Various research projects require different sets of skills, specialists and infrastructure, so it is difficult for a university to support projects in a lot of different areas, Alfonso said.
The two universities' provosts convened a meeting on research opportunities last month, according to Briant. Brown's representatives included Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron and Dean of the Graduate School Sheila Bonde, he wrote.
Brown is working with URI to form a Rhode Island consortium in nanoscience technology, Briant wrote.
The establishment of such a state-wide consortium is set to happen in a few months and will enhance research in this field at both universities by bringing together "complementary expertise" to work as a team, said Robert Hurt, professor of engineering and director of the Institute for Molecular and Nanoscale Innovation. Beyond that, it will also help draw federal grants to the state and create start-up companies and job opportunities, Hurt said. The state government is supportive of the project, he said.
Brown and URI started collaborative work in nanoscience in fall 2008, at a workshop between faculty members from both universities, Hurt said. There has been one workshop in nanoscience per semester between the two universities since then, Hurt said.
The Institute for Molecular and Nanoscale Innovation was founded three years ago to promote multidisciplinary research and education in molecular science and nanoscience at Brown. The 60 faculty members at the institute span seven departments including physics, chemistry, engineering and biology, Hurt said. While URI does not have a formal organization in nanosciences, there are currently 24 URI faculty members collaborating with the institute, he added.
This program distinguishes itself from others in nanosciences because it is dedicated to both developing nanotechnology and nanomaterials and examining the effects of their interaction with biological systems, he said.
Hurt said nanoscience is "a practical area for technology." Nanoscience research utilizes mostly modern tools and is often targeted at developing practical devices and materials, which are potentially applicable to all kinds of industries, and can generate values outside of nanoscience research.
"Research universities are often called engines for regional economic development," Alfonso said, and "Brown and URI are two major players" in fueling the economic development of Rhode Island.
Currently, URI and Brown are also collaborating on research through Rhode Island's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research grant. This National Science Foundation grant helped establish three core facilities — one in marine sciences at URI, one in genomics at URI and one in proteomics at Brown, Briant wrote.
"These central core facilities, along with shared facilities such as (Brown's newly installed) supercomputer, help bring our researchers together," Briant wrote. Building on the existent collaborations, Brown and URI expect to collaborate more in life sciences and oceanography, he wrote.
The two universities also plan to make the processes of filing proposals for external grants more similar so that it is easier for faculty members to collaborate on research projects, Alfonso said.
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