May 10, 2002

INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH FOCUS BEARING FRUIT,
PLACES PENN STATE AT FOREFRONT OF NATIONAL TREND


University Park, Pa. – Penn State’s strategic focus on interdisciplinary research collaborations is bearing fruit and likely to make Penn State a leader in what is becoming a national trend, said Eva J. Pell, vice president for research and dean of the graduate school, to the University’s Board of Trustees today (May 10).
“Contemporary research is rarely conducted by single investigators, or even in narrowly defined fields,” Pell said. “As I attend conferences with peers from across the country, it is very clear that the future will be found more and more in interdisciplinary collaborations.”
 “The current structure that we enjoy, where the colleges are in partnership with the consortia and institutes, is working very well and will serve as a national model,” she added.
Pell detailed Penn State’s interdisciplinary success by describing recent progress on the five strategic research initiatives identified for major investment. She also briefly described plans to compete for and use funds from Pennsylvania Tobacco Settlement legislation and the new interdisciplinary research focus on Homeland Security.
            The five strategic initiatives are: the life sciences, materials, the environment, children, youth and families and the social sciences. In each case, a consortium or institute is the forum for interaction by faculty members and students from across the colleges. The consortia and institutes have received additional university funding to support co-funded faculty positions, graduate students, shared technology facilities, research and education.
Pell explained that a co-funded faculty position is one where the consortia or institute funds part of the faculty member’s salary and startup costs while a college funds the other part. This allows a college to add two faculty members for the price of one.
The Life Sciences Consortium (LSC) was formed in the mid 1990s. Currently, 39 co-funded faculty members have been hired.  The new faculty members have enabled departments to revise existing courses, and add new courses, options, and minors at both the undergraduate and graduate level. Approximately, 30 new courses have been developed, including four honors courses, and the additional faculty members have helped reduce class sizes. A co-funded LSC faculty member, Claude DePamphilis, associate professor of biology, led a group of researchers from Penn State and three other universities that won a $7.4 million National Science Foundation grant to study flowering plants in the Floral Genome Project.
            The Materials Research Institute, which was merged with the Materials Research Laboratory last year, has added eight co-funded faculty positions in three colleges to date.  MRI recently achieved a long sought goal by winning a $4.29 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Center program. Moses Chan, Evan Pugh professor of physics, directs the new Center for Collective Phenomena in Restricted Geometries which provides opportunities for faculty members and graduate students from four colleges and six departments to work together.
            The Environmental Consortium, created in January 2001, includes the former Environmental Resources Research Institute, and is helping to change the way environmental research, teaching and outreach are done at Penn State by coordinating the hiring of co-funded faculty members in seven colleges. To date 12 co-funded faculty members have been hired. A consortium member, Rob Brooks, professor of wildlife and wetlands, is leading a 4-year, $6 million effort funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to conduct an integrated assessment of the watersheds and estuaries across the Atlantic Slope. The research effort includes researchers from five other organizations as well as Penn State.
            Recognizing that Penn State did not have a cohesive model for conducting social science research, the Deans of the colleges of agricultural sciences, education, health and human development and liberal arts partnered with the central administration to form the Social Science Research Institute (SSRI). The SSRI, which includes the former Population Research Institute, the Institute for Policy Research and Evaluation and the Center for Health Care and Policy Research, recently developed the Survey Research Center (SRC) to fill a critical void. By providing data collection and data management services that otherwise would have gone to outside subcontractors, SRC has kept $2.3 million in research dollars at the University.
            The Children, Youth and Families Consortium (CYFC), formed in 1998, has co-funded eight faculty positions and has seven more open across six colleges. CYFC is home for PROSPER, an interdisciplinary program directed by Mark Greenberg, professor and holder of the Edna Peterson Bennett Chair of human development and family studies, that is being conducted in collaboration with Iowa State University. The research, funded by a $23 million grant from the National Institute of Drug Abuse, with Penn State receiving $9 million over five years, focuses on youth substance abuse and other problem behaviors.  Through PROSPER, cooperative extension will be linked with public schools to diffuse prevention programs. Twenty-eight school districts in Pennsylvania and Iowa will participate.
            In turning to Pennsylvania’s Tobacco Settlement legislation, which defines how the approximately $11 billion the state will receive from major tobacco producers will be spent, Pell explained that there are several types of funding that impact the University. This year, Penn State received $7.38 million in Formula funds and expects equivalent amounts over the next four years. The money is being used for infrastructure and as a vehicle to spur collaboration between the faculty at University Park and Hershey campuses. Penn State Outreach and Cooperative Extension is developing proposals to compete for Tobacco Use, Prevention and Cessation funding and Life Science Greenhouse funding is supporting the Life Sciences Greenhouse of Central Pennsylvania. Penn State is participating in the greenhouse partnership with the Technology Council of Central Pennsylvania and Lehigh University. 
            In conclusion, Pell briefly described examples of Homeland Defense research, including the Protective Technologies Center in the College of Engineering, the intrusion detecting Smart Fence developed at the Applied Research Laboratory, chemical/biological sensors under development at the Materials Research Institute Smart Materials Cleanroom Laboratory as well as other programs in the planning stages.
            Commenting on the materials projects, she said, “What you see here are projects that involve using material science to detect life science-generated problems in a complex environment. Information science and technology will be needed to disburse the data and, ultimately, social agencies will be needed to help people cope with the facts. This is what research in the 21st-century is all about and Penn State is poised to lead the way in this interdisciplinary approach to solving problems.”
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Contact: Barbara Hale, Department of Public Information, (814) 865-9481 or bah@psu.edu.