BioPACIFIC MIP partners with New Mexico Highlands University on National Science Foundation PREM Grant

Strength in Diversity

August 17, 2021
Photo credit: Matt Perko, UCSB
Photo credit: Matt Perko, UCSB

By Sonia Fernandez, UCSB

The National Science Foundation awarded a 3.8-million-dollar grant to New Mexico Highlands University and BioPACIFIC MIP partner institutions the University of California Los Angeles and the University of California Santa Barbara. The grant will fund a Partnership for Research and Education in Materials (PREM) among the three institutions, which will advance the creation of high-performance plastics made from biomaterials and expand access to research, labs, and equipment for underrepresented students in the field. The grant will also create a science education pipeline for students from kindergarten up through college to expand access and interest in the sciences.

The National Science Foundation grant will provide funding across six years that will go towards 16 scholarships for both graduate and undergraduate students studying biology, chemistry, computer science, mathematics, and geology. The grant will fund travel, research, and publication opportunities for students, and will provide them with job skills for future employment. The joint effort “will focus on machine learning, materials synthesis, high-throughput automated chemistry/biosynthesis, and organic-inorganic materials applications.”

“This is a huge win for BioPACIFIC MIP,” said Javier Read de Alaniz, BioPACIFIC MIP's co-director at UCSB and the PREM co-PI. “This award will broadly impact researchers underrepresented in STEM, mainly Hispanic or Latinx. NMHU plays a vital role in educating Hispanic students pursuing a college degree and through this partnership it will enable BioPACIFIC MIP to deliver on its promise to make biomaterial discovery resources available to a broad and diverse national user base.”

“We’re very excited,” said Gil Gallegos, principal investigator and director of the NMHU-led PREM. “The research is one part synthesis and analysis, and the other part is the design, which is going to be machine learning- and AI-informed. That’s the missing element that BioPACIFIC MIP has been looking for in their laboratories over the past few years.”

“I am very excited that the NSF awarded NMHU and BioPACIFIC MIP this PREM,” said UCLA chemistry/biochemistry professor and BioPACIFIC MIP co-director Heather Maynard. “UCSB, UCLA and NMHU are ideal partners for many reasons. Not only is our research complimentary, but we also are all excellent training grounds for students from diverse backgrounds. This PREM is going to strengthen all three institutions.”

Since its start in 2004, PREM has successfully diversified research faculty and improved the likelihood that underrepresented students and students from underserved communities pursued and completed a doctorate in materials research. The initiative, anchored in research, has produced a wide range of results, from new materials for quantum devices and electronics, to live-cell imaging. PREM has trained more than 125 postdocs, and has helped more than 1,500 students graduate with a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree – most from underrepresented minority groups.