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KNOXVILLE — Two research groups from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, have won $3 million grants from the National Science Foundation to create new graduate research and education programs designed to train tomorrow’s top scientists.

The grants, called Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeships, or IGERTs, will draw the nation’s best and brightest graduate students to UT Knoxville for two unique programs that focus on major global issues.

“IGERT programs are the gold standard for how America creates our next generation of leaders in science,” said Brad Fenwick, UT Knoxville vice chancellor for research and engagement. “The fact that UT Knoxville is now home to two of these programs speaks volumes about our growing national and international research profile and about the hard work of the teams on our campus that submitted these proposals.”

Each IGERT is given a name reflecting its general topic area. One is Sustainable Technology through Advanced Interdisciplinary Research, or STAIR, and the other is Scalable Computing and Leading Edge Innovative Technologies, or SCALE-IT.

An interdisciplinary focus sets the IGERTs apart, according to David Keffer, an associate professor of chemical engineering and the leader of STAIR.

“Science, engineering and research are more and more interdisciplinary,” said Keffer. “As researchers, we no longer find ourselves working in silos, but reaching beyond some traditional barriers.”

STAIR brings together researchers from UT Knoxville’s colleges of Arts and Sciences and Engineering, and will focus on the creation of sustainable energy with a concentration on addressing the challenges of hydrogen as an energy source, from creation to storage to use.

Each of the two IGERTs will support approximately 15 graduate students with a very significant stipend and tuition waiver, as well as providing support for their research — making them a top national opportunity, according to Cynthia Peterson, who directs the other new program.

“The resources available in these IGERTs are unmatched,” said Peterson, a UT Knoxville professor of biochemistry, cellular and microbiology. “Beyond the financial resources, students will have access to the amazing scientific infrastructure available in this area.”

Peterson will direct SCALE-IT. The program brings together top researchers from four different colleges within UT Knoxville and partners from Oak Ridge National Laboratory to examine how to apply high performance computing power to answer biological questions at every level.

Each of the IGERT programs includes a significant number of faculty collaborators, a piece that both Keffer and Peterson say is key to their success.

“Being able to build a network of expertise will be of great benefit to those in the IGERTs, both in linking education and research efforts,” said Keffer.

Beyond just research and graduate education, both programs also encompass outreach efforts to the broader community — especially to high school science students and teachers.

Recruiting for both STAIR and SCALE-IT are now under way. Each IGERT is funded for an initial period of five years, at which time the researchers can submit a request to renew the funding.

Keffer is the director and principal investigator for STAIR, with Claudia Rawn, associate professor of materials science and engineering, as co-director and co-PI. Other co-PIs include: Barry Bruce, professor of biochemistry, cellular and molecular biology; Paul Frymier, associate professor, chemical and biomolecular engineering; and Bamin Khomami, distinguished professor and head, chemical and biomolecular engineering.

Peterson is the director and principal investigator for SCALE-IT. Co-PIs include Jack Dongarra, distinguished professor, electrical engineering and computer science; Mike Langston, professor, electrical engineering and computer science; Jeremy Smith, UT-ORNL Governor’s Chair and professor of biochemistry, cellular and molecular biology; and Elissa Chesler, senior staff scientist in biosciences, ORNL.


Jay Mayfield (865-974-9409,