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The National Science Foundation has given the University of Tennessee and partners a $1 million Engines Development Award to advance transportation mobility technology and access in Tennessee.

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, will lead a new statewide coalition funded by the National Science Foundation’s Regional Innovation Engines program to help shape the future of mobility and usher in a new era of economic prosperity in Tennessee.

The state is already a recognized leader in automotive manufacturing with a growing presence in the EV market. Inspired by the increasing electrification and automation of transportation, the coalition of more than 90 organizations statewide will conceive of, invent and commercialize new transportation systems and technologies. This first-of-its-kind mobility coalition will prepare Tennesseans for good-paying jobs and create, recruit and retain the innovation industries of Tennessee’s future.

The $1 million Advancing Technology-Enabled Mobility Solutions Regional Innovation Engines Development award will support the creation of a roadmap to outline a statewide transportation mobility strategy and assist Tennessee in competing for up to $160 million in federal implementation funding in 2025.

“This bold and unprecedented partnership will set a new standard for leveraging the resources and opportunities across our state to revolutionize a critical industry and deliver better-paying jobs to Tennesseans,” said UT Chancellor Donde Plowman. “Together with our partners, we will harness ingenuity and creativity to make life and lives better.”

In addition to UT Knoxville, the TEAM TN coalition currently includes Tennessee State University, Tennessee Tech University, the University of Memphis, UT Chattanooga, Vanderbilt University, all 40 technical and community colleges governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents, the UT-Oak Ridge Innovation Institute, Tennessee’s Department of Economic and Community Development, Department of Environment and Conservation and Department of Transportation, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Tennessee Valley Authority, economic development organizations and start-up incubators and accelerators, community organizations, and industry partners including AT&T, Bridgestone, Denso, FedEx, IACMI—The Composites Institute and Volkswagen. The coalition is actively recruiting new members.

“There is no limit to what we can achieve given the assets we have to build on, including our leadership in automotive manufacturing, the collective strengths of our K-12 and higher education partners, the vision of our innovation-focused industry partners and the alignment among our community and economic development organizations,” said Kevin Heaslip, director of UT’s Center for Transportation Research and TEAM TN lead.

The coalition’s strategic roadmap will include three interdependent emphases:

Use-inspired research and development

Research and development goals will be developed for vehicle connectivity and security; the integration of complex systems and advances in computing power, sensors and analytics; more efficient and longer-lasting battery production; and new fueling infrastructure.

Innovation to impact

New approaches will be identified to speed the transition of inventions from R&D to the market. Statewide strategies to support the incubation and acceleration of high-tech start-ups will be explored and strengthened, and mechanisms will be identified to support the training and success of diverse Tennessee entrepreneurs. New economic development initiatives will be envisioned to create, recruit and retain innovation industries in Tennessee.

Workforce development

Comprehensive workforce development goals and strategies will be developed to ensure that diverse Tennesseans in communities throughout the state will have access to good-paying jobs in the skilled technical and STEM workforce. Plans will be developed to reskill and upskill existing workers and to equip youth and young adults with the skills necessary to participate and thrive in the modern economy.

NSF_Logo_Lockup_Stacked_Low_Res“These NSF Engines Development Awards lay the foundation for emerging hubs of innovation and potential future NSF Engines,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “These awardees are part of the fabric of NSF’s vision to create opportunities everywhere and enable innovation anywhere. They will build robust regional partnerships rooted in scientific and technological innovation in every part of our nation. Through these planning awards, NSF is seeding the future for in-place innovation in communities and to grow their regional economies through research and partnerships. This will unleash ideas, talent, pathways and resources to create vibrant innovation ecosystems all across our nation.”

UT is a core partner in two other projects among the 40 receiving Engines Development Awards as announced today by NSF: one led by the University of Kentucky focused on advanced manufacturing and supply chain logistics, and one led by the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology focused on advancing carbon-neutral crop technologies to develop sustainable consumer goods.

About the National Science Foundation Engines program

The NSF Engines program is a transformational investment for the nation, ensuring that the U.S. remains in the vanguard of competitiveness for decades to come. Launched by the NSF Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships and authorized by the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, the program uniquely harnesses the nation’s science and technology research and development enterprise and regional-level resources. NSF Engines aspires to catalyze robust partnerships to positively impact regional economies, accelerate technology development, address societal challenges, advance national competitiveness and create local high-wage jobs.


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UT media contact: Christie Kennedy (, 865-974-8674)