ASSETT II offers high level research opportunities for students

By Paige Walker
On December 3, 2012

Over the last two years, ASU students and faculty have been advancing research in Arkansas through the ASSET II Program, which has given students the opportunity to be involved with high level research and establishes ASUs reputation as a research institution.

ASSET II is a program sponsored through the National Science Foundations Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) and is managed through the Arkansas Science and Technology Authority (ASTA).

Robert Engelken, professor of electrical engineering and director of the Optoelectronic Materials Research Laboratory at ASU, said the EPSCoR Program and ASSET II began as a result of Arkansas receiving below the national average of research funding.

The benefits of the ASSET II Project are two fold, Engelken said. It will facilitate high level research in the state and will help to develop a highly technological workforce, which will help the state become more technologically advanced, Engelken said.

The three specific research projects funded through ASSET II are The Plant-Powered Production (P3) Center, The Arkansas Center for Generating Renewable Energy with Efficient Nanoplasmonic (GREEN) Solar Cells, and The Vertically Integrated Center for Transformative Energy Research (VICTER).

Out of these three projects, two, VICTER and P3, have a presence on ASUs campus.

Around 10 undergraduate and graduate students are involved in the VICTER project at ASU. Many of them have given poster and oral presentations at conferences and meetings across the state, including the recent annual ASSET II meeting in August at Springdale and meetings of the Arkansas Academy of Sciences held annually in April.

Four of Engelkens students who are involved with ASSET II are doctoral students in the multidisciplinary environmental science program on campus.

Engelken is the leader of the VICTER group and collaborates with six other ASU faculty members working on the VICTER project, including Bruce Johnson, Ross Carroll, Liangmin Zhang, Kwangkook Jeong, Brandon Kemp and Ilwoo Seok.

Three other institutions are involved in VICTER, including the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

The Arkansas Science and Technology Authority website states that researchers working on the VICTER project, seek to discover and fabricate new nanomaterials and energy devices, package them, and connect and transfer energy to the national power grid.

Weve made a lot of progress, Engelken said. It was envisioned and tentatively approved as a five-year project and we have just now moved out of year two into year three. So were not quite halfway through the five-year project. Weve made good progress, but theres still a lot more to be made.

ASU benefits in many ways through its involvement in the ASSET II Initiative.

Being involved in the program has established ASU as a research institution. Engelken said ASU also receives an indirect cost payment equal to a percentage of all of the salaries and fringe benefits paid from the grant to help cover indirect costs like utilities. The grant also provided ASU with expensive high-level equipment to enhance the research.

Elizabeth Hood, a professor in the College of Agriculture, is a leader in the Set Points subgroup of the P3 Center at ASU.

The Arkansas Science and Technology Authority website states that the P3 Center seeks to understand the fundamental biology underlying plant-based bio production and develop plants as scalable bio factories for high-value proteins, unique chemicals, and renewable biomaterials.

Hoods Set Points group does research about the set points of plants. They try to help plants overcome those set points so that they will be more beneficial.

Not only does Hood think this is revolutionary research, she also said it is necessary because of the growing population in the world. Helping plants overcome their set points will make them produce more efficiently.

The P3 program includes five state universities, 14 ASU faculty and more than 40 undergraduate and graduate ASU students, although not all of the students are funded through the ASSET II Initiative.

A couple of significant things would be that we are developing tools to teach plant biology to teachers in the region so that we can improve science education across the state, Hood said.

P3 created tubs that teachers can check out and use that include materials needed for an experiment. After the class finishes the experiment they will return the kit.

Also another thing thats really cool is that we have several start up companies that have come out of P3 research that will hopefully create jobs for ASU graduates in science, Hood continued.

Maqsood Mughal, an ASU graduate student of Karachi, Pakistan, began working on the ASSET II Project in the fall of 2010.

Mughal works with Josh Vangilder, a graduate student at ASU of Rector, on depositing two materials onto a sub strip, or electro deposition, which are two thin layers of materials deposited onto a glass microscopic slide by a machine. They are working with solar cells, which convert the energy from light into electric energy, for the VICTER project.

Shyam Thapa, an ASU graduate student from Kathmandu, Nepal, is working with solid biofuels for the VICTER project. Over the last two years he has developed pellets that could be substituted for charcoal out of various materials including honey, molasses and holly berry seeds. These solid biofuel pellets are more eco-friendly than charcoal.

ASU is one of seven institutions in Arkansas involved in the overall ASSET II Initiative. The other six institutions are the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville), the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the University of Central Arkansas, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and Philander Smith College.

More information about the ASSET II Initiative can be found at www.arepscor.org.

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