KINGSTON, RI – Today, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sethuraman Panchanathan, Ph.D., director of the National Science Foundation, visited the University of Rhode Island for a firsthand look at how Rhode Island-based researchers are advancing NSF-supported scientific discovery, innovation, and education.  The daylong tour was also an opportunity for Rhode Island’s academic community to learn more about NSF priorities and future funding opportunities.

In FY22 alone, NSF awarded more than $45 million in federal funding to Rhode Island-based research projects. 

As head of the NSF, Director Panchanathan – a trained computer scientist and engineer by trade – oversees a federal agency with a $9.9 billion FY23 budget that is the funding source for about a quarter of federally supported basic research conducted by U.S. colleges and universities in a variety of fields such as mathematics, biology, computer science, engineering, physics, and marine sciences.  NSF also helps cultivate the nation’s STEM workforce of the future by strengthening academic partnerships and research opportunities with colleges and universities across the country.

The tour began on the waterfront of URI’s Bay Campus, where URI President Marc B. Parlange and officials from URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography showed off a new pier that will serve as the homeport for the NSF-funded research vessel Narragansett Dawn.  In 2018, Senator Reed successfully pushed for URI to be named the vessel operator, and as a member of the Appropriations Committee, he secured funding for the $125 million ship, which is due to arrive in Rhode Island in 2024.

Next, Senator Reed, Director Panchanathan, and President Parlange met with representatives from URI’s Stewardship Council and the state’s EPSCoR Partner Network.  NSF’s EPSCoR program stands for Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). 

EPSCoR awards are made through merit-based proposal reviews and are designed to ensure competitive U.S. research dollars reach diverse geographic areas, including smaller states like Rhode Island.  The program is designed to help institutions in eligible states build research infrastructure, capabilities, and training and human resource capacities.  Representatives from EPSCoR participants, including Brown University, Providence College, Salve Regina University, Bryant University, Rhode Island College, Roger Williams University, and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), were on hand to meet with Director Panchanathan and discuss ongoing collaborative research projects, the state’s research infrastructure, and NSF investments.

“NSF research has led to many scientific breakthroughs and URI is producing some advanced research that ranks among the nation’s best.  This was a terrific opportunity to showcase the innovative work being done by URI students and faculty.  Federally funded research helps the state’s economy and can jumpstart job growth,” said Senator Reed, a member of the Appropriations Committee and leading Congressional champion of EPSCoR.  “NSF invests in scientific discovery, technological innovation, and STEM education.  This is an opportunity for our colleges and universities to discuss NSF research priorities and hear directly about future opportunities so they can successfully formulate proposals that lead to NSF funding.”

“Strengthening Rhode Island’s research capacity and infrastructure is critical to economic development and spurring innovation.  It’s critical to bringing new, high-tech, science-related jobs to the state,” noted Reed, who has worked to ensure Rhode Island’s EPSCoR eligibility since 2004, and now Rhode Island’s current percentage of NSF funding is one of the highest of EPSCoR-eligible states.  Since EPSCoR launched in 2004, $88 million has been directed to Rhode Island for collaborative research projects. 

“We are so pleased to host Director Panchanathan and Senator Reed here at the University of Rhode Island. Thanks to their leadership and support our students and faculty are engaged in meaningful research that is addressing real-world challenges and transforming lives,” said President Parlange. “We are highlighting some of that research here today and I look forward to continuing our important work together toward developing a more diverse and equitable STEM workforce for the future.”

“By serving our nation we can put it in the vanguard of innovation, vanguard of competitiveness, and vanguard of advancements in science, technology, engineering and a whole lot more,” said Director Panchanathan, who addressed students and faculty and emphasized the importance of working together to create change at speed and scale and fuel exciting discoveries and innovations for decades to come.

Highlighting URI’s talented students and faculty, Director Panchanathan got to meet with CAREER award winners who are utilizing NSF funding to further their research across a variety of fields, from biological sciences to chemical engineering to oceanography.

Coveted Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) awards are the NSF's most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.

There are ten current URI faculty members who have been honored with CAREER Awards, which is a testament to the high quality of talent across the university and a sign of promising future for research in the Ocean State.

Later in the day, the group also toured some of URI’s core research facilities, such as the College of Engineering, home to more than $17 million of the most sophisticated, state-of-the-art equipment found anywhere in the U.S.  They also looked through microscopes at the Rhode Island Consortium for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology; and received updates on the latest work at the Ryan Institute for Neuroscience, which is dedicated to the prevention and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), aging-related illness, and other central nervous system disorders.

President Parlange, Director Panchanathan, and Senator Reed were joined by several dignitaries throughout the day, including URI Provost, Dr. Barbara E. Wolfe; Dr. Bethany Jenkins, Interim Vice President of Research; Dr. Paula Bontempi, Dean of URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography; and Dr. Jill Pipher, Vice President of Research at Brown University.

NSF Director Visit 2_4NSF 2NSF Director Visit_4