WASHINGTON, DC – In an effort to enhance the coordination of research, education, and workforce development across Rhode Island in coastal marine science and ecology, U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse today announced that the University of Rhode Island (URI), in partnership with Rhode Island College, the Rhode Island School of Design, and Brown University, will receive $19 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the implementation of a grant through the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).  The new research initiative, which is called the Consortium for Coastal Ecology Assessment, Innovation, and Modeling (C-AIM), will develop new scientific techniques and technologies for monitoring the health of Narraganset Bay - the largest estuary in New England and the source of valuable fishing and tourism jobs for Rhode Islanders.    

C-AIM will develop a range of new and innovative scientific techniques to monitor the health of Narragansett Bay, including new methods for predicting pollution and harmful algal blooms, new sensors for measuring nutrients and pollutants, and an open platform for sharing real-time physical, chemical, and biological data on the health of the bay.  C-AIM will also support the RI STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics + Art) Imaging Consortium, allowing collaboration between artists, designers, engineers, and scientists.  The new center will also offer research opportunities to undergraduate students throughout Rhode Island, and include faculty members at undergraduate institutions in research.  The consortium will be led by Dr. Geoffrey D. Bothun, Professor and Chair of Chemical Engineering at URI.

Under President Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget blueprint, NSF EPSCoR was targeted for a 37% cut, and similar programs at NASA and the Department of Energy would have been eliminated entirely.  In May, Senators Reed and Whitehouse and twelve of their Senate colleagues sent a letter to Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Ranking Member Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) expressing support of STEM funding and asking for the maximum funding possible for EPSCoR in the FY 2018 Appropriations bill.  The FY2018 Senate budget keeps all EPSCoR funding programs at their current levels.

The proposed EPSCoR cuts are just part of the many cuts to science proposed in President Trump’s proposed budget.  Every science agency except the National Nuclear Security Administration was targeted for deep cuts, which would have had a devastating impact on Rhode Island’s universities and hospitals.   In FY 2016, Rhode Island universities received more than $40 million in funding from the NSF. 

“In addition to bringing top-rate scientific advancements through important research related to coastal marine science and ecology, this federal funding will stimulate our state’s economy and bring immeasurable benefits to researchers, students, and communities across the state,” said Senator Reed, a long-term advocate for EPSCoR funding who led the effort in the Appropriations Committee for maximum support of EPSCoR and similar programs in the FY 2018 Appropriations bill.  “EPSCoR makes sure that states like Rhode Island can develop the scientific capabilities that will benefit both the state and the country.  Reliable funding allows universities like URI to efficiently budget their work and staff for challenging multi-year projects.  We must keep working to prevent unnecessary barriers to needed scientific research and discoveries.”

“This significant federal award will help vault the University of Rhode Island’s impressive coastal research program to the next level,” said Senator Whitehouse, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.  “Investing in coastal research, education, and workforce development will create jobs and boost Rhode Island’s economy in the near-term, and give us the tools to preserve the natural resources of Narragansett Bay for decades to come.”

EPSCoR funding is targeted at states and jurisdictions that are historically underserved by federal research and development (R&D) funding.  Rhode Island is one of five states nationwide that will use this round of EPSCoR funds to bolster science and engineering research and education, with Alabama, Kansas, South Carolina and Wyoming receiving similar opportunities to strengthen research capabilities while performing innovative science.