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4/21/14 - NSF awards MSU planning grant for advanced composites center

Officials at Mississippi State are moving forward with plans to create a new collaborative research center after competing successfully through two rounds of review by the National Science Foundation. A planning grant for the initiative was awarded late last month.

The NSF Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (I/UCRC) for Advanced Composites in Transportation Vehicles would perform industry relevant fundamental research, according to the grant's principal investigator.

"Mississippi State has a long and successful history in composites R&D," said Ratneshwar "Ratan" Jha, director of the university's Raspet Flight Research Laboratory and associate professor of aerospace engineering.

According to Jha, the proposed center's work will positively impact design, manufacturing, operations, safety and life-cycle cost of numerous products in the transportation vehicles industry, including civil and military aviation, ground transportation and naval applications.

The center will involve MSU faculty and students from across a wide range of disciplines, as well as researchers from the University of Alabama-Huntsville, which is partnering with MSU on the project.

"Research and education at the center will help remove barriers for greater usage of composites, as well as improve industry capacity. This innovation edge could provide significant growth opportunities for U.S. manufacturers," said Jason Keith, interim dean of the Bagley College of Engineering at MSU.

The university's chief research officer concurred.

"As a land-grant institution, we have an excellent track record of partnering with business and industry to execute applied research and economic development, as well as fundamental research that has contributed to our 'very high research activity' classification by the NSF," said David Shaw, vice president for research and economic development.

So far, more than 20 companies and government labs have expressed interest in participating in the center, Jha said.

Workforce training in collaboration with community colleges, recruitment of minority students and K-12 outreach activities will be integral to the center, he added.

This summer, MSU will host a planning meeting with I/UCRC stakeholders where researchers will meet with industry leaders to understand their R&D needs, match them with capabilities and propose relevant projects. That information will be used to craft a final proposal, which is due in September.

"We have a lot of work ahead of us, but I am very confident in the team we have assembled," Jha said.

A final decision from the NSF is expected in early 2015, he said.

Jim Laird | Public Affairs

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