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Natural Sciences Dean, Professor Link UC Merced to Knowledge Hub

March 11, 2013

A collaboration between a dean and a professor and a grant from the National Science Foundation have made UC Merced part of a national nanotechnology-biology hub that will expand both knowledge and opportunities for students in Merced.

School of Natural Sciences Dean Juan Meza and Professor Mike Colvin received a grant of $175,000 a year for five years to join the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and other schools like Purdue University in forming a nanoBIO “node” that will provide all the partnering schools with access to a collective of research and data at the intersection of biology, nanotechnology and computational science.

The partnership also means six UC Merced students will spend time this summer at UIUC for specialized study.

One of the primary investigators on the project, Umberto Ravaioli, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at UIUC, sought out UC Merced for this project because he knew Colvin from a previous collaboration, demonstrating this campus’s reach and prestige across the country.

“As a key partner institution, the University of California, Merced, will take the lead in developing outreach activities in nanoBIO,” Ravaioli said. “UC Merced is a new school, and they have made a deliberate choice to develop a biology curriculum grounded in computation. They will be actively engaged in the development and testing of research and educational nanoBIO tools, which can then be directly integrated in the classroom experience.”

Meza is listed as a co-P.I. on the project, and together with Colvin, will help develop curriculum to share in the node as part of an online teaching-distance learning component that will likely involve lectures and teaching modules, too.

“We’re sharing our knowledge and our students,” Meza said. “Most importantly, this will give our undergraduates experiences that will prepare them for research jobs and, hopefully, it will encourage them to apply for graduate school.”

Colvin and Meza agreed UC Merced will benefit greatly from this unusual partnership, but the campus also brings a lot to the table.

“We have some courses they don’t,” Colvin said, “and because we are a younger campus, we can be flexible in developing curriculum to meet student needs and demand.”

The $700,000 grant stretches over five years, and the summer school students for this year have already been chosen, though details have yet to be finalized. Colvin and Meza envision that they will open applications to all undergraduates for next year, though no date has been set yet.

The partnership aims to optimize the available resources across the nation to develop new insights in nanotechnology, biology and computational science. Students will work with professors who specialize in a variety of related topics, including chemistry, physics, mathematics, molecular and cellular biology, bioengineering, bio-device fabrication and pharmacology.

Meza said he wanted to make sure the grant included a research component for faculty, too, and he’s excited to be involved because the project is a good value for students and professors.

Likewise, Colvin said, he’s happy to have his school’s dean as part of the project.

“Having Dean Meza as one of the P.I.s means this grant is for the whole school, and will benefit students and faculty across many disciplines,” he said.