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Doane Shares $20 Million Grant for Algae, Nonhybrid Material Research

Algae ResearchDoane College will play a lead role in the areas of algae and nanohybrid material research with the help of a five-year grant from the National Science Foundation.

Doane is one of seven Nebraska colleges and universities that recently received word that it will share a $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation to develop new research focused on algae and nanotechnology. Other universities receiving funding include the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Creighton University, the University of Nebraska at Kearney, the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Little Priest Tribal College and Nebraska Indian Community College.

The grant money initially goes to Nebraska's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), which funds statewide economic development and research. From there it will be divided among scientists in two groups. One group will try to develop a better understanding of algae in hopes that it may be used as a fuel source. Another group, of nanohybrid researchers, will try to develop tiny molecules with new sensing capabilities that could help detect disease, explosives and toxic agents.

Doane will have principal investigators in both areas, with Dr. Andrea Holmes, assistant professor of chemistry, representing the Center for Nanohybrid Functional Materials and Dr. Brad Elder, associate professor of biology, representing the Center for Algal Biology and Biotechnology. Some colleges will be conducting research in just one area.

Holmes has been working through the grant-writing process for more than two years along with representatives from other colleges. "It really brings a lot of collegiality and collaboration between smaller and larger colleges," she said.

The award also helps solidify Doane's strong record of securing grants, she added. "It really puts credibility and credence on our quality research programs here."

The grant money will allow Doane to take graduate level research and infuse it into the undergraduate level, which will allow more Doane students to get involved in high-quality research, Holmes explained.

Dr. Brad Elder added what it will mean for algae research. "What this money will help us do is dramatically increase the research available to undergraduate and high school students. You'll have all of those tools laid out ahead of you."

His part of the biofuels grant will go toward designing labs that teachers anywhere can pick up and use to grow algae. The plan is to educate Nebraska high school teachers and high school juniors and seniors about algae research and to get them, as well as undergraduates at Kearney, UNL-Lincoln, Creighton and on the Doane campus, involved in that research.

"Our goal, particularly for the seniors and undergraduates, is to have them collecting data and applying it to the research," Elder said.

Although the two research groups at Doane originally thought they would work independently, Holmes said a recent five-year strategic planning meeting among science faculty helped them see links between the two fields.

"We'll be able to work on problems from an extremely interdisciplinary and collaborative view," Holmes said.

Researchers will also be collaborating with companies, as required by the grant. Holmes said that Doane has been working with some companies during the grant-writing process and has already established some ties.