NMSU, Los Alamos National Laboratory announce funding of first joint research projects

March 17, 2005 by Ellen Davis NMSU News Center

New Mexico State University and Los Alamos National Laboratory have announced the first research projects to be funded under a new initiative designed to increase collaboration between the two institutions.

Seven projects – each with at least one researcher from NMSU and one from LANL – will be funded over the next two years. Each project will receive between $105,000 and $135,000.

The projects fall into four areas that are a focus of research at both institutions and would benefit both New Mexico and the nation. These areas are biosecurity, water security, social behavior modeling, and information fusion. Social behavior modeling involves applying both “hard” and “soft” sciences to analyze and predict human behavior. Information fusion involves combining data from a variety of sources.

Researchers from a wide variety of disciplines – including astronomy, biology, computer science, engineering, management, mathematics and psychology – are involved with the projects that have received funding.

“This is a whole new model of working together collaboratively,” said Don Birx, interim vice provost for research at NMSU. “We are taking seed money and giving it to interdisciplinary teams with projects that might lead to long-term programs.”

Funding for the initiative comes from the University of California, which operates LANL. A memorandum of agreement establishing the partnership was signed on Feb. 16, 2004. Initial NMSU leadership for the partnership was taken by Rich Hills, former interim vice provost for research.

In addition to providing “seed money” that can be leveraged into larger grants, the partnership is a way for LANL to build the next generation of scientists. Several NMSU students will be working at LANL this summer on projects funded through the agreement.

“The collaborative research program between NMSU and LANL represents a tremendous opportunity… not only to strengthen LANL’s science base but also to position both institutions for major programs with our sponsors,” said Gerald Geernaert, director of the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at LANL. “We are very excited.”

The projects funded were selected from more than 30 proposals. A committee of representatives from both institutions selected the projects to be funded.

Researchers had a chance to meet prospective collaborators during a conference held in December 2004 at NMSU that was attended by more than 150 participants from the two institutions.

Projects funded and their participants are as follows:

• $122,000 to conduct research in protein structures. Understanding protein structures is key to designing drugs that could cure diseases, including those caused by biological agents. Jing He, Enrico Pontelli and Desh Ranjan of NMSU will work with Charlie Strauss of LANL.
• $130,000 to develop models for predicting the behavior of new pathogens. The models will be based on molecular sequence data. Brook Milligan, Donovan Bailey, Enrico Pontelli and Desh Ranjan from NMSU will work with Murray Wolinsky and P. Scott White of LANL.

Water security
• $135,000 to develop a new method for treating water that has been contaminated with pathogens. The project involves using carbon nanotubes to make a thin membrane that could separate the contaminants from the water. The project also involves developing sensors that could detect the presence of pathogens in water. Shuguang Deng, Kevin Oshima, David Smith, Martha Mitchell and Paul Anderson from NMSU will work with Fred Mueller, Yuntian Theodore Zhu and Babetta Marrone of LANL.

Social behavior modeling
• $135,000 to investigate the use of a brain-machine interface to augment human high-level discrimination abilities with automated monitoring. Researchers will integrate high-density electroencephalography with advanced brain activity localization algorithms in the development of such an interface. James Kroger and Kwong Ng of NMSU will work with Krastan Blagoev and John George of LANL.
• $135,000 to study national security applications of modeling and analyzing social behavior. Janice Black, Mike Coombs, Richard Oliver and Kenneth Hacker of NMSU will work with Stephen Younger, Michelle Quirk, Chad Olinger and Karin Verspoor of LANL.

Information fusion
• $131,000 to study new ways to sort through the large amounts of data gathered through astronomy projects such as the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. The goal is to automate data mining techniques for the next generation of astronomers. Researchers also hope to develop a system that could automatically “notify” a larger telescope when an unusual astronomical event is detected so that the telescope could get further data on the phenomenon. Jon Holtzman, Tom Harrison and Bernie McNamara of NMSU will work with Tom Vestrand of LANL.
• $105,000 for a project that could improve the use of remote sensing devices and wireless communications by developing new methods to eliminate distortion caused by a variety of factors. Joseph Lakey and Charles Creusere of NMSU will work with Christopher Brislawn of LANL.

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