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Center for Advanced Surface Engineering EPSCoR Project Boosts Arkansas Economy

 January 20, 2022

In 2021, AEDC's EPSCoR Division successfully completed and closed out the NSF EPSCoR Track-1 Project, The Center for Advanced Surface Engineering (CASE). CASE was a five-year statewide research project (with a one-year no-cost extension) that brought together more than 60 faculty researchers, 90 graduate students, 10 postdoctoral associates, and 100 undergraduate students to research new designs and applications of special materials. Some of the major scientific fields involved were nanotechnology, materials engineering, chemistry, physics, tribology (study of friction), biology, chemical engineering, biology, and scientific modeling.

CASE researchers developed new techniques to make nanoparticles, two-dimensional materials, and engineered surfaces with special properties with potential to drastically impact manufacturing, healthcare, and the environment such as extreme hydrophobicity (repelling water) or oleophilicity (oil absorbing), increased durability, extremely reduced friction, and antimicrobial properties. Other significant results include new models to study and characterize materials at nanoscale, coatings to enhance food preservation, better understanding of cellular communication, and optimized materials for brain cell growth that could be used to develop implants to regrow neurons for stroke patients.

CASE participants produced 311 scientific publications related to CASE research and submitted additional proposals to federal and private funders for more than $100M – $35.3M of which was awarded. The development of these publications and proposals strengthened the collaborative research infrastructure and created a foundation for sustained research activity on the promising results. More than 300 collaborative research activities were documented. Thirty-three miscellaneous research products were developed including gene annotations, novel scientific methods and protocols, training materials, and curricula.

CASE participants were invited to give more than 200 presentations about their work, and students presented research posters more than 220 times at conferences across the country. They received 120 individual honors and awards such as fellowships, editor positions, endowments, and placing in poster competitions.

CASE researchers filed 20 patents and developed intellectual property that is fueling six spinoff startup companies. Several of the companies have received capital investments and additional support from programs like SBIR and I-Corps. A number of industry research relationships were formed with companies like Ford Motor Company, Hytrol, Baldor, ABB Group, Superior Industries, and Tyson Foods.

Nine new undergraduate and graduate level courses related to materials science were implemented at participating campuses, and an additional 23 courses were modified to include results from the CASE research. More than 1000 students have enrolled in these courses. Twenty-five students completed doctoral degrees and 20 students completed master’s degrees with CASE support. Dozens of curriculum kits based on CASE research were distributed to STEM education centers and schools around the state that can be used by teachers in K-12 classrooms.

CASE enabled the purchase and installation of equipment that led to new capacity in surface material fabrication and characterization, including a machine that can print in three dimensions at nanoscale and microscopes that can image things at nanoscale.

In general, CASE helped improve the research competitiveness of Arkansas in the field of materials science and engineering, and will continue to impact major industrial sectors. For more information and to see the project’s newsletters, please visit arepscor.org or follow us on social media @ARepscor.

Jennifer Fowler

Blog post contributed by:

Jennifer Fowler
Program Director
Arkansas NSF EPSCoR
Arkansas Economic Development Commission