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Missouri Institutions To Share $20 Million Grant To Study Climate Change

Mikhail Berezin, Washington University

Updated 8/6/14:

The National Science Foundation has awarded $20 million to academic and research institutions across Missouri to study climate change.

Five states, plus the U.S. Virgin Islands, have received one of the NSF’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) grants.

In Missouri, the five-year grant will go to nine institutions, including five in St. Louis: the University of Missouri-Columbia; the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla; the University of Missouri-Kansas City; Lincoln University in Jefferson City; the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center; Washington University; the University of Missouri-St. Louis; Saint Louis University; and the Saint Louis Science Center.

John Walker, a plant biologist at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is leading the statewide study.

Even though the project will produce scientific results and new technologies, he said, its main goal is to increase Missouri’s “research competitiveness.”

“We think we’re really going to be able to accomplish that," Walker said. "Because we’re going to have collaborations and cooperations across the state that would normally not exist.”

Walker said researchers from different institutions will work together in teams focusing on climate, plants, human communities and education. Projects will range from developing drought-tolerant crops, to helping communities respond better to climate change.

Here's a breakdown of how the funding will be distributed over the five years of the project, as provided by Walker. The numbers don't quite add up to $20 million because they've been rounded off.

  • Climate team: $2M
  • Plant/agriculture team: $3.5M
  • Community team: $1.3M
  • Education/outreach team: $1M
  • Cyber-infrastructure: $1.2M
  • Management:  $1.5M
  • Integrative activities: $2M (this includes things like seed funding, support for new faculty hires, evaluation and assessment)
  • Indirect costs: $6.5M (this is divided among the institutions, to cover administrative and facilities costs)

The education team is headed by Terry Woodford-Thomas at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. Among the education-related projects will be a summer institute, or workshop, designed to introduce young women to bioinformatics: how to use computers to analyze large, complex biological datasets.
It’s a field that doesn’t have a lot of women now.

“We wanted to have an institute that was solely for young women, that would be taught by women who are experts in computer science,” Woodford-Thomas said. “And just make it a more friendly environment, a non-intimidating environment, for young women.”

Woodford-Thomas said another project will use citizen scientists to study the flux of carbon dioxide from soils.

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter: @KWMUScience