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Research: A Vision of What is Not, But Can Be
UT Tyler Opens Wide the Door of Possibilities

As you might expect, The University of Texas at Tyler leads the way in preparing tomorrow’s business leaders, educators, health care providers, science and technology professionals, artistic performers and more.

But you may not realize that UT Tyler is also working to help create new and exciting solutions for tomorrow through world-class research. From studying the impact of indoor air quality on health to the development of flexible electronics, funded research opportunities are exploding on campus.

In just three years, the value of new research grants has increased almost 600 percent, from under $1 million to over $6 million. Currently, total available funding for research grants stands at $7.4 million.

“That’s pretty phenomenal growth,” said Dr. Arlene Horne, associate vice president for research. “In 2004, faculty members submitted 39 new proposals for funding. In 2007, 86 proposals were submitted. And we are starting to compete for higher value grants.”

UT Tyler President Rodney H. Mabry calls it “an amazing achievement in a short period of time.”

“These research projects solve real-world problems for industry and the government,” Dr. Mabry said. “UT Tyler research can result in the spin-off firms needed to put reality into the economic development aspirations of Tyler and East Texas. Funded research projects provide the university a much-needed new source of revenue to attract top undergraduates and fund first-rate graduate students.”

Dr. James Nelson, UT Tyler College of Engineering and Computer Science dean, said, “Through research, you are looking at real problems and developing real solutions that industry can commercialize. Students can work on projects that actually lead to solutions and products in the business communities.”

group photo
Dr. Arlene Horne, associate vice president for research, visit swith (from left) Dr. James Nelson, engineering and computer science dean and co-principal investigator for STEM; Dr. Jan Sundell, executive director of TxAIRE; and Dr.Michael Odell, co-principal investigator for STEM.

Back to Basics
Dr. Horne attributes the success to a changing culture and focus for the university. The overriding goal of UT Tyler is to provide excellence in teaching, research and community services. “And although research is part of the triad, UT Tyler has historically been considered primarily a teaching institution without much emphasis given to research,” she said. “That began to change when UT Tyler began to enhance its research focus.”

The University of Texas System encouraged all 16 campuses to become more active in research. And UT Tyler launched a new, aggressive approach.

Dr. Mabry said, “We are getting back to basics as we build our ability to carry out funded research.”

Dr. Horne was hired in April 2005 to launch the funded research program. Until then, there had been no organized effort. Faculty conducted research within departments and according to their interests.

“My task was to build a research enterprise at UT Tyler,” she said. “We’ve overcome a great deal. We now try to know every single faculty member ... ask them what their research area of expertise is ... and try to find funding opportunities to match the research. We offer them workshops that teach them how to write a proposal and get it funded. We purchased a data base so that they can search for their own funding opportunities. Slowly but surely, all of the work is beginning to pay off.”

Dr. Horne said a vital research program is essential to the success of the university for several reasons — including budget, innovations for society, quality instruction and exposure for undergraduate and graduate students.

“Research provides opportunities for faculty to develop a greater body of knowledge within their area ... it provides opportunities for students to really work on state-of-the art projects that add to their knowledge,” said Dr. Nelson. “It increases the faculty base and breadth of faculty. With research, different colleges are highly collaborative and it brings in different perspectives, forming a broad-based perspective. It truly brings in experts from all fields in an effort to solve problems.”

The Payoff
Funding from federal, state or private grants covers the cost of:

  • New scientific equipment. Research funding helps purchase the latest scientific equipment, which can be very expensive. The equipment remains with the university long after the research project is over. “Grants provide funding we would not normally have for expensive equipment, like a $400,000 filter tester we purchased for the TxAIRE Institute. Until we have new equipment, we can’t teach students the latest techniques,” Dr. Horne said.

  • Student jobs. The funding also provides jobs for students as research assistants in labs or on projects. Research can help students put themselves through school financially. Dr. Horne said 99.9 percent of funded programs at UT Tyler include students in research. Quality projects help attract and educate top graduate students.

  • Faculty time. Research grants allow the university to hire more teachers and lighten the teaching load for professors who are working on research projects.

  • Travel. Teachers and students travel to conferences to learn cutting edge information in the field. Dr. Horne said written materials are about three to four years old once published. By going to conferences, teachers and students learn what is happening today.

Dr. Nelson said, “Research builds the academic programs. Academic programs build the research programs. Both are absolutely necessary to broad-based education for students.”

Practical Solutions for Society
Research is about more than budget. “Universities are known as places for research — where new ideas are formulated and new things occur,” Dr. Horne said. “That’s what drives education. That’s how we see progress.”

Discoveries not only help this community, but also help humankind, Dr. Horne said. “These kinds of discoveries will impact lives.”

Some of UT Tyler’s flagship projects include:

The Texas Allergy, Indoor Environment and Energy Institute (TxAIRE). This brand new research institute was established with a $3.75 million grant from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund. World-renowned researcher Dr. Jan Sundell will lead the ongoing effort to study indoor air quality in Texas and the impact on health, particularly on young children.

Improvements born out of TxAIRE could include filtration devices and sensors used in the operation of a residential heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system.

State Sen. Kevin Eltife said, “It will be a great economic development tool for our community.”

UT Tyler and the University of Texas System have committed $2.5 million to support TxAIRE over four years.

The Center for Organic Semiconductor Modeling andSimulation(COSMOS). The Department of Defense awarded UT Tyler a $1 million research grant to collaborate with The University of Texas at Dallas for research on organic electronics. Dr. Ron Pieper, associate professor of electrical engineering, is lead investigator on the project.

“Thirty years ago, researchers succeeded in making plastic a conductor of electricity. It opened the doors for a lot of different applications that were never possible before ... flexible electronic displays. Not only do we have flat screen TVs, but are talking about a screen that you can roll up and go with,” Dr. Pieper said.

From solar arrays to radio emitters, organic technology is opening doors for exciting new innovations. Dr. Pieper said the Army Research Lab, the project’s principal sponsor, sees the research as leading to future technology for the field. “Smart camouflage” could sense the optical characteristics of the background surrounding a soldier and immediately adjust like a chameleon. A cell phone made of flexible material could be sewn into a soldier’s clothing for hands-free communications while on a mission.

Imagine folding your laptop up and putting it in your pocket or unfolding it for a big screen TV. What about painting your car with material that can change the color at your will or swallowing electronics that can detect and filter out harmful bacteria, viruses and cancerous cells?

“It’s not science fiction anymore,” Dr. Pieper said. One post-doctorate and three graduate students are funded to work on the UT Tyler program. The students model and simulate design options for Organic Light Emitting Diodes under the supervision of the UT Dallas program.The devices are actually built in the fabrication facility at UT Dallas.

“We provide predictive tools for selection of materials, design and structure,” Dr. Pieper said. “The options are limitless so our computer simulations are more cost and time effective. It has been great for our school and we couldn’t ask for a better opportunity.”

The East Texas Center for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). The East Texas STEM Center was launched in 2007 with a $1.2 million federal grant to improve instruction and academic performance in science- and math-related subjects in rural school districts.

Through research, technical assistance, professional development opportunities and access to curriculum, the program is working to meet the growing demand for graduates in the STEM fields. This is critical to the U.S. remaining globally competitive in technology.

“We need people graduating from universities who want to be chemists, physicists, mathematicians, engineers and biologists,” said Dr. Nelson. “So we need to make sure we are exposing students to STEM fields and preparing students to enter those fields.”

Biology Research. Dr. Blake Bextine, assistant professor of biology at UT Tyler, is working to fight

blake bextine
Dr. Blake Bextine, biology researcher

disease in potatoes. Dr. Bextine and a team of UT Tyler students are investigating the causal agent of Zebra Chip, a disease that has caused a potato epidemic in the southern United States and Mexico.

Bextine has worked with 15 undergraduate students and three graduate students in the research program. “A large part of the budget goes to undergraduate salaries to help support their studies,” Dr. Bextine said.

The group also studies Pierce’s disease of grapevine, as well as the red imported fire ant and the bacteria that live in them. Dr. Bextine has been awarded grants from the Texas Potato Growers and Frito Lay, as well as the USDA-APHIS, the Texas PD Research and Education Board and the CDFA.

GEAR UP. UT Tyler continues to coordinate Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for

Peggy Gill
Dr. Peggy Gill, GEAR UP director

Undergraduate Programs through a grant totaling $3.1 million from the U.S. Department of Education. GEAR UP encourages middle school students to aspire to, prepare for and succeed in higher education, especially those from low-income families.

Tyler GEAR UP provides services in five areas: professional development for teachers, academic support for students, parent and family involvement, educational partnerships and data-driven decision-making. UT Tyler is partnering with Dogan, Stewart and Boulter middle schools in Tyler, as well as John Tyler High School.

“We have so many fascinating cutting edge projects going on here, from scientific to educational. It’s phenomenal. And people will be able to take advantage of the results we discover,” Dr. Horne said.

UT Tyler is committed to working with partners to move innovative discoveries from the university to the market place. By partnering with local school districts on TSTEM, manufacturers through TxAIRE and the Department of Defense with COSMOS, people will benefit from creative solutions through UT Tyler research.

And university leaders expect the growth and benefits to continue.

“In the coming year, we are hoping to hit the $10 million mark on research grants,” Dr. Horne said.

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