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
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
|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
The University of Texas System encouraged
all 16 campuses to become more active in
research. And UT Tyler launched a new,
Dr. Mabry said, “We are getting back to
basics as we build our ability to carry out
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
“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
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
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
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.
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
|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
|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
“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.
Special Section: UT Tyler Research
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