NSF Awards $539,000 to Support Undergraduate Research Opportunities

Ranil Wickramasinghe
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Ranil Wickramasinghe

The Ralph E. Martin Department of Chemical Engineering at the U of A was awarded two grants to support research experiences for a diverse group of undergraduates.

The first grant, from the National Science Foundation, is a $431,976 award to establish a Research Experience for Undergraduates site that will focus on chemical separation research and commercialization assessment methodology.

The second grant, also from the NSF, is for $107,097 and falls under the Research Experience and Mentoring Supplement. While the goal of this grant is similar to the REU award,  it will focus on the recruitment of students attending NorthWest Arkansas Community College.

The Membrane Science Engineering and Technology Center will be the primary host of these two undergraduate programs. The director of the center, Ranil Wickramasinghe, who worked on the proposal with associate professor of chemical engineering, Shannon Servoss, will serve as the principal investigator.

“We are excited to be hosting both the REU and REM programs this year,” Wickramasinghe said. “The REU program builds off our earlier successful program, while the REM program will help strengthen our link to NorthWest Arkansas Community College. Both programs aim to strengthen participation by underrepresented groups in science and engineering.” 

Research Experience for Undergraduates

The Department of Chemical Engineering will host From Bench to Market: Engineering Systems for High Efficiency Separations Research Experience for Undergraduates for the next three years. The purpose of this REU site is to provide a diverse group of undergraduate students from across the country with research experiences in chemical separations as well as train them with the skills needed to create, implement and assess the commercial potential of research projects.

The 10-week summer program will target up to 10 rising sophomores through seniors from both two- and four-year institutions, including those without a doctoral program. Applicants from underrepresented groups within STEM disciplines will be prioritized.

The collaborative environment includes industrial and academic experts in separations, along with leaders in commercialization assessment, and provides a unique opportunity for students to experience how research is moved from the laboratory setting to the market.

This grant is a renewal of an existing REU site, which was on campus from 2017-2019.

Research Experience and Mentoring Supplement

The REM supplement is much like the REU site program. The primary difference is that it will provide a year-long tailored research and mentoring program to eight undergraduate students attending NorthWest Arkansas Community College. The immediate goal is to provide a diverse group of undergraduate students with research experiences in membrane separations as well as train them with the skills needed to create, implement and assess the commercial potential of their research. At the end of the program the participants will gain experience in a separations-focused laboratory as well as the ability to assess the commercial potential of a project. The ultimate goal is to encourage these students to pursue four-year Bachelor of Science degrees.

The Case for Membrane Separations

In both proposals the authors noted the significance of separation processes to the production and analysis of chemicals and biologicals. Indeed, they estimate that separation processes “account for 10-15 percent of the world energy budget and 90 percent of pharmaceutical manufacturing costs.” Developing lower costs for separation processes is both of great societal interest and critical to the development of sustainable manufacturing processes. Laboratory experience geared toward learning about separation efficiency and reduction of processing costs would be of great benefit to undergraduates seeking careers or majors in this field.

About the University of Arkansas: As Arkansas' flagship institution, the U of A provides an internationally competitive education in more than 200 academic programs. Founded in 1871, the U of A contributes more than $2.2 billion to Arkansas’ economy through the teaching of new knowledge and skills, entrepreneurship and job development, discovery through research and creative activity while also providing training for professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the U of A among the few U.S. colleges and universities with the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the U of A among the top public universities in the nation. See how the U of A works to build a better world at Arkansas Research News.  


Ranil Wickramasinghe, distinguished professor
Department of Chemical Engineering
479-575-8475, swickram@uark.edu

Hardin Young, assistant director of research communications
University Relations
479-575-6850, hyoung@uark.edu


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