NSF Awards Regional Training Hub Grant to Chemical Engineering's Wickramasinghe and Nayani

From left, Ranil Wickramasinghe and Karthik Nayani
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From left, Ranil Wickramasinghe and Karthik Nayani

The National Science Foundation has awarded Ranil Wickramasinghe and Karthik Nayani a five-year $500,000 grant to develop a regional workforce training hub in Arkansas. Wickramasinghe, a Distinguished Professor, and Nayani, an assistant professor, are both faculty in the Ralph E. Martin Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Arkansas.

This Skills Training in Advanced Research & Technology (START) site hosted by the Membrane, Science, Engineering and Technology Center (MAST Center) will train the regional workforce on biopharmaceuticals-related projects. Over the course of the award, students from two-year institutions will participate in ongoing MAST Center projects in biopharmaceuticals and receive mentoring to prepare them for industrial internships.

The site will be created in collaboration with faculty from Northwest Arkansas Community College, Lashall Bates and Gary Bates. Community college faculty in the program will also participate in MAST Center research projects and develop learning modules on bioseparations, bioprocessing and biopharmaceuticals that they can use in their classrooms.

The START site at the MAST center will have broad-ranging implications for the workforce in the area, with a goal of creating and retaining local talent for its nascent biotechnology-based industry. The participants will increase their knowledge in membrane-based research used in biopharmaceutical manufacturing. Participants will also have access to multiple professional development experiences at the U of A. After participating in START, graduates of two-year institutions will have the opportunity to tout a basic understanding of membrane-based processes and biopharmaceutical manufacturing in job interviews.

The START site builds on the relationship between the MAST Center and community college.

"The MAST Center has been able to directly enable NWACC undergraduates to complete four-year degree programs. Some are even pursuing master's degrees," said Wickramasinghe. "This has been particularly rewarding."

Nayani sees this as the next step in workforce development for such students.

"I have had the opportunity to work with and train NWACC students for a couple of years now, including lab research and field trips to industrial sites. I have found them to be engaging and pick up on research quite fast; it has been a rewarding experience. The START site really allows us to ramp up the workforce training efforts in a big way," he said.

Wickramasinghe is a Distinguished Professor in the Ralph E. Martin Department of Chemical Engineering and holds the Ross E. Martin Chair in Emerging Technologies. He is the director of the MAST Center, a multi-campus NSF Industry/University Cooperative Research Center that hosts the START site through its outreach program to local community colleges.

Nayani is an assistant professor and holds the Louis Owen Professorship in Chemical Engineering. He is the recipient of an American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund grant and USDA New Investigator award. His research involves the design of a range of biologically and technologically relevant soft materials to address societal challenges in the realm of health, environment and materials.

About the Department of Chemical Engineering: Chemical engineering has been a part of the University of Arkansas curriculum since 1903. Today, the Ralph E. Martin Department of Chemical Engineering has an enrollment of over 300 students in its undergraduate and graduate degree programs and houses five endowed chairs and eight endowed professorships to support its faculty. Faculty expertise includes cellular engineering, chemical process safety, advanced materials, computational modeling, and membrane separations. A wide range of fundamental and applied research is conducted in the areas of energy, health, sustainability, and computational chemical engineering. The department is also home to the Chemical Hazards Research Center and is one of three national sites for the Membrane Science, Engineering, & Technology (MAST) Center. The Department of Chemical Engineering is named for alumnus Ralph E. Martin (B.S.Ch.E.'58, M.S.Ch.E.'60) in recognition of his 2005 endowment gift.

Contacts

Michael McAllister, assistant to the department head
Department of Chemical Engineering
479-575-4396, mrmcalli@uark.edu

Jennifer P. Cook, director of communications
College of Engineering
479-575-5697, jpc022@uark.edu

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