Mitch Emmons, 844-5741 (


AUBURN -- Officials of a program that has awarded more than $40 million in federal research support to Alabama colleges and universities are urging the state to continue its funding into the 21st century.

The Experimental Program for Stimulating Competitive Research is vital to research programs in Alabama, its supporters said during the agency's annual conference.

Auburn University, along with 14 other Alabama colleges and universities, 40 industrial partners, the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs and the state Commission on Higher Education comprise the Alabama EPSCoR program.

These member institutions form research clusters that compete for funds from such federal agencies as the National Science Foundation, Department of Defense, the Environmental Protection Agency and others.

EPSCoR grants traditionally are matched by state resources. As state matching support has dwindled over recent years, member institutions are finding it necessary to draw on their own financial resources in order to attain the EPSCoR monies.

"I call this punishing the virtuous," says Alabama EPSCoR Project Director Kenneth Pruitt.

The state's EPSCoR supports projects that address the special needs of Alabama, Pruitt said. He added that all awards are based on the merits of the research proposal, and awards foster federal-state industrial partnerships.

"This contributes to statewide development, health care, science and engineering technologies and even crime prevention," he said. Among major issues of higher education in Alabama addressed by EPSCoR, Pruitt said, are coordination with economic and industrial development, reduction of duplication and oversight and governance of the program's funded projects.

"In fiscal 1998-99, Alabama EPSCoR awarded $9.24 million from five federal agencies," Pruitt said. "During that period the state's matching contribution was $600,000. Thus, there was a return of $15.40 for every state dollar invested."

Pruitt provided a briefing on the various EPSCoR projects underway throughout Alabama. Since 1997, Auburn -- with a key role in several of these projects -- has been the recipient of more than $1.7 million in federal support through EPSCoR.

Among AU's research roles are: The Internet2 project, designed to produce the next generation of the Internet and vastly improve its speed, capacity and efficiency; optoelectronics, as an expert in packaging issues involved in designing, simulating and testing advanced microchips; smart materials for control applications in industrial processes; biomaterials technology for medical device applications; reclamation of solid waste; fusion energy research; various space and defense projects; and forestry and other environmental research projects.

"Alabama EPSCoR activities are strengthening Alabama," Pruitt said. "For research funded through EPSCoR to continue to be an important contributor to Alabamašs economic development, the state must maintain its commitment."

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