UNC Greensboro’s nanotech program is part of $25M NSF phosphorus effort

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GREENSBORO – UNC Greensboro (UNCG) scientists from UNCG’s Department of Nanoscience at the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering (JSNN) are part of a new national effort to evolve the tools and methods for innovations in phosphorus sustainability. The $25M Science and Technology Center for Phosphorus Sustainability (STEPS) Center

funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), includes 9 organizations that will use a convergence research approach to facilitate a 25% reduction in human dependence on mined phosphates and a 25% reduction in losses of phosphorus to soils and water resources within 25 years.

Phosphorus is an essential element that is needed by all living organisms.  It is in our food, in our DNA, and is a critical nutrient in agricultural farms. It has been used as a fertilizer to improve the yield of crops. It is also used as a pesticide to tackle pests that harm crops and animals. Inefficiencies in phosphorus management has resulted in its release into rivers, lakes, and oceans, where eutrophication and poor water quality can lead to associated harmful algal blooms, impair drinking water supplies, and negatively affect aquatic life. Consequently, excessive usage of phosphorus can be detrimental to the environment and to human health, necessitating a need for its recovery and recyclability.

$25M grant fuels launch of new center at NCSU focusing on phosphates

“We are excited about this national partnership that includes eight other universities with North Carolina State University as lead. Together we will provide novel solutions to address a global challenge, accelerate discoveries, and build a talented workforce equipped to tackle research using convergence approaches,” said Sherine Obare, Dean and Professor of Nanoscience, who is the UNCG lead on this project.

“This center is a game-changer,” said UNCG Chancellor Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr. “As a Carnegie Foundation institution, we continue to be recognized for high research activity and community engagement, as we balance academic excellence, opportunity, and service to make a real-world impact with students, faculty and in our communities. We are grateful to the NSF for their generous grant, and for the opportunity to recruit researchers from a vast array of diverse backgrounds. At UNCG, we can’t wait to get started.”

At UNCG, researchers will focus on developing novel sensors for the detection of phosphorus in complex environments. The detection of phosphorus in small quantities is important because it will help in its extraction and recovery for future sustainability. This activity will lead to enhanced resilience of food systems and reduced environmental damage. STEPS promotes a convergence research approach, creating novel research structures and processes to integrate knowledge, expertise, and methods from diverse disciplines. STEPS will produce the fundamental science necessary to control, recover, reuse, and manage phosphorus in novel and sustainable ways and will train cohorts of scholars who will contribute innovations to other societal grand challenges requiring convergence research. Because of the convergence nature of the STEPS, researchers from the sciences and social sciences at UNCG will be able to work together in the future to contribute to this national effort.

UNC Greensboro ranks number #1 in North Carolina for social mobility. Through the STEPS Center, UNCG will not only contribute to significant research through nanoscience, but it will lead in ensuring that students and researchers from diverse backgrounds provide the perspectives necessary to deliver solutions that benefit broad communities. UNCG researchers are also co-directing the STEPS broadens participation efforts that will increase the number of women, underrepresented minorities and persons with disabilities in STEM disciplines and aims to have 50% of the total number of STEPS researchers (e.g., students, senior personnel, and faculty) to be from members of underrepresented minority groups in science and engineering.

UNC Greensboro, located in the Piedmont Triad region of North Carolina, is 1 of only 40 doctoral institutions recognized by the Carnegie Foundation for both high research activity and community engagement. Founded in 1891 and one of the original three UNC System institutions, UNC Greensboro is one of the most diverse universities in the state with 20,000+ students, and 3,000+ faculty and staff members representing 90+ nationalities. With 17 Division I athletic teams, 85 undergraduate degrees in over 125 areas of study, as well as 74 master’s and 32 doctoral programs, UNC Greensboro is consistently recognized nationally among the top universities for academic excellence and value, with noted strengths in health and wellnessvisual and performing artsnursingeducation, and more. For additional information, please visit uncg.edu and follow UNCG on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

The Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering (JSNN) is an academic collaboration between North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NC A&T) and The University of North Carolina Greensboro (UNC Greensboro). A $56.3 million, 105,000 square foot state-of-the-art science and engineering research facility, JSNN builds on the strengths of each institution to offer innovative, cross-disciplinary graduate programs in the emerging areas of nanoscience and nanoengineering. JSNN’s portfolio includes a suite of microscopes from Carl Zeiss SMT®, including the only Orion Helium Ion microscope in the Southeast, among others.

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Kassie Hoffman
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