New Grants for Advanced Research Equipment Will Enhance Training for Future Minority STEM Faculty

black engineer working in lab

Through Florida A&M University, the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering recently received a total of $7.5 million in funding for state-of-the-art research equipment from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). These three equipment grants are set aside for research programs associated with HBCUs and will enhance the college’s production of Black and other minority future engineering faculty.

Mark Dobek, the assistant dean for research administration at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, said, “These awards are essential to providing a top-tier education to our students and continued development at FAMU of novel technologies and materials research.”

One grant funds an antenna measurement system that will enhance research capabilities for the university. The other two grants provide new research tools that will be critical for conducting novel experiments for data-driven research in CREST-affiliated and university research projects. The college’s NSF CREST program aims to fund and mentoring for career development of underrepresented minority students in engineering to seed the faculty of the future at HBCUs and science-driven universities nationwide.

“We have just received a Major Research Instrumentation award of $373,000 from NSF that will play an important role in the newly-established Materials Science and Engineering graduate program and extend the capabilities of our NSF CREST program,” Tarik Dickens, associate professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering and assistant director of the program, said. 

Dynamic Micro-Computed Tomography Instrument

With the purchase of a $532,500 Rigaku dynamic micro-computed tomography instrument, a wide range of scientific disciplines will have access to an efficient characterization tool for examining many micro-structured systems. Scientists at the joint college and other areas of FAMU will conduct significant work in novel polymer-metal-ceramic composites, actuation mechanisms, bio-composites and macro-organisms and fossilized creatures. This is the first such instrument for our region.

Dickens and Theo Siegrist, professor in chemical and biomedical engineering at the college and the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, will establish the X-Ray Imaging Science Center which will be part of the training network for the U.S. synchrotron facilities. 

Associate Professor Muhammad Haseeb of the FAMU Center for Biological Control will use the instrument for his research on the impact of pests on the farming ecosystem.

Atomic Force Microscope-Infrared Spectroscopy (AFM-IR) System/Multi-Analysis Tool 

In a separate U.S. DoD grant, Dickens and fellow faculty members Rebekah Sweat and Subramanian Ramakrishnan received more than $575,000 to purchase a combined atomic force microscope-infrared spectroscopy (AFM-IR) system. This multi-analysis tool is used in a wide range of applications and defense industry research. 

“This instrument will allow us to expose students to artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) driven material study and discovery, a critically important frontier for material research,” said Sweat, an assistant professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering. “This will be the first such comprehensive system for multi-analysis at FAMU and will serve a wide variety of research across disciplines.” 

Professor Subramanian Ramakrishnan, chemical and biomedical engineering researcher and the director of the NSF CREST Center, studies soft polymers for enhanced understanding of nanocomposite materials. He helped champion the AFM-IR purchase.

“The combination of the multi-analysis tool and the tomography instrument will provide an uncanny ability to see the composition of materials,” Dickens said. 

The two equipment grants promise to bring faculty from the broader FAMU community from disciplines including chemistry, agriculture and food sciences, environmental science to the engineering college, increasing data-driven techniques and analytical characterization. The equipment will be managed under the NSF CREST-affiliated programs. 

“We hope to have the instrumentation online by the beginning of summer 2023,” Dickens said. “The center will sponsor future workshops to educate the research community on these fascinating tools.”

Compact Wide-band Integrated Near Field Passive Measurement and OTA Measurement System

Bayaner Arigong, assistant professor with the department of electrical and computer engineering, also received a grant for $1 million from the NSF Division of Human Resources to acquire an integrated antenna measurement system. 

The system provides integrated solutions for near-field passive measurement, over-the-air measurement, antenna array, electromagnetic devices, and material radiation characteristics. It covers frequency bands from 650MHz-50GHz used for 5G/NextG wireless communication, radar, advanced artificial material development and DoD applications.

“This measurement tool enhances the research capabilities and capacity here at our department, college and university-wide,” Arigong said. “This equipment will be used for several sponsored projects from NSF, the US Air Force and private industry.”

The system will help develop coexisting spectrum sensing radio frequency on the front end, a novel beam-forming phased array system, and advanced artificial material for configurable radio frequency devices, circuits, systems and more.

Beyond the research, the new equipment will be used in multiple courses in the college’s curriculum to train undergraduate students and graduate students. Additionally, high school participants in summer research experiences will have access to the new technology.