WSU to get record $18 Million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy

Washington State University on Wednesday announced the single largest research grant in the history of the school.

Hannelore Sudermann
Staff writer
Spokesman Review

The WSU Institute of Shock Physics will get $18 million over five years from the U.S. Department of Energy to further its work in basic defense-related research and in training future scientists who will go on to work in the areas of national defense and nuclear security.

The grant is an extension of another DOE/National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) award in 1997 of $10 million to establish the Shock Institute in Pullman.

“They do high-quality, impressive work that is noticed back here at headquarters,” said Bryan Wilkes, spokesman for the NNSA. And the shock institute is training the next generation of scientists to work at DOE’s national laboratories.

The institute, founded and headed by Yogendra Gupta, focuses on shock compression and how shock waves can change the molecular properties of a substance. With 35 employees and millions of dollars in high-tech equipment, including a 40-foot gun to shoot objects into targets for the purposes of studying impact, Gupta has brought international recognition to WSU.

Gupta said the grant will enable the institute to get more equipment, bring 10 more employees aboard and recruit more students, both graduate and undergraduate.

Gupta, an India-born scientist who earned his doctorate at WSU, came back to Pullman in 1981 to take up where his mentor, physicist George Duvall, left off.

“The Shock Institute is a huge team, not a singular effort,” said Gupta, sharing the credit with his fellow scientists and students. “My only job is to keep the team together.”

Over the past two decades, shock physics research at WSU has secured more than $50 million in funding from the DOE, the U.S. Navy and and the U.S. Army.

“We’re pleased as punch and proud,” said WSU President V. Lane Rawlins at the press conference to announce the grant Wednesday morning.

The award justifies the state’s $12 million investment in the new shock physics building, he said. “This is ample demonstration that those kind of investments pay off many times over.”

The building was completed last year and is now the site of experiments that shoot projectiles at speeds up to 5,600 mph and record impacts down to billionths and trillionths of a second.

When he heard several weeks ago that he was getting the grant, Gupta culled over his list of future research projects. “I’m like a kid in a candy store. There are so many fun things to do,” he said. “This grant means there are more chances to take risks and have lots of fun.”

“This is a signal achievement (for Gupta),” said Rawlins of the grant. “But neither is it the beginning nor the end of what he will do.”


Grants given WSU are many and varied
School boasts diversity in its research programs

Hannelore Sudermann
Staff writer

The $18 million shock physics grant announced Wednesday may be the largest in Washington State University history, but it is far from the only multimillion-dollar award on campus.

Researchers and instructors in fields as wide-ranging as nutrition education, telecom networks, community oriented public safety, barley improvement and engineering wood composites have brought significant support from a wide variety of funding sources to campus.

This is a good time for grants because people are interested in the type of research that’s being done here and because many of WSU’s experts are at a mature level in their fields, said WSU President V. Lane Rawlins.

"Right now the growth is greater and the opportunities are greater," he said. Rawlins offered as an example Gerald Edwards, a biochemistry professor and expert in photosynthesis. Edwards gives talks across the country, has published more than 300 research articles and has brought in more than $6 million in grant support.

But there are dozens of others. As far as single grants and contracts, Mike Wolcott, an expert in wood materials engineering, is a leader. In 2001, he got a $6 million contract from the U.S. Navy to make composites of plastic and wood fiber to serve as nontoxic, lightweight replacements for creosote-soaked wood in docks and piers. That same year Wolcott also got a $3.7 million, two-year contract to study land-based wood structures owned by the Navy.

His work is very different from the rural school program Yolanda Flores Niemann at WSU-Tri Cities is pursuing with a five-year $7.68 million U.S. Department of Education grant. The program provides tutoring, after-school learning opportunities and support for attending college for children in the migrant worker communities in Eastern Washington.

Other major recent grants and contracts include $9 million from the Department of Education to train teachers to work with children with high needs, $2.6 million from the National Science Foundation to train the next generation of scientists and engineers, and $2.2 million from the Washington Department of Social and Health Services to provide food stamp recipients with hands-on practical nutrition education.

One of WSU’s strengths is the diversity of its research programs, said James Petersen, vice provost for research.

The sleep research program in the College of Veterinary Medicine, for example, is looking for ways to work with sleep centers at hospitals in Spokane, he said. WSU is hoping to get a grant from the National Institutes of Health to further that work.

The grants not only improve the quality of education and research at WSU, they offer the school opportunities to reach out into the state, he said.

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