National lab officials gather at University of Mississippi

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Officials from Oak Ridge, Argonne and Lawrence Berkeley national laboratories and Mississippi’s four research universities met Thursday at the University of Mississippi for the state’s “National Lab Day,” hosted by Congressman Alan Nunnelee.
The gathering was a chance to up the institutions’ collaborative efforts.
“We draw on the expertise in the universities to help us tackle our big problems, because we can’t solve them by ourselves,” said Oak Ridge Director Thomas Mason. “What we’re trying to do today is to see, if we can get a little higher level of interaction and a little more institutional relationship, can we do more?”
Argonne Director Eric Isaacs said Mississippi could help with his lab’s research that could lead to an electric grid that repairs itself or new understandings of protein that could lead to cancer cures.
“The universities here are particularly good at cooperative research,” he said. “We’re here in part to talk to faculty, to students, to see if we can find new pathways for us to collaborate.”
Higher Education Commissioner Hank Bounds credited the Mississippi Research Consortium and forward-looking leaders for cooperation among Ole Miss, Mississippi State University, Jackson State University and the University of Southern Mississippi.
“Collectively we’re very strong,” he said, noting that all four research universities contributed to the BP oil spill cleanup. “It’s really a productive model that serves Mississippi quite well.”
Alice Clark, vice chancellor for research at Ole Miss, said Ole Miss researchers offer expertise in issues from clean coal burning to creating super-durable materials.
“The major outcome for today is to strengthen (the national labs’) awareness of our capabilities and our awareness of partnership opportunities to work together on research projects,” she said. “We also want our students to see that there are opportunities for training and internships and employment when they graduate.”
Varied research
David Shaw, vice president for research at Mississippi State University, said MSU’s research is as varied as designing safer military vehicles and protecting the nation’s computing infrastructure, energy and health care against high-tech terrorism.
“Some cases have resulted not only in research on how to do that, but putting people in prison that were trying to do that,” he said.
Helping shrimpers
Rita Presley, associate vice president for research at Jackson State University, said JSU’s research strengths are in computational sciences, GIS andremote sensing, environmental sciences and biological sciences. One recent success was “supporting research that helped the shrimp industry in better breeding shrimp on the Gulf Coast,” she said.
Nunnelee said even in the face of severe budget constraints, basic research is vital to U.S. interests.
“Our government in Washington is going to have to cut spending, regardless of who was elected this week,” he said. “But I’m convinced that Mississippi universities can compete for research grants with any university in the world. That’s what today is all about.”
errol.castens@journalinc.com