Puerto Rican partnership
piques interest in science
Capitalizing on a long-standing relationship with the University of Puerto Rico, a research, educational and outreach initiative aims to broaden participation of underrepresented groups in the science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, disciplines.
To date, the Partnership for Research and Education in Materials has received $1.2 million in National Science Foundation (NSF) funding. It has now grown to include three University of Puerto Rico campuses: Mayaguez, Cayey and Rio Piedras. At UW-Madison, partners in the effort hail from two interdisciplinary NSF-funded centers, the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) on Nanostructured Interfaces and the Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center (NSEC) .
Combining both experimental and theoretical approaches, these centers focus on developing and characterizing novel materials, such as beta-peptides and poly-beta-peptides, engineered nanoparticles, liquid crystals, and multifunctional nanoporous materials. Innovative applications for their research include developing antimicrobial agents, minimizing potential environmental effects of engineered nanoparticles, engineering liquid-crystal-based materials for chemical and biological sensing or cell-culture applications, and constructing nanostructured materials that can chemically transform sustainable biological feedstocks into fuels and specialty chemicals.
The partnership exposes kindergarten through 12th-grade students to state-of-the-art materials science via educational and outreach efforts that include the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez Science on Wheels Educational Center. At the college level, the initiative includes programs that increase Hispanic and female undergraduate student participation in STEM disciplines and ultimately, in materials science and nanotechnology graduate programs and in the workforce.
For young underrepresented and female faculty, the team has implemented a mentoring program that enhances their retention and success rate.
At UW-Madison, co-principal investigators on the effort are MRSEC Director and Howard Curler Distinguished Professor Juan de Pablo and NSEC Director and Milton J. and A. Maude Shoemaker Professor Paul Nealey , while University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez Chemical Engineering Professor Nelson Cardona Martinez directs the effort, with Chemistry Professor Juan López Garriga and University of Puerto Rico Cayey Chemistry Professor Luiz Fernandez Torres.
“This partnership demonstrates that to preserve our long-standing relationship with partner institutions, including Puerto Rico, it is essential that we develop personal ties and professional connections to the new faculty at such institutions,” says de Pablo.
An essential component of the partnership relies on MRSEC Director of Education Greta Zenner and NSEC Education and Outreach Coordinator Andrew Greenberg. “This strategic partnership expands and strengthens our educational and outreach innovations to a much broader audience, reaching beyond Wisconsin and Puerto Rico,” says Nealey.