The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $3.3 million for the establishment of a collaborative research and education program between The University of Texas at El Paso and University of California, Santa Barbara. As part of the national Partnerships for Research and Education in Materials (PREM) grant program, this award establishes a long-term partnership between UTEP and UCSB’s Materials Research Laboratory: an NSF Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC).

The UTEP-UCSB PREM program broadens the participation and advanced degree attainment of under-represented minorities, primarily Hispanic students, in materials science and engineering. The program opens doors for UTEP and UCSB students to participate in research internships at the partner university and for faculty at UCSB and UTEP to jointly teach advanced educational courses remotely to students at both campuses, among other benefits.

“The PREM program provides a wonderful opportunity for UTEP scientists to interact closely with their counterparts at UCSB in exciting research and educational projects,” says Luis Echegoyen, the Robert A. Welch Chair in Chemistry at UTEP and principal investigator for the award. “UTEP and UCSB students will have unique possibilities to work collaboratively in new materials research areas of direct relevance to solar energy. We anticipate true synergistic outcomes to emerge from this collaborative partnership at the frontier of materials research for photovoltaic applications.”

Echegoyen added that the PREM program between UTEP and UCSB is predicated on the philosophy that there will be equal contributions from the two partners. “We are in this on a scientific parity basis,” says Echegoyen, who was the Director of the Chemistry Division at the National Science Foundation prior to coming to UTEP.
Craig Hawker, Director of the Materials Research Laboratory at UCSB and co-principal investigator for the award, says the PREM award “is a chance to make a broader impact, and to excite and inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers at UCSB and UTEP.” “The UTEP-UCSB PREM will pursue research at the cutting-edge of photovoltaic materials research, developing new materials essential for efficient photovoltaics to be formulated,” Hawker said.

Another core advantage of this PREM partnership is that it opens up a wealth of global research internship programs available for students at UTEP and UCSB alike. The Materials Research Laboratory at UCSB co-sponsors the Cooperative International Science and Engineering Internships program in which undergraduates participate in extended research stays with international partner institutions, such as the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom or Fudan University in China, leading to a richer educational experience for U.S. students. A cooperative program including UTEP and three universities in Spain adds an additional international component that would benefit the students who participate in the PREM.