This proposal represents the culmination of many years of EPSCoR experience in Kentucky. Ever since the program was started in 1986 by Dr. Lee Todd (now the president of the University of Kentucky), it has adhered to a vision of the future consistent with the goal of bringing the Commonwealth to a nationally competitive level. Over the course of a year-long selection process, which included both an internal and external evaluation of the intellectual merit of the proposal ideas, KY NSF EPSCoR identified three focus areas to support and develop through infrastructure-building and educational activities. These areas have the greatest potential of achieving national recognition and contributing to the citizens and economic development of Kentucky. KY NSF EPSCoR will maximize the leverage of EPSCoR funding by supporting these areas for a short time with the condition that they become self-sustainabie after the EPSCoR grant has ended.
The Commonwealth of Kentucky faces a number of challenges in overcoming obstacles to hightechnology economic development. Some of the barriers the State faces include a lack of high technoiogy industry and no large Federal presence (such as a National Laboratory). Kentucky still ranks very low (47~) on the list of per capita research and development (R&D) investment. On the other hand, academic research has made significant progress in recent years toward becoming nationally competitive. In 2000, Kentucky legislation (the Kentucky Innovations Act or "KIA") provided significant funding and a focused plan for improving the R&D infrastructure within the State. Considering the obstacles mentioned previously, this legislation committed to improving the R&D infrastructure primarily through investments in Kentucky's two research universities, the University of Kentucky (UK) and the University of Louisville (UL), but also through complementary investments in regional universities, which include Kentucky State University (KSU), the only historically black college/university in the State. Over the past eight years, the Kentucky share of the NSF research budget has increased by 50%. A significant part of this has been due to an investment of EPSCoR funds; but this investment has complemented some very important State initiatives, such as the Research Challenge Trust Fund ("Bucks for Brains") and the establishment of the Office for the New Economy. These two State programs have provided matching funds for the establishment of chaired professorships and provided resources to several economically important areas of research. If Kentucky's research infrastructure growth continues at the present rate, the Commonwealth should reach the graduation criterion (0.7% of the NSF research budget) within the next ten years. The significant recent progress in developing academic research, excellent complementary programs, and a focused strategic plan for research development (under KIA) represent Kentucky's strengths as well as an opportunity to do more to push the State toward competitiveness by supporting the identified focus areas.
Kentucky NSF EPSCoR proposes to overcome its barriers to progress by augmenting the research infrastructure and expertise in all parts of the State and concentrating on those areas in which the New Economy's strategic plan has been focused. There are two implementation mechanisms for improving Kentucky's competitiveness: (1) an investment in infrastructure improvement, and (2) an investment in education, outreach and diversity. The proposal describes how Kentucky will address the first of these by developing three areas at the top of the state's New Economy priority list: nanotechnology (with an emphasis on sensors), biotechnology (specializing in metabolomics), and information technology (specifically in the virtuai environments area). This effort will be concentrated at three of Kentucky's universities (UK, UL and KSU). The second investment is designed to augment scientific expertise in all parts of the State, which constitutes a contribution to the broader impacts of the proposed infrastructure improvement initiatives. This will include a comprehensive plan to increase the level of competence and public awareness in environmental issues. A new Institute at Eastern Kentucky University will coordinate efforts in the eastern part of the state, and a continuation of the Kentucky Environmental Research and Educational Consortium will coordinate the western part through the Tracy Farmer Center for the Environment, newly established with private funds on the UK campus. Kentucky NSF EPSCoR will also pursue an aggressive plan to increase diversity in the scientific expertise across the State through the Research Enhancement Grant Program and the Summer Research Program, both of which are focused on bringing undergraduate women and minorities into the State's scientific enterprise.
The three-year program described here includes a 50% matching cash (not in-kind) cost commitment from the State government and will be managed through the not-for-profit Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation. which is independent from the State and the university systems.