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University of Iowa News Release

Sept. 30, 2003

UI To Participate In $17 Million NSF-Funded Catalysis Center

The University of Iowa is one of three institutions that will participate in a five-year, $17 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant awarded to the Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis, headquartered at the University of Kansas (KU).

The Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis (CEBC) is a multidisciplinary, multi-university research center led by KU, with the UI and Washington University in St. Louis serving as core partners. Its mission is to develop environmentally friendly and economically viable chemical processes for industry. Catalysts -- substances used to accelerate chemical reactions -- are used in the production of such things as medicines, food products and gasoline.

John Rosazza, Ph.D., director of the UI's Center for Biocatalysis and Bioprocessing (CBB) and professor of medicinal and natural products chemistry in the UI College of Pharmacy, will serve as an associate director of the CEBC.

"This is a very complex grant, which aims to advance catalysis in order to improve the environment and improve the methods for the production of industrial chemicals," Rosazza said. "Our aim is to optimize, develop and discover new catalysts and to improve catalytic processes across a wide array of catalysts."

Specifically, the UI researchers will focus on biocatalysis, an area of long-standing expertise at the UI. Biocatalysts are catalysts derived from nature and include substances such as bacterial enzymes that are able to transform abundant starting materials into useful pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals. Rosazza hopes that the UI projects will ultimately lead to improvements and expansion of the use of biocatalysts.

In addition to the focus on catalysis research, the CEBC also will develop hands-on opportunities for undergraduates and graduates students, the next generation of engineers and scientists.

"Unlike many typical grants, which fund research only, education and training also are major components of this grant," Rosazza said. "This grant will enable us to enhance our existing and very strong education training programs at the CBB and allow us to expand education opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students in this area of research."

CEBC administrators, in addition to Rosazza, include Director Bala Subramaniam, Ph.D., professor in the KU department of chemical and petroleum engineering; Deputy Director Daryle H. Busch, Ph.D., professor in the KU department of chemistry; and Associate Director Milorad Dudukovic, Ph.D., of Washington University in St. Louis.

More than 35 faculty members at the three institutions are expected to contribute research expertise, and the CEBC will employ about 35 persons, including undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral scientists, administrative and technical staff.

The three universities collectively will provide $2 million to the center, while some 15 major chemical companies are expected to join CEBC as industrial partners who will pay membership fees and will have the first opportunity to implement new CEBC technologies. Ultimately, CEBC plans to sustain itself with funding from industrial memberships and additional sponsors of research projects.

UI researchers expected to participate in the center in addition to Rosazza, include Pedro Alvarez, Ph.D., professor of civil and environmental engineering; Milind Deshpande, Ph.D., CBB research specialist; David Gibson, Ph.D., professor of microbiology; Horacio Olivo, Ph.D., associate professor of medicinal and natural products chemistry; Tonya Peeples, Ph.D., associate professor of chemical and biochemical engineering; Daniel Quinn, Ph.D., professor of chemistry; S. Ramaswamy, Ph.D., associate professor of biochemistry and chemical and biochemical engineering; Jerald Schnoor, Ph.D. professor of civil and environmental engineering and occupational and environmental health; Gary Aurand. Ph.D., lecturer in chemical and biochemical engineering; David Rethwisch, Ph.D., professor of chemical and biochemical engineering; Kenneth Murphy, Ph.D., associate professor of biochemistry; and Marvin Scher, Ph.D., CBB director of operations. Rebecca Parales, Ph.D., assistant professor of microbiology at the University of California at Davis, also is part of the research team.

The grant is funded under the NSF Engineering Research Centers program, which aims to provide integrated environments for academe and industry to collaborate on advancing technology and knowledge of complex engineered systems important for the Nation's future.

John Brighton, head of the NSF Directorate for Engineering, explained the multiple aims of all NSF Engineering Research Centers.

"The ERCs advance knowledge and develop new technologies to transform U.S. industry. The centers foster collaboration among researchers from many disciplines and provide an educational and research environment that prepares a new generation of engineering leaders," Brighton said.

The National Science Foundation is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering.

To learn more about the Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis (CEBC), its mission and the people at its core, go to http://www.ku.edu/~cebc/main.shtml.

To learn more about the UI Center for Biocatalysis and Bioprocessing (CBB) go to http://www.uiowa.edu/~biocat/.

To learn more about the National Science Foundation's Engineering Research Centers go to the ERC website at http://www.eng.nsf.gov/eec/erc.htm or contact Joshua Chamot, jchamot@nsf.gov or 703-292-8070.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5135 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178.

MEDIA CONTACT: Jennifer Brown, 319-335-9917, jennifer-l-brown@uiowa.edu