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USD's Computational Expertise Plays Role in Two National Science Foundation Grants to Study Biofilms

Carol Lushbough headshot Carol Lushbough, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, is co-principal investigator and the principal investigator at USD on both tracks of the NSF grants.

VERMILLION, S.D. – The University of South Dakota plays a significant role in two grants awarded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to the South Dakota Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (SD EPSCoR) and the South Dakota Board of Regents. The research will focus on the interaction between two-dimensional atomically thin materials and biofilms comprised of micro-organisms embedded in a sticky polymer mass.

EPSCoR is a program designed to fulfill NSF’s mandate to promote scientific progress nationwide by enhancing research competitiveness in targeted areas. EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Improvement (RII) Track 1 awards—which aid in building physical, human capital and cyber infrastructure—provide up to $4 million per year for up to five years, and RII Track 2 awards—promoting collaboration—provide up to $2 million per year for up to three years. USD is part of both recently awarded SD EPSCoR Track 1 and Track 2 grants.

“Beyond the 2020 Vision: Building Research, Education and Innovation Partnerships for South Dakota” is the title of the $20-million, five-year Track 1 project, which involves USD and the five other state universities, three tribal colleges, two private universities and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. The track 2 project, entitled “Data Driven Material Discovery Center for Bioengineering Innovation,” is in collaboration with South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, State University and University of Nebraska, Omaha, and provides $6 million over three years.

Carol Lushbough, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, is co-principal investigator and the principal investigator at USD on both the NSF EPSCoR Track 1 and Track 2 projects. Lushbough and Etienne Gnimpieba, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical engineering, will be responsible for leading the effort to provide the proposed 2D Biofilm Science and Engineering Center and the Data Driven Material Discovery Center with computational resources. Working with the research teams, they will leverage and develop Big-Data-driven approaches such as machine learning, data mining, predictive modeling and natural language processing in the development of search infrastructures to assist researchers and industry partners in their effort to control biofilms, which adhere to surfaces and can cause costly repairs. Another research goal is to maximize biofilm assisted nitrogen fixation from plants, which would reduce the need for chemical fertilizers.

“Because of the explosive growth of Big Data, data-driven research is becoming increasing important,” Lushbough said. “We are excited about our plans to integrate disparate data and predictive models into an information framework that would assist scientists with their research questions.”

Other USD team members that will be instrumental in the projects’ success include: Ying Deng, Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical engineering; Pere Miro Ramirez, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry; Bess Vlaisavljevich, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry; Daniel Mourlam, Ph.D., assistant professor of education; Kevin Reins, Ph.D., associate professor of math education; and Grigoriy Sereda, Ph.D., professor of chemistry. The USD team will also develop a series of education, training, outreach and workforce development opportunities in data analytics and informatics approaches customized to material and biofilm sciences. 


USD's College of Arts & Sciences offers students a top-notch undergraduate liberal arts education in the humanities, social sciences and sciences as well as graduate programs that have earned USD distinction as a research university by the Carnegie Foundation. The college's more than 22,000 alumni include famous journalists, Hollywood screenwriters, novelists, a Nobel Prize winner, South Dakota governors, attorneys, physicians, justices of the state Supreme Court, distinguished university faculty and international humanitarians.


Founded in 1862 and the first university in the Dakotas, the University of South Dakota is the only public liberal arts university in the state, with 202 undergraduate and 84 graduate programs in the College of Arts & Sciences, School of Education, Knudson School of Law, Sanford School of Medicine, School of Health Sciences, Beacom School of Business and College of Fine Arts. With an enrollment of nearly 10,000 students and more than 400 faculty, USD has a 16:1 student/faculty ratio, and it ranks among the best in academics and affordability. USD’s 18 athletic programs compete at the NCAA Division I level.


Hanna DeLange
USD News