Edwin L. Aguirre
Civil and environmental engineering Assoc. Prof. Kenneth Lee is spearheading efforts to develop engineering and science collaborations between UMass Lowell, UMass Amherst and four universities in Central America.
The two UMass campuses, in cooperation with the Mesoamerican Development Institute, have signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Autonomous University of Honduras, the University of the Autonomous Regions of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua and the National University of Costa Rica to establish a research and education consortium known as the Networked Engineering Research Center at UMass Lowell (NERC). The Technological University of Panama will officially join the NERC when it signs the agreement later this year.
“The main goal of this consortium is to define and discuss specific collaborative research areas and education programs within each institution,” says Lee, who is director of UMass Lowell’s Initiative for Sustainable Infrastructure in Developing Regions and the project’s principal investigator.
He says the NERC will engage faculty members and students in designing and implementing sustainable technologies and methods across disciplines, including biology, chemistry, plastics engineering, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, civil and environmental engineering, marketing and finance.
Recognizing the importance of this inter-American partnership, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a two-year $45,300 grant to get the project going. Initial seed funding was provided by UMass Lowell’s Office of the Vice Provost for Research.
The NERC will allow close collaboration among scientists, engineers and test-bed innovation partners in developing and adopting renewable energy technology and biodiversity-friendly agro-forestry systems.
“We will focus initially on the sustainable production of biofuels and coffee as well as essential oils, which are used in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industry,” says Lee. “We hope that the NERC will foster economic growth both in Central America and the New England region through technology innovations and entrepreneurship.”
He says the collaboration will enrich both research and teaching efforts and challenge students and teachers to adapt textbook knowledge to complex and often competing forces of markets, cultures and the natural environment. It will also have broad implications for society by addressing climate change, habitat loss, education and the promotion of sustainable products.
“Thanks to the NSF grant, several graduate and undergraduate students will be part of the UMass Lowell delegation team that will visit Central America this year,” says Lee. “These ‘student ambassadors’ will learn and share their experiences with other students. Furthermore, we expect to establish student-exchange programs and recruit top students from Central America to our academic programs.”
He adds: “I would like to invite other faculty members interested in working in Central America to join me.”