The School of Forestry and Natural Resources at the University of Arkansas at Monticello will become part of the new statewide Center for Advanced Surface Engineering (CASE) thanks to a $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation to the Arkansas Economic Development Commission’s Division of Science and Technology.

Forestry researchers and agricultural engineers will be working together at the nano- and micro-levels to develop lubrication materials, permeable food packing materials and other novel surfaces that can be fine-tuned for specific applications, such as selective filtration, according to a news release from the UA Division of Agriculture.

Over five years, about $1.7 million will go to researchers working in partnership from the UA Division of Agriculture, the Arkansas Forest Resources Center (AFRC) located on the UAMcampus, and the UAM School of Forestry and Natural Resources.

“This is an incredible research opportunity for us,” said Dr. Phil Tappe, dean of the School of Forestry and Natural Resources and director of the AFRC, which is a collaborative partnership between the school and the UA Division of Agriculture. “The potential applications for the cellulose-based materials that we expect to develop could open new horizons for engineering and medicine at the nano- and micro-levels.”

According to the UA Division of Agriculture, forestry in Arkansas accounts for more than 24,000 jobs and $1.4 billion in wages annually, with products including pulp and paper, solid wood products and furniture.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for our campus to be part of cutting-edge research that will have a positive economic impact on the state,” said Jay Jones, UAM’s interim chancellor. “I know for Dr. Tappe and for the research scientists who work in the School of Forestry and Natural Resources and the Arkansas Forest Resources Center, this is an exciting opportunity to develop technologies that can be useful to the state’s most important industries.”

Two faculty members from the School of Forestry and Natural Resources will be part of a five-person team conducting research for CASE. Representing UAM are Dr. Ben Babst, assistant professor of ecophysiology, and Dr. Bill Headlee, assistant professor of biometrics. Other members of the research team are team leader Dr. Julie Carrier and Dr. Jin-Woo Kim, professors of biological and agricultural engineering at the UA Division of Agriculture, and Dr. Steve Ricke, professor of food science with the UA Division of Agriculture.

Ten Arkansas institutions of higher education are collaborating on CASE work to enable discovery, design, fabrication, and testing of multi-functional surfaces. The CASE research and educational activities encompass needs in agriculture, medicine, and industry. Applications include manufacturing, food packaging, and healthcare industries.

The funds will be used to support the ASSET project, Arkansas Advancing and Supporting Science, Engineering and Technology, a multi-institutional statewide program with research areas that impact education and workforce, cyber-infrastructure, and engineering research.

“This award will go a long way in strengthening STEM-based research and workforce in Arkansas,” said Governor Asa Hutchinson in a UA Division of Agriculture release. “All eyes are now on Arkansas because of the strides we are making in science and technology. We must continue to build on this momentum to ensure our current and future workforce has the skills they need to succeed.