University of Memphis Wins Major Instrumentation Investment Across Multiple Disciplines 

Three Grants Worth Over $2M to Supply Supercomputers, a Fluorescence-activated Cell Sorter, 3D Scanning Imagery Technology 

September 21, 2023 —The University of Memphis, a Carnegie R1 institution, recently won three grants from the National Science Foundation’s nationally competitive Major Research Instrumentation Program, an investment valued at over $2 million.  

The program, which provides research institutions with the resources necessary to acquire cutting-edge instrumentation, limits institutions to three application submissions per year. For the first time in UofM history, the University saw all three of its applications receive awards in the same year, a rarity for any research institution. These projects led by faculty members in Biology, Civil Engineering and Computer Science include new supercomputers, a fluorescence-activated cell sorter and technology to create 3D scanning imagery for multiple disciplines.  

"Improved instrumentation is a key piece of our strategic plan goal to enhance the research infrastructure of campus,” said UofM President Bill Hardgrave. “The support from NSF to acquire this equipment is further evidence of the quality of our research faculty and the importance of investing in the infrastructure to support their work."  

Valued at over $2 million, this instrumentation will significantly expand the work of faculty across campus and lead to increased competitiveness in grant applications nationally.  

Enriching the training of the next generation of biologists 

Instrumentation: Fluorescence-Activated Cell Sorter (FACS) 

Principal Investigator: Jennifer Mandel (Biological Sciences) 

Team Members: Judy Cole (Biological Sciences), Marie van der Merwe and Brand Pence (College of Health Sciences) 

In the College of Health Sciences and Department of Biological Sciences, a state-of-the-art fluorescence-activated cell sorter will allow for a broad range of multidisciplinary and collaborative research among the University and Memphis-area research institutions to enrich the training of the next generation of biologists.  

The FACS will allow current researchers to address exciting new basic science and help to attract future researchers thus improving the capacity to perform cutting-edge research at the University of Memphis. Projects will focus on the genetic basis for morphological traits in the sunflower family; the single cell genomic analysis of stem cells; and the analysis of gene expression in the sensory neurons of ant antennae, among other research endeavors. 

The acquisition and use of this instrument will strengthen connections with the Memphis Zoo and provide educational opportunities to two primarily undergraduate institutions and Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the Memphis area. The University of Memphis along with collaborating institutions serve a diverse population of trainees, and the acquisition of this cell sorter will ensure students and postdoctoral researchers from diverse backgrounds will have the opportunity to learn to use this instrument. The instrument will also enhance networking and collaborative opportunities through an annual mini-symposium and outreach activities with local institutions. 

Shaping the future landscape of AI research, education and the regional tech industry 

Instrumentation: High-Performance Computing (HPC) cluster 

Principal Investigator: Xiaolei Huang (Computer Science) 

Team Members: Lan Wang and Vasile Rus (Computer Science), Duane McKenna (Biology) 

Research communities in West Tennessee are rapidly expanding, driving a surge in computational needs, especially for AI models like GPT. Addressing this demand, this project aims to establish a high-performance computing cluster at the University of Memphis. This GPU cluster will cater to five emerging research fields: intelligent health, cybersecurity, educational technology, smart transportation, and computational biology. Some specific areas of study include pediatric cancer assessment, security systems, AI-based tutoring, autonomous driving, and insect-plant evolutionary simulations.  

The research projects running on the cluster will benefit over 37 faculty members advising approximately 193 students. Notably, the equipment will benefit large, underrepresented students in STEM. With a network spanning West Tennessee and neighboring states including Mississippi and Arkansas, this HPC cluster promises to elevate research quality, foster new research domains, develop HPC talent, and reinforce the academic mission of research development. The instrument will put West Tennessee at the nationwide forefront of integrating AI and data science into addressing the timely research of scientific and societal issues and providing training opportunities for the next generation of AI scientists and HPC administrators. 

The cluster will feature over 100 advanced GPUs, addressing the diverse research needs of regional entities. It will be an academic hub for both interdisciplinary research and education.  

Establishing a multistate, cross-institutional collaboration network 

Instrumentation: Micro Computed-Tomography (microCT) 

Principal Investigator: Farhad Jazaei (Civil Engineering) 

Team Members: Joel Bumgardner (Biomedical Engineering), Sanjay Mishra (Physics and Materials Science), Reza Molaei (Mechanical Engineering) 

A micro-computer tomography system will enhance research and education at the University of Memphis and nearby institutions by offering a rapid and cost-effective way to produce 3D images of the porous structure inside objects without destroying or altering them.  

It is equipped with sophisticated software that can analyze the arrangement and distribution of pores within objects ranging from millimeters to micrometers in size as well as changes in material density.  

The acquisition of this instrument is a strategic move for the University of Memphis, directly affecting a large group of faculty members across seven science and engineering areas: Civil and Environmental Engineering; Mechanical Engineering; Biomedical Engineering; Chemical Engineering; Material Sciences; Physics; Chemistry and Earth Sciences. A collaboration network will connect several researchers from the University of Memphis and neighboring institutions and companies in Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Missouri.  

This instrument will contribute to the advancement and modernization of curricula for both undergraduate and graduate students and the training of globally competitive workers capable of conducting advanced micro-CT investigations and designs required by several industries.  

For more information on these awards, contact Dr. Cody Behles at cbehles@memphis.edu