National Science Foundation Awards Morgan State University $3 Million Research Traineeship Grant

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Written By Morgan State University

As the scientific world continues to address the complexities of climate change and its connection to humanity, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a nearly $3-million grant to Morgan State University to establish an NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) program in Artificial Intelligence for Climate Change and Environmental SuStainability (ACCESS). The program is designed to provide hands-on training for the next generation of scientists and engineers researching artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) solutions to wide-ranging climate change impacts. Funded over the next five years, the ACCESS program will train nearly 50 Ph.D. students including 25 trainees from diverse scientific fields including, bioenvironmental science, mathematics education, engineering, and computer science. Students largely underrepresented in STEM research of this caliber will gain a critical multidisciplinary understanding of how AI can provide solutions for changing climate, environmental pollution, and water quality management.

Samendra Sherchan, Ph.D., associate professor of biology within the School of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences (SCMNS) and executive director of the Center of Research Excellence in Wastewater-based Epidemiology and Center for Climate Change and Health at Morgan State University, serves as the principal investigator (PI). Since June 2020, Morgan has received 84 awards from the National Science Foundation for a total of $30 million in research grants.

‚ÄúThe NRT ACCESS program advances convergence research by training graduate students at the intersection of climate change, health, and AI,‚ÄĚ said Dr. Sherchan. ‚ÄúThis grant will allow our students the opportunity to continue expanding ambitious research projects while also developing the necessary skills to pursue a range of STEM careers.‚ÄĚ

Scientists have long predicted the irreversible effects of climate change and have placed a significant focus on the negative impacts of rising global temperatures. The results of which are likely to cause more extreme weather events such as hurricanes, heat waves, freezes, downpours, tornadoes, wildfires, and floods. According to the¬†Fourth National Climate Assessment, the impact of climate change has long-term effects and transcends multiple areas of society creating new risks and exacerbating the well-being of racially and socioeconomically disadvantaged communities. Furthermore, extreme weather events damage critical infrastructure and property, impeding specific industries’ economic growth and vitality.

Addressing these looming issues is at the core of the ACCESS program and the research it supports.  Utilizing the latest in technological AI/ML advances researchers will identify plausible solutions while presenting novel approaches that may yield new learnings and beneficial results. In addition, the ACCESS program aims to hone investigative technical and dynamic interdisciplinary skills among NRT trainees and researchers as they work collectively to responsibly solve grand climate change challenges.

Machine-learning (ML) based Artificial-Intelligence (AI) approaches have shown great promise in reducing and responding to changing climate. However, climate change research is fractionated in diverse disciplines like computer science, data science, AI, geosciences, environmental science, and engineering. This categorization delays the progress of achieving a better understanding of the impacts of climate change and ML/AI solutions. The NRT traineeship program strongly emphasizes a convergence research approach to climate change with a focus on three major efforts: AI for water reuse; emerging contaminants and ML/AI prediction; and disease ecology, climate change and AI.

Under the guidance of diverse faculty and postdoctoral instructors, trainees will work in an interdisciplinary team of environmental chemists, environmental scientists, computer scientists, and engineers to solve real-world environmental challenges while also participating in professional development activities.

NSF NRT Access Program graphicACCESS will provide trainees with vigorous investigative research and learning experience. ‚ÄúOur focus will be research, however, program participants will benefit from advanced experimental courses, producing a mentored research thesis, participating in a series of professional leadership and ethics workshops, and a variety of internship opportunities,‚ÄĚ added Dr. Sherchan.

In addition to the leadership of Dr. Sherchan, other ACCESS program contributors include Chunlei Fan, Ph.D., professor of biology; Md Rahman, Ph.D., associated professor, associate chair of computer science; Dong Hee Kang, Ph.D., assistant professor of civil engineering; and Kofi Nyarko, Ph.D., professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering and director of the Center for Equitable Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Systems (CEAMLS).

The National Science Foundation is an independent federal agency that provides about 25% of federal support to America’s colleges and universities for research with the potential to produce advancements for the American people. The NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) Program is designed to encourage the development and implementation of bold, new potentially transformative models for STEM graduate education training.