Eastern awarded green grant

Eastern has taken the green movement a step further and received a three-year, $198,695 grant from the National Science Foundation.

Eastern received the grant for the Center for Clean Energy Research and Education, a project that will position EIU as a strong leader in educating students about renewable energy and biomass research.

On Oct. 7, 2011, Eastern opened its $55 million Renewable Energy Center. Peter Ping Liu, of the school of technology, was named director of the center program and said the proposal for the grant was Eastern’s way of answering a national problem.

“The proposal was submitted to the National Science Foundation, in response to the national concern that many American students are losing their creativity and thus the country is losing competitiveness over other countries,” Liu said. “Another reason why we were (able) to attract national attention is that we have a strong research team.”

Gopal R. Periyannan, an assistant professor of chemistry, said the proposal recognizes Eastern’s effort to promote undergraduate education and research on renewable energy. The grant will be used for a project called “Enhancing Undergraduate Education Through Student-Led Research in Biomass Renewable Energy.”

Those involved in the project are from Facilities, Planning and Management, and students and faculty from various departments including biological sciences, business, chemistry, communication studies, economics, geology and geography, physics and technology. “We are clearly building a momentum in this educational endeavor centered around our new Renewable Energy Center,” Periyannan said.

The grant will allow faculty-coached students to design and implement a research plan based in the biomass field. Projects could include identifying materials for biomass sources, testing heat values and moisture content, processing biomass or gasifying biomass along with other options, according to the project description.

“It is a sensible effort to promote renewable energy education and research for long-term growth of our communities and for Eastern’s effort to promote undergraduate research on this topic,” Periyannan said. Liu said the growing concern is that American students are particularly not motivated to learn subjects related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and the grant will allow the university to empower students and let them decide what they want to learn and focus on.

“The best way to engage and empower students is to give students ownership on what they are learning,” Liu said. “ Thus, students are driven intrinsically by their own interests, instead of teachers.’’

The grant will also help reach out to middle and high school students through a outreach summer camp titled “Project Renewable” that will take place in the third year of the grant, Liu said.

At the camp, students will gather their own biomass, formulate their own biomass fuel, and have an energy output competition among participating teams, Liu said. The camp will make an increased effort to recruit women, underrepresented minorities, and low-income and learning-disabled populations, according to the Student-Led Research project proposal.

Kaylia Eskew can be reached at 581-2812

or [email protected].