Collaboration with Los Alamos could enhance Nebraska’s niche in biodefense training
A partnership involving the University of Nebraska and the Los Alamos National Laboratory could position Nebraska and the College of Engineering as leading educational sites for students seeking careers in the biodefense field.
The partnership – which includes faculty from the College of Engineering and University of Nebraska Medical Center – was made possible through a meeting of the two institutions arranged by the National Strategic Research Institute (NSRI). The NSRI is one of only 13 University Affiliated Research Centers (UARC) in the country, and the only UARC with a primary mission responsibility to deliver research solutions across the Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) portfolio.
The partnership with the University of Nebraska and Los Alamos is specifically looking into the diagnosis and detection of infectious disease agents through the use of biosensors, analytical devices that convert a biological response into an electrical signal. Biosensors can be used for detecting biological and chemical warfare agents, including nerve gases and anthrax spores.
Heading the collaborative effort for Nebraska is Ken Bayles, professor of pathology/microbiology at UNMC. Mark Riley, associate dean for research for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Engineering, is assisting Bayles on the UNL campus.
“Our goal is to make the University of Nebraska the go-to place for biodefense education for students ultimately hoping to work for the Department of Defense,” said Bayles, who is UNMC associate vice chancellor for basic science research.
“The vision is to build an education pipeline that starts at the undergraduate level and continues right on through the graduate level. It will ultimately provide unique educational opportunities for Nebraska that we hope will draw the brightest students from Nebraska and around the country.”
In mid-March, key people from the partnering institutions met in Omaha for a mini-symposium.
“We are interested in technology development, new methods of analysis and modeling, and in translation and use of new schemes to monitor microbes in a variety of environments. We are especially interested in connections of students at the graduate and undergraduate levels,” said Riley, who is also professor of biological systems engineering.
He noted that the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has one of the pre-eminent undergraduate research programs in the U.S. and could be a good avenue for connecting students.
The career applications are numerous, he said, ranging from public health areas to medical facilities, manufacturing environments, and municipal water systems.
Riley said the collaboration with UNL, UNMC and Los Alamos is in its “infancy,” but he noted that about 10 UNL faculty attended the Omaha symposium and that more UNL faculty would like to become engaged.
Los Alamos was established in 1943 as one of the sites of the Manhattan Project. Its single purpose was to design and build an atomic bomb. Today, the basic mission of Los Alamos is to maintain the safety, security, and reliability of the nation’s nuclear deterrent. The laboratory works on nuclear nonproliferation and border security, energy and infrastructure security, and countermeasures to nuclear and biological terrorist threats.
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