New Mexico Colleges & Universities Receive $43.5 Million From National Science Foundation


SANTA FE — New Mexico Higher Education Department (NMHED) has announced that six New Mexico colleges and universities have received a total of $43.5 million in dedicated research funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support research projects in biology, medicine, computer science, math, environmental science and more.

Several grants also focus on increasing the number of women, Native Americans, Hispanics, and other historically underrepresented groups in research fields.  

“New Mexico’s public colleges and research universities add tremendous value to our state, helping to position us as national and international leaders in innovation,” NMHED Secretary Stephanie Rodriguez said. “It is especially important that we empower students from all backgrounds for successful careers in science, technology, engineering, and math with mentorship and research experience during their academic careers.” 

Students pursuing degrees in research-based fields at New Mexico’s public and Tribal colleges and universities can gain hands-on research experience under the mentorship of faculty, many of whom are leading experts in their field nationally and internationally. These experiences are key for those interested in pursuing careers and research in science, technology, engineering, and math, or continuing their education to graduate and doctoral levels.  

“Other than studying neural diversity, my mission is to train students and engage them in neuroscience research. I am highly passionate about neuroscience,” University of New Mexico Biology Professor Mubarak Syed said. “My aim is to train the next generation of neuroscientists, and give them exposure to research early on. I have a long-term passion and commitment for science outreach and mentoring students, in particular those coming from disadvantaged backgrounds.” 

Dr. Syed is the recipient of the NSF’s CAREER award, a prestigious award that  integrates education and research. With the help of this award, he and his lab will visit Zia and Jemez Pueblos and demonstrate experiments to high school students in a classroom setting. Using fruit flies, these outreach activities will expose students to neuroscience research and is part of his “Pueblo Brain Science” program. Dr Syed has also established a mentoring program for local college students called NEURONAL – Neuroscience Experiences and Undergraduate Research Opportunities for Native Americans, African Americans, and Latinos/Hispanics. 

“Our University continuously engages with communities on the Navajo Nation to provide information, resources, and develop research to maintain our culture and language,” Navajo Technical University President Elmer Guy said.  “Our university is devoted to preparing our students to be successful in the career choices they pursue and to inspire them to be civically engaged and conscious of all the changes that occur in our environment. The NSF grants support the preservation of our Navajo language and culture by forging them with STEM education and research to create solutions and improve the lives of our people.” 

“Research is a fundamental aspect of New Mexico Tech’s approach to educating students,” New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology President Stephen Wells said. “These major research grants ensure that our undergraduate and graduate students alike get the opportunity to participate in funded, real-world research during their academic careers. Much of the same research goes on to help raise the standard of living in New Mexico while also growing the state’s advanced workforce and STEM economy.”  

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is the only federal agency whose mission includes support for all fields of fundamental science and engineering, except for medical sciences, and is tasked with keeping the United States at the leading edge of discovery. Awards from the NSF reflect its statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria. 

“As we continue to take on this pandemic and the climate crisis, science has proven time and time again to be our best tool. That’s why I am proud to support these National Science Foundation awards. New Mexico’s universities are at the forefront of the research needed to leverage cutting-edge science to tackle the challenges of today and tomorrow. This funding gives our universities the resources they need to deliver on that work. It will also help expand and diversify our STEM workforce, positioning us for more advances ahead,” Sen. Martin Heinrich said. 

“New Mexico’s colleges and universities are consistently on the forefront of innovation and putting students on a path to success. From bolstering research in specialized fields to increasing diversity in education, this grant funding will help support New Mexico students to pursue their careers,” said Senator Ben Ray Luján. “I will continue supporting investments in New Mexico’s higher education institutions to help our students succeed and compete in the job market.”   

“Our New Mexico higher education institutions give countless students a pathway to bright and successful futures. This grant funding will boost growth in our essential STEM fields,” said Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández. “We must support the next generation of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians whose inventions will lead to a better future for New Mexico.” 

“New Mexico is a science and technology powerhouse—from our national labs to our public universities and tribal and community colleges. As someone that has worked as a STEM educator and researcher in communities across the state, I know first hand how critical investments in New Mexico institutions are to our state,” said Rep. Melanie Stansbury. “These NSF grants and the programs they support will invest in our students and researchers and put their talents to work for our communities. I am deeply proud of our colleges and universities and the extraordinary work they are doing.” 

The following New Mexico colleges and universities received grant awards for research proposals so far this year:  

The University of New Mexico (UNM) – $30,087,141 

  • $50,000 for the development of a modular framework to assist people using wheelchairs in completing activities such as accessing electronic devices, typing, and opening doors.  
  • $404,551 to fund research involving synthetic cellular systems and to support training and education for Native American students. A partnership with Navajo Technical University will deliver a cross-institutional synthetic biology course and a funded UNM summer research internship for NTU students.  
  • $992,280 to fund research into building synthetic cells, which can have specific functions and desired applications such as the ability to eradicate infection-causing microbes or the ability to breakdown toxic chemicals in the environment.  
  • $414,071 to fund research into creating a new synthetic mechanism for DNA replication control in synthetic cells that will open the door for new applications in biomedicine and biotechnology. 
  • $168,569 toward collecting and describing mammals and their tapeworm and flea parasites from the grasslands of Central Asia. 
  • $942,923 to research processes that promote rapid radiations in nature using a species-rich genus of island kingfishers as a study system. 
  • $99,528 for a workshop on enhancing postdoctoral professional skills to advance research and workforce development.  

New Mexico State University (NMSU) – $4,086,244  

  • $1,190,460 to conduct research into biofilm, through which students will be co-mentored by a team of scientists and have the opportunity to conduct research at national laboratories. 
  • $579,236 to fund research into the auditory system of aye-ayes, one of the most unique and endangered primates in the world, and find potential applications to technology.   
  • $475,685 for the purchase of a Bio-AFM microscope to support the research and training of investigators and students at NMSU, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, and Eastern New Mexico University.  

New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology – $3,484,024   

Navajo Technical University (NTU) – $4,445,440 

New Mexico Highlands University – $1,148,205  

Central New Mexico Community College – $298,757  

$298,757 to investigate how to recruit, retain, and prepare women and minoritized students to pursue careers in Computer Information Systems (CIS).