Dale Klein

The UT System Neuroscience and Neurotechnology Institute will accept applications for $100,000 seed grants for human brain research.

The institute, which the UT System Board of Regents established in August 2014, will be giving up to a total $5 million to applicants in an attempt to enhance brain research, according to a statement from the UT System.

The seed grants, which are grants that go toward approved projects, will fund innovative brain research projects, according to institute director Daniel Johnston. Johnston said he is expecting around 200 applications from UT System institutions.

“The purpose of the seed grants is to allow researchers to pursue new high-risk areas of research and to form new collaborations with other scientists that might not have occurred without the seed funding,” Johnston said.

Patricia Hurn, UT System vice chancellor for research and innovation, said the institute, also known as UT Brain, will benefit from the seed grants because the researchers will be in a better position to receive federal funding.

“The really important output is that our researchers be well-positioned to compete for the national [Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN)] Initiative,” Hurn said. “To do that, they need to be not only fabulous scientists, but they need to be innovative.”

Because of decreased federal funding for neuroscience research, there will be increased national competition, according to mechanical engineering professor Dale Klein.

Although the seed grants will only be available for UT System schools, they are intended to garner competition for federal grants.

“It appears that federal funds are going to become more challenging to obtain, [and] the amount will be reduced, so the competition is going to be more challenging,” Klein said. “So this seed grant is to put people together to be more competitive for what we expect to be reduced federal funds for research.”

UT-Austin will be administering the grants in a partnership with the UT System. Applicants for the seed grants will come from departments and faculties from across the state, Klein said.

“The applicants we expect will be mainly within the UT System campuses, but they could also partner with schools outside the system,” Klein said. “Our funds will only be to the System schools. We expect it will be the neuroscience faculty or those faculty involved in that.”

President Barack Obama announced the launch of the BRAIN Initiative in April 2014. The initiative is “focused on revolutionizing our understanding of the human brain,” according to a White House statement.

“Currently, the BRAIN Initiative that President Obama is pushing is several hundreds of millions of dollars per year,” Klein said. “So what we want to do is enable our faculty to be more competitive to go after those funds.”

The UT Neuroscience and Neurotechnology Institute was founded to foster collaboration among researchers, according to Klein.

 “It really is intended to enhance communication among the faculty at both the academic and the medical health-science institutes to help focus on research needs,” Klein said.

To avoid future nuclear plant disasters, Japan’s Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) called on Dale Klein, UT System administrator and UT mechanical engineering professor, to lead an advisory committee that will oversee plans for reform.

The five-member committee has been meeting since October of last year and will continue to do so. Klein, the system’s associate vice chancellor for research, is the sole American on the committee.

A March 2011 earthquake and tsunami caused radiation leaks at three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, Japan. Much of the criticism fell on TEPCO, which acknowledged late last year that they did not implement additional safety measures despite knowing that it needed to do so.

“I think it is a very positive step that TEPCO has taken to create the reform committee because they need to reform the way they conduct themselves,” Klein said in a statement.

Klein is the former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and served as assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense Programs under President George W. Bush. Klein does not teach any courses at the University but finds research projects for the different universities in the system. Previously, Klein headed a Department of Energy consortium with UT, A&M and Texas Tech universities for the maintenance of nuclear weapons at the Pantex facility
in Amarillo. 

“He knows the industry well and knows how we regulate policy dealing with nuclear issues,” said Erich Schneider, associate professor of mechanical engineering and an affiliate of the University’s Nuclear Radiation Engineering Program.

Randall Charbeneau, UT System assistant vice chancellor for research and UT civil engineering professor, said Klein’s expertise is a good fit for the committee.

“He specialized in research administration,” Charbeneau said. “TEPCO needs someone who understands policy and he has experience dealing with regulation.”

Charbeneau, a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, too, said that the reactors failed because the force of the tsunami exceeded the design requirements, which are specified by regulations.

“Regulations also change over time,” Charbeneau said. “These reactors were built a number of years ago, and the regulations are continually updated as we gain more knowledge.”

Printed on Thursday, January 17, 2013 as: UT official to advise nuclear reform in Japan