BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Western Kentucky University, together with a team led by the University of Kentucky and with partners across Kentucky and Tennessee, has been awarded $1 million from the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Regional Innovation Engines, or NSF Engines, program. This team’s proposal, “Advancing carbon-centric circular economy technologies for advanced manufacturing solutions (KY, TN),” is led by a coalition named Generate Advanced Manufacturing Excellence for Change (GAME Change).
The GAME Change team is among the more than 40 unique teams to receive one of the first-ever NSF Engines Development Awards, which aim to help partners collaborate to create economic, societal, and technological opportunities for their regions.
The coalition of research, education, economic development, industrial and manufacturing leaders of the Southeastern Commerce Corridor (SCC) of Kentucky and Tennessee under GAME Change aims to create a diverse innovation and talent development hub that secures U.S. competitiveness in Next-Generation Manufacturing (NGM) and supply chain logistics, supports closed-cycle manufacturing to reduce waste and increases efficiencies across sectors including automotive, aerospace, energy, food and beverage, and materials.
GAME Change is centered in the SCC, surrounding Bowling Green and including the I-65 and I-75 thoroughfares and the promising high-growth centers of Louisville, Lexington, Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga that outline an Appalachian region in need of greater connectivity and economic resiliency. GAME Change’s leadership includes four R1 universities with strong manufacturing research expertise, three doctoral institutions, an R2 HBCU, a national laboratory, more than 30 community and technical colleges, and Kentucky and Tennessee counterpart representatives of state government and tech-based economic development organizations. The leadership is supported by more than 50 other collaborating partners across Kentucky and Tennessee, including more than 20 companies representing multiple industries in the region.
“We’re pleased to be part of the team building ideas that will help turn our region into a hub of innovation,” said David Brown, dean of the Ogden College of Science and Engineering and one of two WKU co-investigators on the grant.
Buddy Steen, CEO of the WKU Innovation Campus and the second co-investigator on the GAME Change grant, said: “This project clearly shows the spirit of collaboration between all of the stakeholders in our rapidly developing innovation ecosystem.”
The NSF Engines program is a transformational investment for the nation, ensuring the U.S. remains in the vanguard of competitiveness for decades to come.
“These NSF Engines Development Awards lay the foundation for emerging hubs of innovation and potential future NSF Engines,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “These awardees are part of the fabric of NSF’s vision to create opportunities everywhere and enable innovation anywhere. They will build robust regional partnerships rooted in scientific and technological innovation in every part of our nation. Through these planning awards, NSF is seeding the future for in-place innovation in communities and to grow their regional economies through research and partnerships. This will unleash ideas, talent, pathways and resources to create vibrant innovation ecosystems all across our nation.”
The awardees span a broad range of states and regions, reaching geographic areas that have not fully benefited from the technology boom of the past decades. These NSF Engines Development Awards will help organizations create connections and develop their local innovation ecosystems within two years to prepare strong proposals for becoming future NSF Engines, which will each have the opportunity to receive up to $160 million.
Launched by NSF’s new Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships and authorized by the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, the NSF Engines program uniquely harnesses the nation’s science and technology research and development enterprise and regional-level resources. NSF Engines aspire to catalyze robust partnerships to positively impact regional economies, accelerate technology development, address societal challenges, advance national competitiveness, and create local, high-wage jobs.