By: Mariannette González Troche
The University of Puerto Rico is at a high risk of losing most of the millions of dollars they gain through the federal agencies funding, due to the failure to obey the rules and regulations of the National Science Foundation (NSF).The NSF will make a decision whether they suspend the funds permanently or not.
The University of Puerto Rico is facing a probation period to adjust the deficient administration with the funds from the National Science Foundation which has caused them to stop remaining projects through federal proposals NSF in Research and Development Center, part of the Mayagüez campus, and projects in the Resource Center for Science and Engineering, all affiliated to the Central Administration of the UPR. This means that by no means they cannot processed further proposals for new projects, even though they are recommended for approval, reported the General Student Council of Mayagüez UPR campus. As estimated by the researchers of the country 95% of Puerto Rico’s scientific research are done in the UPR system. If the NSF eliminates the current funds, scientists could leave the UPR, aggravating the current island “brain drain” of students and professionals of Puerto Rico.
Last March , 2013 students and professor expressed their discomfort with the maladministration of their university, making a march claiming for the abdication of the Acting President of the UPRM, Jorge Rivera Santos. As reported from UPR President, Dr. Miguel Muñoz, at present, about 29 items of the 32 violations committed have been corrected. Either way the NSF has already suspended $52.2 million in research funds, of which $17 million are unrecoverable.
Major risk as a result of loss of funds
Other funding agencies for scientific research, besides the NSF are the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Defense and Energy. Which are instructed to cease funding if one of them does so, said by a source of the UPR central administration.
Many scientist have expressed their concern to the medias such as Nelson Cardona Martínez, professor of Chemical Engineering at RUM, “I want to emphasize that losing the support of the NSF and other federal agencies would waste at least 30 years of development of our college.”
Negative consequences by stopping the funds could result in the immediate cessation of research in areas of cancer treatments, development of smart materials, mechanisms for drug supply, alternative forms of renewable energy generation, computational modeling and optimization windmills in control of contaminants in water, being these the three of most impact on issues facing our island, expressed by representative of the Association of Chemical Engineering Graduate Students Ephraim Y. Aymat.
Already the University of Puerto Rico in Río Piedras and Mayagüez have halted expensive and potential projects. One those is a research on cancer therapy based on nanoparticles. It works by attacking specifically the malignant cells by inoculation with a poison that affects no other tissue. These treatment, if proven successful, could replace chemotherapy and its adverse effects in cancer patients. Also another project was based on energy cells based on a ferroelectric properties material, being a better alternative because of its less expensive production. Another vital project was the development of minuscule diamonds (nanodiamonds), which were discovered to include antiseptic properties, useful for powerful hygiene tool for everything from kitchens to operating theaters to reduce the risk of acquiring infection.
University worst scenarios
Ephraim Y. Aymat believes that both the government and the people of Puerto Rico should be alarmed, given that this issue does not only affect students and teachers, but it affects the community at large. Most of the university community is thinking ahead, thinking of the worst case scenarios.
According to a survey made to 70 students of the UPRM, 20 from the Biology department, 20 from the Chemistry Department, 3 from the Physics Department, 23 from the Engineering fields and 4 from Mathematics and Computer Sciences, 86 percent answered the possibility of having to pay a student fee to help the cost of the university research projects, when asked what is the most possible alternative you think the university would make to solve the loss of funds situation? About 60 percent feared the loss of the Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as a possible consequence of the mismanage of the federal university funds. Approximately 93 percent thought one of the major risks would be the loss of good qualify professors willing to help in to teach and work in the UPR Mayaguez Campus.
“The situation going through the Mayagüez Campus is, in my opinion, the most disturbing that I have experienced in all the years that I have been associated with the university, first as a student and then as a teacher,” said the professor of the Department of Physics at RUM, Félix Fernández Sánchez.