PRESTONSBURG – Two biology professors at Big Sandy Community and Technical College (BSCTC) are part of a $20 million grant with the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research.
The grant, awarded by the National Science Foundation, is for a five-year period. It will allow Dr. Tom Vierheller and Dr. Chenzhao Vierheller to lead survey efforts throughout the region to study the potential of plants as a renewable energy resource.
“With the challenges facing the region’s coal industry, alternative energy needs to be a part of our regional and national energy plan,” said Dr. Tom Vierheller, who has served as professor at BSCTC for 20 years. “Our region is biologically diverse and offers plenty of significant research opportunities.”
Dr. Chenzhao Vierheller, who conducted research in molecular biology at New York University and the University of Pittsburgh before coming to BSCTC 15 years ago, said the grant includes a summer undergraduate research program for members of the Floyd County Early College Academy.
The academy, a partnership between BSCTC and Floyd County Schools, provides opportunities for students at the county’s four high schools to attend college classes and graduate with an associate degree when they finish high school.
“The undergraduate program provides a unique opportunity for students from the Floyd County Early College Academy to gain valuable research experience,” said Dr. Chenzhao Vierheller. “This also provides a pathway to explore STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) careers.”
Dr. Nancy B. Johnson, provost at BSCTC, said the grant demonstrates the respect Dr. Tom Vierheller and Dr. Chenzhao Vierheller have within the science community across the state.
“We are honored to be a part of such a comprehensive research study,” said Dr. Johnson. “The impact of this research is not only meaningful to the region, but also our students who participate.”