NSF grant to increase access to AI research, help save sea turtles, and more

The grant will also create a pilot AI certificate program; potentially the first of its kind.

sea turtle

Image: iStock/adokon

Last week, the University of Oklahoma announced a $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Overall, the NSF provided more than $100 million in investments to establish and support five artificial intelligence (AI) Institutes and education centers. The announcement detailed various ways the grant will help promote diversity throughout STEM, enable more students to research AI, and even protect sea turtles in southern Texas during potentially deadly meteorological events.

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"It doesn't get cold very often in Corpus Christi, but at times, strong cold fronts can decrease the temperature of the water in bays and lagunas very quickly," said Philippe Tissot, associate research professor at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, one of the institute's partnering organizations, in a press release. "Up to thousands of sea turtles can rise to the surface during these events, where ships can run over them."

Researchers at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi have developed an AI-enabled prediction method to more aptly forecast the timing of these cold-weather events. Various shipping companies will no longer traverse these areas leading up to these meteorological events enabling agencies and volunteers to mobilize and "save more than 80% of the sea turtles in that area," according to a press release.

"This institute is a convergent center that will create trustworthy AI for environmental science, revolutionize prediction and understanding of high-impact weather and ocean hazards, and benefit society by protecting lives and property," said Dr. Amy McGovern, lead researcher for the project and professor at University of Oklahoma, in a press release. "Leading experts from AI, atmospheric and ocean science, risk communication, and education, will work synergistically to develop and test trustworthy AI methods that will transform our understanding and prediction of the environment."

The grant will also promote diversity across STEM fields and enable more students to access AI. As part of the announcement, OU will also launch a community college pilot AI certificate in an effort to increase participation and create "a pipeline for underrepresented students in different parts of the country." This certificate program will be tested at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), and it's partnering community college at Del Mar College. McGovern believes this will be "be the first certificate for AI in geosciences in the nation."

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The OU institute will operate in collaboration with Colorado State University, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, the University at Albany, the University of Washington, North Carolina State University, Del Mar College, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Private institute collaborative partners include Google, NVIDIA, Disaster Tech, IBM, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

"By leveraging private industry and existing successful internship programs for under-represented minority students, AI2ES will create a pipeline for these students to gain valuable experience in AI and environmental science," McGovern said in a press release.

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