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Released May 7, 2004


HATTIESBURG -- A cooperation agreement signed today by officials of The University of Southern Mississippi and the Universidade do Minho (UMinho) could lead to greater innovation and economic growth in the polymer industries of Mississippi and Portugal.

The American-Portuguese "Partnership for Innovation" will allow the two universities to exchange academic staff, researchers and students, as well as promote scientific initiatives in both countries in polymer science, technology and related fields.

John Palmer, American Ambassador to Portugal, and a delegation of Portuguese scientists traveled to Southern Miss today for the signing of the protocol.

The agreement provides a common bond for new ideas and entrepreneurial thinkers around the world, said Dr. Angeline Dvorak, vice president for research and economic development. "The impact of the quality of faculty researchers at The University of Southern Mississippi reaches across the globe," Dvorak said. "The international partnership forged today promises to strengthen the global economy, starting right here at home in Mississippi."

Mississippi and Portugal both have dynamic and growing polymer industrial communities. Mississippi specializes in processors and developers of new materials, and Portugal leads the way in polymer processing and toolmaking. In recent years, those two areas have become Portugal's leading industrial export sectors.

The agreement was initiated by the American National Science Foundation, the American Embassy in Portugal and the Fundacão Luso - Americana para o Desenvolvimento.

Once implemented, it will combine the intellectual and research capabilities of Southern Miss' Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC), Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (I/U CRC) in Coatings and the Mississippi Polymer Institute (MPI) with UMinho's Polymer Engineering Department and Portugal's Institute of Polymers and Composites (IPC).

By involving academia and industrial companies in innovative activities, the agreement seeks to develop new polymer applications and products, leading to economic growth and enhanced competitiveness.

"This agreement will create the potential for collaboration with Portuguese industries, and hopefully generate more industry here in Mississippi," said Southern Miss President Shelby Thames.

The main goal of the agreement is to carry out joint research projects between the IPC and the MRSEC, I/U CRC in Coatings, and MPI; however, it is open to other American and Portuguese universities, scientific institutions and R&D companies, based on a joint invitation from Southern Miss and UMinho.

Along with Southern Miss and the MPI, the Area Development Partnership and the Mississippi Technology Alliance will be considered as founding partners in the agreement. Three other Portuguese companies and innovation centers are also founding partners of the protocol.

"I consider what's happening here today at Southern Miss to be very important to economic development in Mississippi," MDA Executive Director Leland Speed said. "It is setting the model for what I hope can be replicated at other schools."

In polymer science and technology, the agreement will focus on innovative applications, new functions and improved product performance of high-performance polymers and composites. In relation to application fields, it will focus on aerospace and defense, electronics and communications, medical devices and high-performance packaging.

The partner companies will look for interesting business opportunities in the two countries, those in which they might have a competitive edge, through the support of the other R&D partners.

Ambassador Palmer said both universities are "world-class, using private sectors to drive research. That's the perfect way to ensure success."

Southern Miss and UMinho will also hold scientific initiatives such as symposia, workshops and short courses open to industry, rotating between universities every two years. These initiatives will be jointly promoted in both countries to transfer information, benchmark experiences and share successful case studies.

In addition to undergraduate student exchanges, the agreement will allow Ph.D. students to do experimental work in partner institutions or under joint Ph.D. supervision.

The ultimate outcome of the agreement will not only be new research opportunities and ideas, but additional funding from the National Science Foundation, as well as other agencies, said Dr. Marek Urban, professor of polymer science and director of NSF funded MRSEC at Southern Miss.

"Objectives of this collaboration are to develop and explore new research and economic opportunities for greater technology innovation in Portugal and for partnerships with the U.S. that will foster more rapid economic growth in both countries," Urban said.


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May 14, 2004 11:29 AM