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Unique Areas of Excellence:
Environmental Sciences and Biodiversity
The focal point for this nationally and internationally recognized area of excellence has been the Environmental and Evolutionary Biology graduate program in the Department of Biology. This program emphasizes ecosystem to organism, but involves technologically advanced cellular, ultrastructural, physiological, biochemical and molecular methodologies to address essential processes and functions that bear on issues such as environmental effects, sensory function, reproduction, and population genetics. In 1993, a Louisiana Board of Regents' review ranked UL Lafayette's Biology program the best in the state. In 2000, the UL Lafayette Biology Department was selected, in a statewide competition sponsored by the Board of Regents, to receive a Departmental Excellence through Faculty Excellence (DEFE) grant for enhancement of faculty salaries.

The decades-long commitment to both research and teaching by a prominent and well-published faculty in this department is clearly evident in the quality and success of its graduates (doctoral, masters and undergraduate), the scale and scope of extramural research funding, sophistication of the accrued research facility and equipment base, and the impressive array of ancillary research programs and agencies attracted to the campus and region by joint faculty and administration initiatives. Among the latter agencies are the $20 million USGS National Wetlands Research Center as well as the new $15 million NOAA Estuarine Fisheries and Coastal Habitats Research Center, both located in the UL Lafayette Research Park. The state's $22 million coastal research facility, Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON), was also established under leadership from this department, and UL Lafayette continues to participate in its management. The Biology program and related developments provide infrastructure and personnel that pave the way for expansions in this area of excellence, primarily by bridging to other environmental-related programs on the campus and by further cultivating collaborative relationships with additional governmental research laboratories attracted to the campus.

Doctoral graduates in Environmental and Evolutionary Biology have an excellent record of success in moving to top-flight postdoctoral positions and permanent appointments. Master's students in Biology typically graduate to a doctoral program or find employment in agency settings, while undergraduates in Resources Biology and Biodiversity, Biology, or Microbiology have a high rate of success for admission to professional (medical, dental) schools, admission to graduate programs, or employment in technical and management positions or agencies or resource-oriented commerce. The tenure track faculty remains extremely active, with many serving on editorial boards of international journals, holding national and international society offices, and serving on advisory/review panels. Faculty research funding awards, one measure of success, totaled over $7.12 million in grants for the faculty of the department, over a three-year period (July 1, 1997 to June 30, 2000). Rigorously competitive NSF programs continue to be a major source of these funds, with $1.35 million in awards over the same three-year period, in research areas ranging from population genetics to plant gametogenesis.

DOE has funded projects ranging from a landmark documentation of genetic endemism in Gulf organisms to projects for development of new techniques in aquatic environmental toxicology; NASA has funded studies of plant growth in low gravity environments; NIH has funded studies of sensory response to environmental stimuli; EPA has funded studies in aquatic toxicology; and USDA has funded studies in environmental physiology of insects and molecular biology of plants. Other typical funding agencies have been the NOAA Sea Grant program, USGS, the Smithsonian Institution, the Board of Regents Support Fund (BORSF) program, and a host of smaller foundations and international programs.

Among the many physical facilities accrued under this funding are a top-flight electron microscopy center; an excellent array of research optics and analytical instrumentation; extensive research collections of organisms; modern DNA-analysis and automated gene-sequencing equipment; and a new off-campus Center for Ecology and Environmental Technology providing acres of environmentally controlled greenhouses and wet-laboratory areas for experimentation.

To stimulate community interest in agriculture, in 1927 Fletcher instituted an annual short course for dairymen. The event expanded to include other fields of agriculture and, in 1933, it became a full-fledged exhibition. Thousands began to attend the event, which was later organized as the Annual South Louisiana Mid-Winter Fair and Flower Show.

Potential for expansion of the present area of excellence exists in a number of other UL Lafayette departments, colleges and interdisciplinary programs. Curricula in the Department of Renewable Resources are focused on sustainable agriculture and applied life sciences, and research resources include a 600-acre facility and expansive greenhouses for experimental development of sound management practices in agriculture and aquaculture. In UL Lafayette's Center for Advanced Computer Studies, NASA has recently established the Regional Applications Center, primarily for microclimate studies in the Gulf of Mexico. In joint efforts between the Departments of Chemical Engineering and Physics, with collaboration of staff from the particle accelerator facility known as the Acadiana Research Laboratory, UL Lafayette is developing new doctoral programs and research focus in corrosion science, an area of major environmental concern in the offshore oil and gas industry.

Document last revised Monday, October 27, 2003 5:12 PM

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