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OU receives $20 million grant for student research, development of AI for environmental use

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Amy McGovern

The AI-related project will be lead by OU professor Amy McGovern, pictured in 2014. 

The University of Oklahoma recently received a $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation to lead a project focusing on researching and developing AI for use in the natural environment. 

The NSF invested more than $100 million to establish five institutes across the country that will support research and education, according to the press release. The foundation is collaborating with several schools, including Colorado State University and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, as well as major corporations such as the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Google and more.

According to the press release, the foundation will work with private industry partners and the National Center for Atmospheric Research to create an internship and mentoring program to allow underrepresented groups to create a unique work environment and allow people of all ages and backgrounds to engage in learning AI for environmental applications.

Amy McGovern — a professor at OU with appointments in the School of Computer Science in the Gallogly College of Engineering as well as the School of Meteorology in the College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences — will lead the project, according to the press release.

“We are thrilled that OU is leading this first-of-its-kind national research institute and that our own Amy McGovern was selected to spearhead the effort,” said OU President Joseph Harroz in the press release.

Currently, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi is using AI to help prevent the death of sea turtles along the gulf of Corpus Christi, where it detects incoming cold fronts which they then use to stop traffic in the area so ships don’t run over turtles rising up to the surface. According to the press release, the long-term goal of NSF is to be able to apply AI to a wider variety of environmental issues like this. 

“Environmental science provides an ideal testbed to advance trustworthy AI, given its grounding in nature’s physical laws and conservation principles, as well as the broad range of stakeholder feedback and high societal impact,” McGovern said in the press release.

The creation of this institute through the NSF and the University of Oklahoma is being hailed as a “historic milestone in environmental science,” according to the press release. 

“I am glad to see the National Science Foundation and OU collaborating on the opportunity to establish a top-notch AI institute,” said U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe in the press release, "and I look forward to seeing the scientific advancements they will make with it.”

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