By James Beaty
How about a new idea for research related to math or science?
If so, the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology is interested in hearing from you. For those who qualify and who can raise some capital on their own, OCAST has resources — and money — available.
Created by an act of the Oklahoma State Legislature in 1987, OCAST’s headquarters are in Oklahoma City.
The OCAST Executive Director C. Michael Carolina and Public Information Officer Steve Paris recently visited McAlester to help get the word to Southeastern Oklahoma residents that they are interested in hearing from them, too.
“We don’t have anyone applying for a grant from McAlester,” Paris said.
That’s something OCAST would like to see changed.
The OCAST is especially interested in McAlester-area research projects “that could produce a life-changing technology breakthrough or help experienced producers find new ways to extract energy from the earth.”
One of OCAST’S aims is diversity in technology, both through research at colleges and universities and through the private sector.
Most of the research funds to colleges and universities have gone to the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University and the University of Tulsa and their affiliates in the past — but that could change in the future.
Eastern Oklahoma State College, for example, has campuses in Wilburton and in McAlester.
The OCAST also has an intern program.
“A student might serve an internship at Choctaw Defense; we will pay half of that,” Carolina said, presenting an example.
Companies are expected to provide mentoring and training.
OCAST supports both basic and applied research — with basic research aimed at gaining knowledge and applied research focused on solving problems. Funding through OCAST is in the form of matching funds, often through an equal match.
The match could be through private funds, or through federal funds, in the form of a matching grant.
“We fund $250,000 and you bring $250,000 to the table,” Carolina said, presenting a hypothetical example.
The money is available for the right projects.
During the 26 years of its existence, OCAST has awarded $223 million and has also helped researchers in Oklahoma obtain another $4.6 billion of non-state money to build Oklahoma’s economy through research, according to a statement from the agency.
OCAST has a relationship with the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation — where Carolina is on the board of directors, along with Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Steven Taylor, of McAlester.
“We support medical research,” Carolina said, with research supported by OCAST covering illnesses ranging from Alzheimer’s Disease to lupus.
Seven million American are currently afflicted with Alzheimer’s.
“By 2050, it will almost double,” Carolina said, noting the urgency of research into the illness.
Cyber security will be an issue in the future, Carolina said, speaking of another field where research is being focused.
“Obviously, university professors and private sector scientists are adept at research,” Carolina said.
“Research is not limited,” he said.
“We’ve found qualified researchers running their own aerospace companies, designing medical devices, responding to military requests for proposals, all while continuing Oklahoma’s focus on energy and agriculture,” Carolina said.
He also believes qualified scientific researchers can be located in McAlester and throughout Oklahoma, according to information from OCAST.
Even if funding is not available for a particular project, OCAST can help by channeling individuals or projects to other sources, which could have the services needed.
For example, although OCAST is not necessarily looking for inventors, it can steer inventors to organizations designed to help them, such as the Inventors Assistance Service.
Though a relatively new program as far as state agencies go, OCAST has already been recognized for its efforts, even getting a mention in the well-known book, “The World is Flat,” where the state of Oklahoma is recognized for having a technology-based model.
“We’re quite proud of that,” Carolina said.
OCAST awards — which can mean money, in the form of grants or funding — are usually awarded once a year, and twice annually for its intern program. Recommendations for the awards come from peer reviews outside Oklahoma — designed to keep politics out of the award process.
While impacting the economy is one of OCAST’s goals, it’s not the only one.
“The financial benefit is important,” Carolina said.
“But no less important are lives saved by new technologies developed through our funding.
“Our services range from direct funding of independently peer-reviewed service projects to paying half the salaries of college interns who work with private technology companies,” Carolina said.
Workshops are available to help those interested in OCAST funding to learn more about the application process.
Anyone needing more information about OCAST is encouraged by the agency to contact Paris at (405) 319-8405.
He can also be reached by email at steve.paris@OCAST.ok.
Carolina and Paris are well aware ideas that have a significant influence on people’s lives can originate in Oklahoma.
After all, both the shopping cart and the parking meter had their origins in the Sooner State.
Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.