Nicholls grant expected to spur job growth

THIBODAUX – Nicholls State University has received a $150,000 federal grant that could lead to the creation of dozens of high-paying jobs in the region. Dr. Balaji Ramachandran, assistant professor of geomatics, works closely with a Nicholls student.

The funds, awarded by the Delta Regional Authority, will allow Dr. Balaji Ramachandran, assistant professor of geomatics, to purchase and install microwave radio equipment that will facilitate high-speed information transfer between Nicholls and Tulane University in New Orleans. The connection will mark the addition of Nicholls to the Louisiana Optical Network Initiative, a fiber optics system that connects supercomputers at Louisiana’s major research universities.

The connection will also allow Nicholls to demonstrate and utilize unmanned aerial vehicle technology. This technology involves unpiloted aircrafts tasked to monitor south central Louisiana’s environmental conditions and emergency response practices. Nicholls will use its new capabilities to test the use of sensors carried by these unmanned aerial vehicle drones, which in turn will feed live data, via the new microwave network, to researchers at Nicholls and Tulane as well as governmental agencies and industrial partners.

Ramachandran expects regional employment figures to increase as a result of the project. He is in discussion with one company in particular that has agreed to relocate to the area once unmanned aerial system capabilities have been demonstrated. This will bring about 45 high-end engineering jobs to the region, Ramachandran said.

Collaborators in the project include the Nicholls geomatics program, Fletcher Technical Community College, the Department of Homeland Security, the Defense Command and Control Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration Program, the Louisiana Regional Command and Operational Network, the Houma Terrebonne Airport Commission, the South Central Planning Development Commission, COTS Technologies LLC and the Terrebonne Economic Development Authority.

Phase 1 of the project, connecting Nicholls, the Houma Terrebonne Airport Commission and Fletcher Technical Community College, is already complete and functional, Ramachandran said.

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