Oregon State University researchers brought in more than $275 million in scientific contracts and grants over the 2009-10 fiscal year. The amount is a school record and is roughly double the $138 million the university attracted in research funding 10 years ago.
Last year, OSU researchers garnered $252 million in funding.
“I think for some time, it’s been clear to me we were going to beat last year’s figure,” said OSU president Ed Ray. “What wasn’t clear was just how high the number was going to be.”
Doubling the amount in 10 years — particularly given the economic downturn of this decade — was especially gratifying. Ray said OSU is the only school in the Oregon University System that has received more than $100 million in research money. He said that doubling the amount was “extraordinary.”
This year’s growth was due almost entirely to a surge in competitive awards. Federal funding for such awards expanded greatly thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Grants from federal funding agencies made up about $185 million of this year’s total, including $28 million from the ARRA.
Rick Spinrad, the vice president for research, said the federal money wasn’t any easier to get than private funding.
“Even the stimulus funding was competed as aggressively as all the other funding,” he said. “Every penny of that was competed (for) with our peers.
Among the projects and individuals behind the research funding are Lisa Gaines, the associate director for the Institute for Natural Resources, and Steve Tesch, executive associate dean for the College of Forestry. The two received a $3.4-million award from the U.S. Forest Service to assess watershed-level land management actions and how they affect wildfire severity, wildlife habitats, climate change and local economic development. The Integrated Landscape Assessment Project team of more than 50 people will focus on all lands in Oregon, Washington, Arizona and New Mexico.
Other faculty members who received funding include Linus Pauling Institute principal investigator Rod Dashwood, who received $1.3 million from the National Institutes of Health for a five-year comparative study of the mechanisms of cancer chemoprevention; Robert Paasch, director of the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center, who received two awards from the U.S. Dept. of Energy totalling $4.8 million for construction and operation of the nation’s first mobile ocean test berth in Newport, to test full-size wave energy converters; and Jan Auyong, the leader of the OSU Sun Grant Initiative, who earned nearly $2.2 million in continued federal funding.
“I think ultimately, what (the funding is) going to translate into, hopefully, is a lot of innovations and product breakthroughs and means of doing scientific testing that are going to help us,” Ray said. “As those numbers go up over time, those numbers for research effort convert into real outputs, real jobs; real improvements in peoples’ lives.”
Spinrad said the amount of research funding is bound to help OSU recruit both students and faculty.
“You can’t have more than $275 million in research money if you don’t have some of the leading scientists and researchers working there,” he said. “That’s attractive.”
The amount of funding combined with the school’s trend of increasing research money is expected to the university’s research profile and attract even more sponsors.
“We’re now in the Bowl Championship Series for research, and people are recognizing that,” Spinrad said, referring to the highest echelon of college football. Spinrad, who just started his position at OSU about a month ago, said the figures are a tribute to his predecessors.
Funding from private industry also increased, rising 55 percent to nearly $5.25 million. “To get more money from industry now is really pretty remarkable during an economic downturn,” he said.
The university has an ongoing initiative aimed at increasing private-sector research partnerships, particularly with Oregon companies on projects addressing issues of importance to the state and its residents.
One such project was to develop a variety of high-yield wheat. The strain, known as OSU Clearfield, is now the most popular wheat seed used by Oregon farmers, having surpassed a variety that held the No. 1 spot for about 20 years.
Ray expects school researchers will continue to come up with such advancements.
“There are a lot of really exciting things on the horizon,” he said.
The College of Agricultural Sciences brought in more than $55 million, leading all OSU colleges. The college is rated No. 1 nationally for the frequency with which its research is cited by peer scientists in published studies.
The College of Engineering increased its contracts and grants by $12 million to almost $36.7, followed by the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, which brought in about $32 million.
But funding was received by all colleges, including the College of Education with more than $1 million and the College of Liberal Arts about half a million.
Spinrad said the university aims for a broad distribution of research activities. He’s pleased with the diversity of both the funding — the $275 million was made up of many grants, not just a few large ones — and the recipients, which included junior and senior faculty in all colleges.
“This is a really healthy program by any definition,” Spinrad said. “Also one that shows all signs of continued growth. Next year is already looking pretty good.
“The people of Corvallis should really feel proud of what’s going on here.”