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 Tuesday, October 23, 2007 IssueFaculty/Staff E-Newsletter


Sponsored research continues to be a key strength at CU

The University of Colorado at Boulder received a record $266.2 million in sponsored research in fiscal year 2007, the highest total in the university's history and nearly $10 million more than in 2006. This, when combined with the research from the other two universities in the CU System, places us in the top 10 of all public and private research universities in the nation. Not only are these awards critical as state funding dwindles, but they help to support the work of hundreds of graduate students and are tangible evidence of the many contributions that we make to society.

Collaborative efforts between our university-based research institutes and faculty researchers resulted in nearly $142.2 million in support, more than half the sponsored research funding. The Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) led the way with $48.6 million and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) was awarded $47.8 million. Our more than $50 million in NASA-related awards topped all public universities in the nation. Other agencies that contributed to CU's stellar rankings in research awards in 2007 were the National Science Foundation (NSF) at $48 million, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at $46.5 million and the Department of Commerce at $33.1 million.

These record-setting levels are a fitting tribute to, and a well-deserved recognition of, the quality of our dedicated faculty and staff in the many academic departments, centers and institutes, and to the efforts of the many fine people in the Office of Contracts and Grants.

We should take great pride in this accomplishment and in our ability to build upon our past successes, particularly given that the competition for federal funding is becoming more challenging each year. In the last five years there has been a dramatic increase in competition nationally from research institutions looking to broaden their support due to reduced state funding and private sector research. At the same time, the availability of federally sponsored research is continuing to decline, having reached its lowest point in 25 years as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product (GNP) this past year.

These reductions are nowhere more apparent than in the support available from the NIH . Because of NIH's investment in research universities, millions of Americans are living longer, healthier lives through new cancer therapies and treatment of cardiovascular disease. As 80 million baby boomers begin to retire and face the diseases associated with aging, the nation must increase investments in research to manage, delay and cure the onset of Alzheimer's disease, cancer, heart attacks and strokes. Yet, as important as this work is, NIH support has been declining since 2003, and the total appropriation for 2007 was nearly $4 billion below that of 2003. This, coupled with the increase in proposal submissions (NIH estimates it will receive 51,000 proposals in 2008), has resulted in a dramatic reduction in the percentage of proposals that receive support. In 2003, a researcher had a one-in-three chance of having his or her research proposal funded. Today, fewer than one in five proposals are selected for support.

While the National Science Foundation and Department of Energy's federal research budgets have increased in fiscal 2008, NASA remains well below 2006 levels and defense-related basic research funding has declined.

These data all raise the question of how we can continue to sustain and increase our level of federal research support in this environment. One way is to increase our collaboration with the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center and with our neighboring federal labs, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). In addition, I am convinced that multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary research holds the key to our future. This approach has been a cornerstone of our research in the past and serves as an important anchor in our strategic plan, Flagship 2030. CU's many collaborative research institutes have positioned our university to take advantage of some of the large, multi-disciplinary projects funded in recent years by federal agencies.

For evidence of this multi-disciplinary approach, we need only look at the awards granted to: LASP, CIRES and the other multi-disciplinary institutes who earned multi-million dollar awards: JILA, the Institute of Behavioral Genetics, the Institute of Behavioral Science, the Institute of Cognitive Science and the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research.

Despite ongoing funding challenges, we are optimistic about 2008. LASP received a $92 million contract from NOAA and NASA in August to design and build a satellite instrument to help forecast solar disturbances that affect radio communication and navigation. It is the single largest research contract ever received by the university. In addition, our institutes, centers and academic departments involved in space science and aerospace engineering have several large research proposals on the short list for substantial funding. We also have initiatives underway in biotechnology, sustainable and renewable energy and computational science.

The technological leadership of our country is clearly the result of university-based research, which enhances our competitiveness, secures the nation, grows the economy, advances health, contributes to energy independence, improves the quality of life and is critical for maintaining America's global, scientific and technological leadership. As noted by Thomas Friedman in his book, The World is Flat, without basic university research there would be no web browser, magnetic resonance imaging, supercomputers, global positioning technology, space exploration devices or fiber optics. Federal support of university research not only improves the quality of life but also helps to educate the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Perhaps Erich Bloch, the former director of the National Science Foundation, said it best in 1986: "The solution of virtually all problems with which government is concerned: health, education, environment, energy, international relationships, space, economic competitiveness, defense and national security all depend on creating new knowledge and hence on the health of America's research universities."

We can be proud of the role that the University of Colorado at Boulder plays in this arena. It is one that is important to us, to our future and to the future well-being of our country and the world.

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