Published: Oct. 7, 2020 By

CU Engineering experienced another record-breaking year for research funding in 2020, receiving $134 million overall and dwarfing the 2019 total of $108 million.

While the year-over-year growth is impressive, Interim Dean Keith Molenaar said it only tells part of the story of the success the college has been enjoying.

“Our awards totaled $78 million in fiscal year 2016, $82 million in 2017 and $105 million in 2018. So we have seen tremendous growth in our portfolio and a significant upward trend for a few years now,” he said. “It really demonstrates our research community’s commitment to pursuing large, interdisciplinary projects that will have very real and very positive impacts in Colorado, the nation and beyond for years to come.”

The news comes as the college celebrates the launch of several large and high-profile research programs this summer, meaning further unprecedented growth in the coming fiscal year as well:

  • The Odor2Action Network is a new $20.2 million international project led by the college and aimed at understanding how animals use information from odors in their environment to guide behavior, with far-ranging implications for our understanding of the human brain. 
  • ASPIRE is a new Engineering Research Center funded by a $26 million National Science Foundation grant in partnership with Utah State and several other entities. Titled Advancing Sustainability through Powered Infrastructure for Roadway Electrification, it will explore a diverse range of transportation questions, from electrified highways that energize vehicles to the placement of charging stations, data security and workforce development. CU Boulder will receive $4 million over the first five years of this project.
  • The college is part of a $25 million award to launch a new quantum science and engineering research center. It is a partnership with 11 other research organizations in the United States and abroad to explore several grand challenges in the field.

In addition to those projects, the college launched three new interdisciplinary research themes in July as part of a broad push into growing and critical areas of study. The three new themes – Hypersonic Vehicles, Resilient Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity, and Engineering Education and AI-Augmented Learning, are all developing fields of study nationally. They join the ongoing work in the Autonomous Systems and Multi-Functional Materials themes that started in 2018.

Associate Dean for Research Massimo Ruzzene said seed grant funding through the Interdisciplinary Research Themes initiative helps faculty identify and exploit internal strengths to answer complex research problems.

“Many of the new center-scale awards we saw this summer and other exciting research in our college has direct ties to this initiative and funding. I can certainly say it is a large part of why we have been so successful, and I am eager to see what we can accomplish in the coming years,” he said.

Award money at the college comes from a variety of sources, the largest being federal programs like the National Science Foundation, which accounted for about 19% of the award dollars. The next largest contributors were NASA (17%), the Department of Defense (12%) and industry, (12%). 

Together, the CU system’s four Colorado campuses obtained $1.4 billion in awards, the fourth year in a row these totals climbed above $1 billion and represent an increase over last year. ​CU Boulder research accounted for $613.9 million in that total.