Published: Oct. 25, 2021

Image credit: Matthew Druckenmiller, NSIDC

CU Boulder researchers attracted a record $634.4 million in fiscal year 2021 for studies that, among other things, examine how artificial intelligence  can transform education, led to the United Arab Emirate’s Hope spacecraft orbiting Mars, and address threats posed by climate change in the Arctic. 

The university obtained grants from a range of government agencies, non-profit organizations and industry partners. NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Commerce, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy continue to be the largest federal funding sources for CU Boulder awards.

The CU Boulder funding is part of the $1.45 billion awarded to all four system campuses in fiscal year 2021. 

“This year’s research funding for the CU Boulder campus is a testament to the resilience and collaborative spirit of our entire research enterprise,” said Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation Terri Fiez. “Our researchers not only contributed to mitigating the effects of COVID-19 on campus and beyond; they also continued to transcend disciplines and even institutions to unlock greater impact through collaborative research initiatives that are drawing attention across the world.”

At CU Boulder, here are a few research program highlights: 

Navigating the new Arctic

CU Boulder and its National Snow and Ice Data Center are co-hosting the Community Office for the NSF’s Navigating the New Arctic initiative, which uses convergence research to address and mitigate climate-change-related challenges in the rapidly changing Arctic. The Community Office supports the goals of the initiative by focusing on co-production of knowledge with Indigenous peoples, convergence research, culturally responsive education and outreach, and open science.

International collaboration leads to Hope circling Mars

On Feb. 14, 2021, the Emirates Mars Mission, the first mission to Mars led by an Arab nation, released its inaugural image of the red planet in incredible detail. The photo, taken by the mission’s Hope (“Al Amal” in Arabic) probe, showed the red planet at dawn as sunlight moved across the surface—just revealing the edges of Olympus Mons, the tallest volcano in the solar system. The mission is led by the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre in the United Arab Emirates alongside knowledge partners and experts including scientists at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at CU Boulder.

Using artificial intelligence in classrooms

A new $20 million research collaboration led by CU Boulder and called the U.S. National Science Foundation AI Institute for Student-AI Teaming is exploring the role that artificial intelligence could play in the future of education and workforce development—especially in providing new learning opportunities for students from historically underrepresented populations. The five-year project will bring together a team of researchers from nine different universities in close collaboration with two public school districts and private companies and community leaders. It will also tap researchers from across the CU Boulder campus.

Electrifying transportation, expanding education

A major collaboration between engineering, industry and education is paving the way to the future of electrified transportation. ASPIRE—Advancing Sustainability through Powered Infrastructure for Roadway Electrification—is a groundbreaking, multidisciplinary center that explores a diverse range of transportation questions, from electrified highways that energize vehicles to the placement of charging stations, data security and workforce development. With faculty from multiple departments within the College of Engineering and Applied Science in leading roles with ASPIRE, CU Boulder plays a major role in the center. 

The 2020–21 systemwide total marks the fifth consecutive year that the CU system’s annual sponsored research funding and gifts have topped $1 billion. This year’s tally increased 3% over the previous year’s $1.41 billion mark.

“In addition to meeting Colorado’s workforce and education needs, CU is distinguished by the far-reaching and profound impact of its research and discovery,” said CU President Todd Saliman. “That our faculty continue to attract such impressive levels of funding speaks volumes about the caliber of their work and its potential to transform lives.”

A significant amount of sponsored research funding is directed to departments and researchers with unique expertise, such as biotechnology and aerospace, which stimulates industry.

Sponsored research funding from federal, state, international and foundation entities targets specific projects to advance research in laboratories and in the field. Research funding also helps pay for research-related capital improvements, scientific equipment, travel and salaries for research and support staff and student assistantships. CU cannot divert this funding to non-research-related expenses.