Published: Sept. 22, 2022

CU Boulder researchers attracted a record $658 million in fiscal year 2022 for studies that, among other things, advance the science of measuring gravity waves and climate resilience.

The university obtained grants from a range of government agencies, nonprofit 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 $1.46 billion awarded to all four system campuses in fiscal year 2022.

“We’re thrilled to have again attracted record funding to support our research and innovation enterprise,” said Massimo Ruzzene, acting vice chancellor for Research and Innovation and dean of the research institutes. “This funding helps CU Boulder maintain a position of leadership in areas like aerospace, climate and biosciences, yet it reflects only part of the impact of our faculty, students, staff and partners, and the diversity of their scholarly contributions.”

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

Boosting climate resilience in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) awarded more than $5 million to the CU Boulder-based Western Water Assessment to advance climate resilience in Intermountain West communities facing low river flows, wildfires, heat, drought and major economic transitions. With renewed support from NOAA, the CIRES-based Western Water Assessment will work with regional research partners to understand the compounding effects of rapid economic transitions and climate change, and build resilience.

CubeSats to measure gravity waves in Earth’s upper atmosphere

Two new CubeSats, to be built by the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at CU Boulder, will provide first-of-their-kind measurements of gravity waves in Earth’s upper atmosphere and explosions in the sun’s corona. This information will fill existing data gaps that are urgently needed for scientists to better predict the effects of space weather on critical human infrastructure and technologies, from satellites in low-Earth orbit to radio communications on airplanes. NASA will contribute $14 million to fund both the DYNamics Atmosphere GLObal-Connection (DYNAGLO) and the Sun Coronal Ejection Tracker (SunCET) missions.

Combating negative health effects from wildfire smoke

Researchers at CU Boulder were awarded $1.1 million from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for two projects to help school districts and communities reduce exposure to harmful pollution from wildland fire smoke. CU Boulder is among nine institutions across the country receiving a combined $7 million under EPA’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program for research to address health risks from wildland fire smoke.

Hypersonic flight research takes off

During hypersonic flight, the temperature of air and other gasses around a vehicle can reach thousands of degrees, triggering chemical reactions. Research fueled by a $7.5 million Department of Defense grant investigates the breakdown and collisions of nitrogen, oxygen and carbon molecules in this environment using advanced computational modeling and experimental tests with molecular beams, shock tubes and hypersonic wind tunnels. Hypersonics is an active area of research around the world. Vehicles are used for space exploration, national security, and perhaps for passenger transport in the future.

The 2021–22 system-wide total marks the sixth consecutive year that the CU system’s annual sponsored research funding and gifts have topped $1 billion. This year’s tally increased 1% over the previous year.

“CU’s faculty researchers are exceptional in the many ways they advance research, scholarship and creative work,” said CU President Todd Saliman. “Their work improves lives, saves lives and addresses some of the most serious issues facing society. They foster discovery and innovation that benefits Colorado and the world.”

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.