Published: Nov. 2, 2023 By

CU Boulder researchers attracted a record $684.2 million in fiscal year 2022–23 for studies that, among other things, elevate quantum science in Colorado, solve mysteries about the sun, and provide even better data on sea ice, ice sheets, glaciers and more.

The newly released sponsored research funding numbers reflect a 4% increase over the prior year.

The bulk of the research funding, or 71%, comes from federal agencies including NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Commerce, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy. The state of Colorado contributed 3% of the total. Nonprofits and international organizations supported CU Boulder research and creative work to the tune of 11%; industry accounted for 5%; and other universities provided 6% of the funding.

The CU Boulder funding is part of the $1.6 billion awarded to all four system campuses in fiscal year 2022–23, representing a 9% increase over the previous year.

“Our annual research funding is a very important measure of the impact of CU Boulder’s research and innovation enterprise,” said Massimo Ruzzene, vice chancellor for research and innovation and dean of the institutes. “While there are numerous ways to measure impact, the funding we attract year after year fuels a multitude of research and creative advances and reinforces our status as one of the top research universities in the nation.”

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

New seed grants bring quantum out of the lab, into the marketplace

CU Boulder has long been recognized as a global leader in quantum research and education. A new grant, awarded by the State of Colorado’s Economic Development Commission, plans to take that one step further by investing in the “quantum ecosystem” across the state. The project created two seed grants administered by CU Boulder’s CUbit Quantum Initiative that can be used by any Colorado research institution or industry partner.

The hope for these grants—totaling nearly $1.2 million over three years—is that they incentivize innovation and get quantum out of the lab and into the marketplace, all while developing the workforce for the future quantum economy. Read more about quantum seed grants.

$68 million NASA contract awarded to National Snow and Ice Data Center

For the seventh time, NASA has selected the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at CU Boulder for the management and operations of the Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) Snow and Ice Distributed Active Archive Center (DAAC).

The NSIDC DAAC serves NASA's mission to understand the Earth and its response to natural and human-induced change. It distributes cryosphere and related geophysical data from NASA Earth-observing satellite missions, airborne campaigns and field observations to document changes in snow cover, sea ice, ice sheets, ice shelves, glaciers, frozen ground, soil moisture and more. Read more about the $68 million NASA award.

New laser-based breathalyzer sniffs out COVID, other diseases in real-time

With each breath, humans exhale more than 1,000 distinct molecules, producing a unique chemical fingerprint or “breathprint” rich with clues about what’s going on inside the body. For decades, scientists have sought to harness that information, turning to dogs, rats and even bees to sniff out cancer, diabetes, tuberculosis and more.

This year, scientists from CU Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) made an important leap in the quest to diagnose disease using exhaled breath, reporting that a new laser-based breathalyzer powered by quantum technology and artificial intelligence (AI) can detect COVID-19 in real-time with excellent accuracy. Read more about the breathalyzer research.

How 1,000 undergraduates helped solve an enduring mystery about the sun

A team of physicists recruited roughly 1,000 mostly undergraduate students at CU Boulder to help answer one of the most enduring questions about the sun: How does the star’s outermost atmosphere, or “corona,” get so hot?

The research represents a nearly-unprecedented feat of data analysis: From 2020 to 2022, the small army of mostly first- and second-year students examined the physics of more than 600 real solar flares—gigantic eruptions of energy from the sun’s roiling corona. The results suggest that solar flares may not be responsible for superheating the sun’s corona, as a popular theory in astrophysics suggests. Learn more about the solar research.

CU system research funding tops $1 billion

The 2022–23 systemwide total marks the seventh consecutive year that the CU system’s annual sponsored research funding and gifts have topped $1 billion.

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.