By Evelyn Boswell MSU News Service
BOZEMAN – Montana State University had a record $112.3 million in research expenditures for the fiscal year ending June 30.
Almost $10 million more than last year and $2.8 million more than the previous record set two years ago, the record reflects the university’s continued strength in biomedical sciences, energy, and the environment, administrators said.
MSU’s research enterprise also enhances student education, as most grants provide funding for undergraduate and graduate students in salaries, benefits, scholarships and fellowships. For the most recent fiscal year that amounted to $9.4 million, making it one of the largest forms of student aid on campus, comparable to the $16.2 million awarded to students through federal Pell grants.
One factor behind MSU’s record-breaking year was the inclusion of $11.6 million from the National Institutes of Health, according to Vice President for Research, Creativity and Technology Transfer Tom McCoy. The NIH awarded MSU a $15 million, three-year grant in 2010 to help turn the 52-year-old Cooley Laboratory into a state-of-the-art facility for students and faculty conducting biomedical research. Most of those funds were expended in Fiscal Year 2012.
With the work almost complete and the renovated building scheduled to open this fall, Cooley construction funds won’t contribute much to next year’s research dollars. But McCoy noted that the revamped facility will help faculty and students conduct important research that will attract more funding. The researchers who will use Cooley Lab are already studying everything from influenza to heart disease to the creation of new drugs.
Federal priorities and new facilities with advanced technology are two reasons that MSU has seen a boom in biomedical research over the past decade, McCoy said. Before the Cooley Lab renovations, MSU built the Chemistry/Biochemistry Building and created new lab space for the Department of Immunology and Infectious Disease—formerly the Department of Veterinary Molecular Biology. Those two departments were at the top of grant expenditures in FY 2012, at $10.6 million and $8.6 million respectively.
After moving into its new building in 2007, the Department of Chemistry/Biochemistry saw its grants jump by $3.2 million in one year. The Department of Immunology and Infectious Disease experienced an $8 million increase over three years with its new space.
The new facilities made it easier for faculty to conduct their work, helped attract new researchers, and better prepared students for their careers, McCoy said. Three students who conducted research in chemistry/biochemistry alone have received Goldwater Scholarships in recent years. David Halat in 2012 and Joe Azzarelli and Ben Naab in 2009 all received the nation’s premier scholarship for undergraduates studying math, natural sciences and engineering.
Mary Cloninger, new head of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, attributed her department’s success to dedicated faculty, new facilities and campus-wide collaborations.
“We have extremely dedicated faculty members who care deeply about teaching, research and service,” she said. “Having outstanding faculty has enabled us to recruit excellent students at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. The Chemistry/Biochemistry Building is a state-of-the-art research facility that enables us to work on cutting-edge problems. The recent renovation of Gaines Hall into a new, state-of-the-art teaching facility for classrooms and laboratories in which to train students is also a crucial component in our research success.
“Collaboration with other members of the department, and also with other researchers campus-wide, allows us to work on very challenging problems and enables us to make significant impacts,” Cloninger added.
Other top departments for federal funds in FY 2012 were the Department of Physics at $7 million, and the Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences at almost $5 million. The Western Transportation Institute in the College of Engineering received nearly $8 million.
The NIH was the largest source for MSU’s federal funds in FY 2012. Altogether, it awarded MSU $38.2 million, or 34 percent of the university’s total research dollars, to study everything from how to boost humans’ innate immunity to treatments for chronic diseases such as multiple sclerosis and infectious disease, including influenza, Q-fever and rotavirus.
The second largest source was the National Science Foundation, which awarded $17.3 million or 15.4 percent of the total FY 2012 expenditures at MSU. Other top sources and amounts were the U.S. Department of Energy, $10.5 million; the Department of Defense, $8 million; NASA, $7.3 million; and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, $6.5 million.
MSU’s energy research includes fuel cells, wind energy, harvesting transportation fuel from algae, microorganisms with biofuel-producing capabilities, biofuel from seed crops, and the storage of carbon dioxide deep underground known as carbon sequestration.
In environmental research, MSU covers everything from invasive weeds that threaten livestock grazing to how climate change will change the frequency of wildfires.