MSU News Service

MSU research tops $100 million for first time

August 28, 2006 -- By Annette Trinity-Stevens, MSU News Service

Research dollars at Montana State University reached $103 million for the fiscal year that ended June 30, creating a new record for the university, MSU officials announced this week.

"MSU has achieved a major milestone as a research university by surpassing $100 million in expenditures," said MSU vice president for research Tom McCoy. "For a campus of our size, this is an incredible testimonial to the superb quality of our faculty."

With roughly 13,000 students, MSU is considered a mid-sized public university with 826 instructional faculty. Its student-faculty ratio is 16 to 1, according to the MSU Office of Planning and Analysis.

The $103 million represents research expenditures, which are dollars spent to study topics ranging from fish to fuel cells. Expenditures indicate a campus's volume of research by tracking what faculty, students and staff actually spend from their grants.

Last year's research expenditures totaled $98.4 million.

"This is cause to celebrate," McCoy said. "Not only does MSU research address state, regional and national issues, it plays a critical role in creating a first-class learning environment for our students."

MSU's growing prominence in research also helped move MSU into the Carnegie Foundation's top-tier of research universities with "very high research activity," McCoy said.

The veterinary molecular biology department was the university's top grant-getting department with $11 million in research dollars.

"This department has a highly focused research program on infectious diseases and has successfully competed on a national scale for research funds focused on emerging diseases and biodefense," McCoy said.

The department studies infectious diseases that occur in both humans and animals. It also has a major project under way to find ways of boosting the immune system so people can better resist infectious agents that may be introduced naturally or through bioterrorism.

Other top grant-getting departments were land resources and environmental sciences at $8.8 million and physics at $8.4 million.

Land resources and environmental sciences faculty take on projects ranging from the study of Yellowstone Park microbes to production agriculture, invasive plant species, soil science and water resources.

"We have very good people, very productive people with strong research projects," said department head Jon Wraith.

The MSU physics department houses one of the largest solar physics programs in the county, which last year landed MSU a spot in the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy. Consortium members operate space observatories, including the famed Hubble Telescope.

With just 32 universities as members, AURA looks for new members from among the nation's most prominent astronomy programs.

"Not everyone is invited [into AURA], so it's definitely a mark of distinction to be part of that leadership crowd," MSU physics department head Bill Hiscock said.

Overall, MSU faculty are increasingly involved in large projects that involve multiple faculty, or principal investigators, McCoy said. Federal agencies now often prefer faculty from a variety of disciplines to tackle complex problems versus a single investigator working alone.

Collaborative projects at MSU include the Center for Bio-Inspired Nanomaterials, focused on medical and industrial applications for the cages that encapsulate viruses. Another is the INBRE program that expands biomedical research at universities and colleges throughout the state.

Federal funding accounts for 87 percent of this year's total. The largest source of MSU research dollars is the Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the National Institutes of Health. Other major funders are the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Contact: Tom McCoy, vice president for research, (406) 994-2891


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