Montana State University’s research enterprise closed out another strong year with a long list of scientific discoveries, new partnerships and major accomplishments in the fields of biomedicine and health, engineering, agriculture and the environment.
Students benefitted from the university’s research activity by receiving $9.2 million in direct support, ranging from teaching and research assistantships to outright scholarships. Research is a major form of student support at MSU, comparable to federal Pell Grants which provided $14.1 million during the last year.
“While the dollars for student support is impressive, more important is the experience our students are having with hands-on opportunities to participate in research, and also learning from faculty who are pushing the boundaries of discovery,” said Renee Reijo Pera, MSU’s vice president for research and economic development.
That exposure to research helped three students win Goldwater Scholarships, the nation’s premier math, natural sciences and engineering scholarship for undergraduates and raised MSU’s Goldwater total to 64, placing it in the top five public universities in the nation and ahead of private universities such as Yale and Johns Hopkins.
Biomedical and health research continued to be the strongest and largest area of MSU’s portfolio, backed by major funding from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. The university is home to WWAMI, a cooperative medical education program involving Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. Montana students spend their first year at MSU and then go to the University of Washington School of Medicine, one of the best schools in the world for training primary-care physicians. MSU is also home to WIMU, which is structured like WWAMI, but is for veterinarians. WIMU students attend Washington State University after their time in Bozeman. WIMU includes the states of Washington, Idaho, Montana and Utah. Among biomedical and health accomplishments at MSU in the past year:
- The National Institutes of Health awarded MSU $5.4 million to enhance its research into emerging infectious diseases and diseases spread from animals to humans.
- MSU established the Center for Mental Health Research and Recovery to conduct research to help improve the diagnosis and treatment of serious mental illness through collaborative efforts between neuroscientists, clinicians, engineers and those affected by mental illness. Dr. Matt Byerly, a psychiatrist from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, was recruited as the center’s director.
- The National Institutes of Health awarded MSU $10.7 million to fund its Center for Health Equity Research, which will look for ways to provide better healthcare to rural Montanans.
- Internationally known nurse economist Peter Buerhaus, a member of the Institute of Medicine, left the Vanderbilt School of Nursing to join MSU’s College of Nursing.
- Ed Schmidt, professor in MSU’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology, published his discoveries about a backup antioxidant system that helps sustain the liver when it is damaged.
- MSU graduate student Alayna Caffrey, also in MSU’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology, published her discovery of a molecule important in fighting lung infections.
- Noted research faculty Doug Kominsky, immunology and microbiology, and Matthew Cook, chemistry, were recruited from the University of Colorado and Queen’s University, Belfast, respectively.
MSU’s engineering enterprise had a strong year of accomplishments as well. Home to the state’s largest and fastest-growing college of engineering, MSU’s engineering faculty garnered awards and forged new partnerships.
- MSU and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Space Vehicles Directorate in Albuquerque, N.M., signed an agreement building on 10 years of space research collaboration that has resulted in numerous satellites MSU students and faculty have either built or collaborated on or built.
- MSU celebrated its first $5 million corporate partner. S2 Corporation, a laser optics company in Bozeman, utilizes MSU research infrastructure and expertise to help advance its product line.
- MSU celebrated its first year as a charter member of the National Academy of Inventors by honoring 28 local companies and nearly 100 MSU faculty members and students who were inducted into the academy.
- MSU’s Western Transportation Institute was awarded two grants from the Federal Highway Administration to establish and lead two new transportation centers: The Rural Safety Center for Excellence and the Regional Surface Transportation Workforce Center.
- Jim Wilking, a faculty member at MSU’s Center for Biofilm Engineering, won a prestigious National Science Foundation Young Investigator CAREER Award giving him $503,000 over five years to investigate the physical and material properties of biofilms, slimy communities of bacteria that cause billions of dollars of cost in healthcare and industry.
- MSU was selected as part of a team to operate a national Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems. The team will focus on research, education and training in areas that are critical to safely and successfully integrating unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the nation’s airspace.
Among only 108 universities in the nation to have a “very high research” designation from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, MSU finished the fiscal year with the $106.9 million in research expenditures. Of the university’s $106.9 million in research, $87.8 million was largely competitively won federal funds, and $1.5 million was in gifts and other sources for research. Another $14.5 million in state and $3 million in federal funding were both largely for agricultural research through the Montana Agricultural Experiment Station.
“As competition for federal dollars has increased, MSU’s faculty have really risen to the occasion. They are writing more grant proposals and winning these very competitive awards,” Reijo Pera said. “I am very optimistic about the coming year.”
The reason for that optimism comes from the number of new grant awards opened in fiscal year 2015 -- 540, the greatest number in the history of the university with the exception of 2010 when the federal government issued American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, ARRA, funds. Additionally, grants awarded are up 21 percent over the previous year, and the award amount is up 26 percent over last year. While the grants were opened, or received, in fiscal year 2015, the funds won’t begin to be spent until fiscal year 2016.
Fiscal year 2016 and 2017 will also be the first biennium of the new Montana Research Initiative, funded at $15 million by the 2015 Legislature and Governor Steve Bullock. Faculty at MSU submitted 150 proposals to compete for these funds. Six MSU proposals moved forward for consideration for funding. The successful proposals are expected to be announced before the end of August.
“Our next fiscal year is shaping up to be very good and it is thanks to the hard work and dedication of our faculty,” Reijo Pera said.
Contact: Tracy Ellig, MSU spokesperson, (406) 994-5607 or firstname.lastname@example.org