Montana State University

Montana State University’s research posts one of strongest years on record

August 31, 2016 -- MSU News Service

MSU researchers were part of an international scientific team that detected gravitational waves a century after Albert Einstein predicted their existence. The work done by the team, under the direction of Neil Cornish, professor and member of the LIGO gravitational wave detector team, is indicative of the quality of research being done at MSU. Credits: R. Hurt/Caltech-JPL

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Bozeman – Montana State University’s research enterprise posted one of its best years on record in almost every category of measurement showing significant strength in the areas of biomedicine and health; agriculture; engineering and the environment.

In addition to $118 million in expenditures, undergraduate students, graduate students and faculty all contributed to a very strong year of awards, major scholarships and publications on new research, said Renee Reijo Pera, MSU vice president for research and economic development.

“It was a fantastic year,” Reijo Pera said.  “It was largely driven by our faculty who set a new bar of excellence.”

One of the most significant accomplishments of the year involved MSU opening 600 new grants in fiscal year 2016, the largest number in the university’s history, breaking last year’s record of 540. 

“This is truly a measure of how our faculty and graduate students demonstrate their excellence not only in the classroom but in their research and scholarly pursuits,” said Waded Cruzado, MSU president.

The number of new grants is important for two reasons: First it signals the likelihood of strong year for expenditures in the coming year as that is when the funds from those 600 grants will start to be expended. Secondly, a larger number of grants creates a more diverse research portfolio for the university which can help reduce the impact when specific grant sources decline or dry up altogether.

“A diverse portfolio increases our sustainability through any challenges that may arise in federal or state funding,” Reijo Pera said. “Our faculty’s work in this area is nothing short of stellar.”    

The university garnered prestigious grants from entities that had not previously funded MSU or had not funded the university in many years. These included:  

In addition to winning grants, the university’s faculty made significant contributions throughout the year with papers in Nature, Science, the Journal of Virology, and other prestigious publications.

“The university must also produce new knowledge and share it with the world,” Reijo Pera said. “Our faculty and our students did an outstanding job of that this year.”

Among the highlights of publication, discovery and outreach:

  • Neil Cornish, MSU physics professor, was among the team of scientists awarded the prestigious Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for detecting gravitational waves a century after Albert Einstein predicted them.
  • Charlene “Charlie” Winters, professor of nursing, was elected president of the Western Institute of Nursing, one of four regional nursing research organizations
  • Peter Buerhaus, nursing economics professor, published numerous high-profile papers on healthcare economics during the year that focused on the healthcare workforce.
  • Hikmet Budak, MSU first Montana Plant Sciences Endowed Chair, was among an international team that mapped the genome of durum wheat, a major crop in Montana’s ag economy.
  • Raina Plowright, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology, published in Mammal Review on the rising mortality of bats worldwide; John Peters, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, published in Science on how nitrogen could be converted into ammonia in a more sustainable way; and  Sara Waller, associate professor of philosophy published in Behavioral Processes on the dialects of wolves and other canids.  

Students benefitted from the university’s research activity by receiving $9.5 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.

Additionally, undergraduate research opportunities helped three students win Goldwater Scholarships for the second year in a row. Goldwater Scholarships are the nation’s premier math, natural sciences and engineering scholarship for undergraduates. The three awards raised MSU’s Goldwater total to 67, placing it in the top five public universities in the nation and ahead of private universities such as Yale and Johns Hopkins.

MSU graduate students also did well in research and scholarship. Daniel Zizzamia, an MSU history graduate student, earned a prestigious postdoctoral fellowship to research environmental topics at the Harvard University Center for the Environment; and numerous MSU graduates earned NSF Graduate Research Program Fellowships which provides roughly $30,000 per year for three years of graduate study.

Fiscal year 2016 was also the first year of the new Montana Research Initiative, funded at $15 million by the 2015 Legislature and Gov. Steve Bullock. Faculty at MSU submitted 150 proposals to compete for these funds. Five MSU proposals were funded for $9 million in the areas of optics and photonics; agriculture; immunology and infectious diseases; mental health; and energy.

Tracy Ellig, executive director University Communications, 406-994-5607, tellig@montana.edu