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:
- $1 million from the Keck Foundation for research into microorganisms that thrive in the hostile conditions of Yellowstone’s hot springs.
- $50,000 from the Spencer Foundation to better support English teachers in rural areas.
- $3 million from the National Science Foundation for the creation of the Montana Nanotechnology Facility at MSU.
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:
- For the first time, MSU played host to the National Institutes of Health, NIH, Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, which brought some of the nation’s most promising young biomedical researchers to Bozeman for a three-day workshop entitled “Bioinformatics Training Course In The Northern Rocky Mountains.”
- MSU hosted some of the world’s most noted experts in vaccine development at the Maurice Hilleman Vaccine Symposium, named after MSU’s alum and famed vaccinologist.
- Blake Wiedenheft, MSU assistant professor of microbiology and immunology, had a paper published in Nature on the structural basis for genetic editing and was also invited to be the inaugural speaker for the National Institutes of General Medicine Director’s Early Career Scientist Lecture.
- 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.
- For the third year in a row, MSU was ranked by the CWTS Leiden Ranking as one of the 842 universities in the world with the largest contributions in international scientific journals.
- Melissa Ragain, assistant professor of art, was awarded the Radcliffe Institute fellowship for one year of scholarship at Harvard.
- Charlene “Charlie” Winters, professor of nursing, was elected president of the Western Institute of Nursing, one of four regional nursing research organizations.
- Jessi Smith, professor of psychology, was granted fellow status in both the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science for her accomplishments in the field of psychology. Smith also co-authored an article in Science on increasing diversity in STEM fields.
- John Priscu, renowned polar scientist, was granted the highest academic honor in Montana by being named a Montana University System Regents Professor.
- Tricia Seifert, an associate professor in the College of Education, Health and Human Development, won the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services’ CACUSS Award of Honor for significant achievement and distinguished contribution to the development and promotion of student services.
- 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.
- Matt Taylor, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology, published in the Journal of Virology new findings on how viruses spread; Will and Joan Broderick, professors in chemistry and biochemistry, published in Science on advances in understanding the biochemical processes underpinning nearly all known life; Heidi Smith, a recent MSU doctoral graduate, published in Nature Biofilms and Microbiomes on biofilms on glaciers; and Mark Skidmore, associate professor of geology, and Eric Boyd, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology, co-authored a paper in Nature Geoscience on how microbes can survive under vast glacial ice sheets.
- 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, email@example.com