Montana State University

MSU research excels, setting record of $130.8 million in research and contracts expenditures

August 29, 2017 -- From MSU News Service

Trisheena Kills Pretty Enemy, a senior studying microbiology at Montana State University, works in Seth Walk's lab in Cooley Hall on Friday, Sept. 16, 2016, researching Clostridium difficile Infection. MSU Photo by Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez

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Tel: (406) 994-4571
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Work by Montana State University students and scientists in fields such as biochemistry, the environment, health and physics pushed the university to one of its strongest years ever for research.

Research and contract expenditures from state, private and federal funding sources topped $130.8 million for the fiscal year that ended in June, according to Renee Reijo Pera, MSU vice president for research and economic development. It marks the largest yearly total on record and a $12 million increase over the year before.

“This is an impressive total that sums up an impressive year,” Reijo Pera said. “It shows not only MSU’s dedication to sharing its knowledge and resources with the state of Montana and the wider world but also how passionate our faculty are about teaching and discovery.”

MSU researchers were more aggressive in pursuing grant funding in fiscal year 2017 than in any recent year. Faculty members wrote 1,729 grant applications over the past year, an increase of more than 100 over the previous year’s total. From those proposals, the university opened 562 new grant awards worth some $75.5 million, up more than 8 percent over the prior year.

“Writing and submitting a single grant proposal is no small feat, so the fact that the faculty have so aggressively pursued grant funding from a variety of sources is a tribute to their commitment to academic research at MSU,” Reijo Pera said.

Out of MSU’s research expenditures, $22.2 million was credited to the College of Letters and Science, the university’s largest college, with the departments of chemistry and biochemistry, cell biology and neuroscience, and ecology contributing heavily to total expenditures. The Department of Microbiology and Immunology, which is also included in the College of Agriculture, saw its total alone exceed $8 million.

MSU’s College of Agriculture accounted for $19.4 million of the total. The college houses the departments of plant pathology and land resources and environmental sciences — two of the biggest contributors to research spending university-wide. The Montana Agricultural Experiment Station program also expended $16.7 million on research.

The College of Engineering accounted for $17 million in research spending, chiefly in electrical and computer engineering, the Center for Biofilm Engineering and the Western Transportation Institute.

Highlights from the past year’s research and scholarship include:

MSU’s research enterprise also directly supported undergraduate and graduate students with $10.5 million in teaching assistantships, research assistantships and scholarships.

Research experiences at MSU led to undergraduate students receiving a number of major scholarships and awards. In November, senior Josh Carter became the 11th MSU student to be awarded the Rhodes Scholarship, considered to be one of the oldest and most prestigious international academic awards. Carter plans to use his time at England’s Oxford University to earn a master’s degree in neuroscience, which he hopes will help him better understand how to build smart prosthetics.

In February, MSU student Montana Wilson won a Gates Cambridge Scholarship to fund his graduate work at the University of Cambridge in England. Wilson, an enrolled Gros Ventre of the Fort Belknap Indian Community and a member of the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, was the first ever Native American Gates Cambridge Scholar in the program’s history. He plans to use the scholarship to earn a master’s degree in development studies.

In April, Magdalena Russell of Bozeman was named MSU’s 68th recipient of the Goldwater Scholarship, the nation’s premier scholarship for undergraduates studying math, natural sciences and engineering. Russell, a junior, worked in the laboratory of MSU Letters and Science Distinguished Professor Frances Lefcort researching familial dysautonomia, a genetic disease that devastates the sensory and autonomic nervous systems.

Fiscal year 2017 was also the second year for the Montana Research Initiative, which was funded for $15 million from the 2015 Legislature and Gov. Steve Bullock. Out of the 150 projects submitted for the initiative, MSU had six funded for $9 million in the areas of optics and photonics, agriculture, immunology and infectious diseases, mental health, and energy.

Contact: Michael Becker, director, MSU News Service, 406-994-4565, michael.becker@montana.edu