Montana State University

Montana State University wins $98.4 million in research dollars for fiscal year

September 11, 2009 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service

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BOZEMAN - Research funding won by Montana State University rose $2.2 million in the past year, totaling $98.4 million for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

"The competition for research dollars is fierce," said Tom McCoy, MSU vice president for research. "Nationally, only one in five proposals for federal research dollars is funded on average. In some cases it is only one in 100. That our faculty continue to compete so well speaks well of their excellence and ambition."

Federal stimulus money had no effect on this year's figures, but its influence will likely appear in next year's report, McCoy added.

The university's largest college, Letters and Science, received $24.5 million in Fiscal Year 2009, making it MSU's top grant-getting college again. The College of Engineering followed with $19.9 million, a $2.5 million increase over FY 2008.

"Whatever the college, our students benefit from these research dollars by having hands-on opportunities to work on some of the most complex problems of our day with the most sophisticated equipment available," McCoy said. "That kind of experience prepares them for success in a way the classroom alone cannot."

In the past fiscal year, MSU's research awards directly provided $7.76 million in undergraduate and graduate salaries, benefits, scholarships and fellowships.

The top grant-getting department in FY 2009 was the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry with almost $10 million. The department moved into a new building in 2007 and saw its success in grant awards skyrocket, taking a 71 percent leap from $4.5 million in FY'06 to $7.7 million in FY'07.

"Having quality research space plays a direct role in increasing a program's competitiveness for research dollars," McCoy said. "You can't attract world-class faculty for our students, without having good research space."

The university issued bonds to construct the $23 million chemistry building. Repayment is being made from the grants won by those programs housed in the building.

"The success of those programs is paying for that building at no expense to the Montana taxpayer or students," McCoy said.

Student success in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry has followed suit. Since 2007, the department has had three undergraduates win Goldwater scholarships, the nation's premier scholarship for undergraduates studying math, natural sciences and engineering. The scholarship gives each recipient up to $7,500 a year for tuition, fees, books, and room and board.

Thanks to those wins, MSU is ranked 11th nationally for Goldwater winners, just behind Yale and MIT and ahead of other distinguished institutions including Johns Hopkins, University of Washington, Purdue and University of Minnesota.

David Singel, head of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, credited the hard work of all of the faculty for department's high standing, and called special attention to three major, multi-investigator programs: the Center for Bio-Inspired Nanomaterials headed by Trevor Douglas, the Astrobiology Biogeocatalysis Research Center headed by John Peters and the Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence headed by Ed Dratz.

Other top departments were the Department of Veterinary Molecular Biology with $7.8 million and the physics department with $6 million. The Western Transportation Institute in the College of Engineering received $8.1 million.

Mark Quinn, head of the Department of Veterinary Molecular Biology, said a wide variety of faculty in his department received funding for several new projects dealing with immunology and infectious diseases. Among those projects are studies on how viral infection affects the shedding of prions associated with chronic wasting diseases; studies on how the immune system fights Coxiella burnetii, the bacteria that causes Q fever; and research on possible new treatments to fight Francisella tularensis, the organism responsible for tularemia.

"These are all important zoonotic and/or emerging infectious diseases of world-wide importance," Quinn said.

He added that a major goal for his department is to see that junior faculty are well-funded and established in their careers.

MSU research is funded mostly by federal grants, with some money coming from state and private funds. Of the money spent on MSU research in FY 2009, 3.7 percent came from various state agencies, and 10.7 percent came from private sources. More than 85 percent came from federal sources.

The National Institutes of Health awarded MSU $23.7 million, which was 24.1 percent of MSU's total research expenditures in FY 2009 and a reflection on the quality of biomedical research at MSU, McCoy said.

Other major sources of federal funding and the percentages they provided MSU in FY 2009 were the National Science Foundation, 14.5 percent; the U.S. Department of Energy, 8.8 percent; the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 7.9 percent; NASA and the U.S. Department of Transportation, 5.9 percent each.

Contact: Tom McCoy, MSU vice president of research, 406-994-7355.