Montana State University

MSU's research sets record of $109.5 million

July 26, 2010 -- MSU News Service

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Montana State University was awarded a record $109.5 million in research funding for the fiscal year ending June 30, showing the university's growing strength in biomedical sciences, energy, and the environment.

MSU received about $11 million more than last year and $6.5 million more than the previous high set in 2006. It's the third time that MSU's research dollars have exceeded $100 million.

"This record is testament to the stellar faculty at MSU," said Waded Cruzado, MSU president. "Research funding at the federal level is stagnant or even declining and the competition for these dollars becomes more intense every year. Still, our faculty are able to compete at a high level of success."

The largest single funding source was the National Institutes of Health, which provided $29.6 million, or 26.7 percent, to MSU for everything from the university's Center for Native Health Partnerships, to research into boosting humans' innate immunity, to treatments for chronic diseases such as multiple sclerosis and infectious diseases such as influenza, Q-fever and rotavirus.

"Though NIH is the biggest source of funding for biomedical research, it is not the only source," said Tom McCoy, MSU vice president of research. "All told, roughly 40 percent of all the research dollars arriving at MSU are in some way connected to biomedical research."

The university's growth in biomedical research has taken place mostly in the last decade fueled in part by the priorities of federal research funding agencies and by the arrival of two new facilities: the Chemistry/Biochemistry Building in 2007 and the Molecular Biosciences Building in 2003. Those facilities are under the colleges of Letters and Science and Agriculture, respectively.

"Quality research space attracts the best students and the best faculty," McCoy said. "We see results almost immediately when we provide students and faculty with modern facilities to work in. The return on investment is impressive."

Prior to moving into the Chemistry/BiochemistryBuilding, that department won $4.5 million in research in 2006. This year, it won $12.2 million - a 171 percent increase in four years. It is the university's top grant-earning department.

Department of Veterinary Molecular Biologyis the university's second highest grant-earner with $9.5 million. The department earned between $2 million and $3 million annually before moving from Marsh Lab to a new building in 2003 -- growth of more than 150 percent in seven years.

In the case of the Chemistry/Biochemistry building, the $23 million structure was financed with university-issued bonds that are being repaid from grants won by programs housed in the building.

MSU's ability to earn more NIH funding will be significantly enhanced in coming years with the renovation of Cooley Lab. The NIH awarded a $15 million grant to MSU earlier this year for the renovation of the 50-year-old building into a state-of-the-art facility for faculty and students doing work on biomedical research. The building should be ready by 2012.

MSU's research strength also translates into hands-on opportunities for undergraduates and graduate students to work with top faculty and cutting edge technology. In the past fiscal year, MSU's research awards directly provided $10.4 million in undergraduate and graduate student salaries, benefits, scholarships and fellowships.

"All across the university, our students have opportunities to work on real-world problems facing Montana and the nation," McCoy said. "Hands-on research for undergraduates prepares students in ways the classroom does not. And I think we've got ample evidence we prepare them to be able to compete with anyone."

This past year was a good one for undergraduates doing research at MSU. Bridgett McNulty of Great Falls won a $30,000 fellowship to the NIH campus in Bethesda, Md. Glendive native Trevor Zuroffwon more than $180,000 in graduate fellowships to Penn State. And Ben Naab, of Orono, Minn., won a $90,000 fellowship to Stanford.

NIH funding was also the fastest area of growth for the university, jumping $5.6 million over last year. The second fastest area of growth was funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, which increased $3.4 million over the previous year. In 2007, MSU established the Energy Research Institute, an umbrella for the various energy research efforts across campus.

MSU's energy research includes fuel cells, wind energy, harvesting transportation fuel from algae, microorganisms with biofuel-producing capabilities, biofuel from seed crops, and the storage of carbon dioxide deep underground known as carbon sequestration.

In environmental research, MSU covers everything from invasive weeds that threaten livestock grazing, to how climate change will change the frequency of wildfires, to studies of how wolf predation affects elk herds.

Stimulus money helped boost MSU's total, but the university would have set a record even without it, said Leslie Schmidt, assistant vice president for research. Of the $39.1 million that MSU received through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, only $4.9 million counted as expenditures for the past fiscal year, Schmidt said. A substantial amount will be spent in Fiscal Year 2011 for major renovations of Cooley Lab.

Contact: Tracy Ellig, director, MSU News Service, 406-994-5607, tellig@montana.edu