Federal Funding for Research Soars to $97 Million

UC Riverside sets a new record in 2014-2015

The campus is celebrating $97 million received in federal grants during the fiscal year Oct. 1, 2014, through Sept. 30, 2015 – a record for UC Riverside. Image credit: UCR Strategic Communications.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – It is hard to miss a polished ship’s bell hanging outside the office of Michael Pazzani, the vice chancellor of research and economic development at the University of California, Riverside.

“Each time one of our researchers gets a large grant or a large royalty check, we ring the bell in celebration,” Pazzani said.

That bell has rung a few times recently and, if the trend in federal grants received at UC Riverside continues its upward trajectory, it is sure to ring again and again.

The campus is celebrating $97 million received in federal grants during the fiscal year Oct. 1, 2014, through Sept. 30, 2015 – a record for UC Riverside.

“We have achieved this milestone while the federal budget for research was flat and while most of our peers are showing no or small increases,” Pazzani said. “Most of our growth is from being more competitive at larger grants.  The number of awards is up 20 percent and the dollars 43 percent since 2011-2012.”

In 2014-2015 UCR received about $19M more than the prior year, which was up $10M over the prior year. (Roughly, each $1 million funds 10 months of summer salary for faculty, eight doctoral students, two postdoctoral researchers, and five undergraduate researchers.)

The number of proposals submitted by UC Riverside researchers for federal funding.Image credit: UCR Strategic Communications.

The number of proposals submitted by UC Riverside researchers for federal funding.Image credit: UCR Strategic Communications.

“We have been streamlining the process of grant submission and making the Office of Research and Economic Development more user-friendly for our researchers,” Pazzani explained. “We have also been investing more dollars in research than ever.  For example, we provide peer-reviewed seed grants to our faculty to help them gather new data and use this data in their proposals to procure federal funding.”

The seed grants – roughly $75,000 each – have brought faculty members from different colleges together in ways rarely seen before on campus. David Kisailus, a professor in the Bourns College of Engineering, and Cheryl Hayashi, a professor in the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, scarcely knew each other until the Office of Research and Economic Development got them to work together.

“We introduced them, and they applied for seed money to launch their collaboration, and they proceeded to get a $4.5M grant,” Pazzani said.

Other federal grants UCR received during 2005-2015 that exceed $1.5 million are:

  • “Spins and Heat in Nanoscale Electronic Systems” (SHINES), an Energy Frontier Research Center which received $3 million to date from the Department of Energy. Principal investigator (PI): Jing Shi, professor of physics.
  • Reducing losses to potato and tomato late blight, which received $1.7 million to date from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.   PI: Howard Judelson, professor of plant pathology and microbiology.
  • The study of huanglongbing, a deadly citrus disease, which received $1.6 million to date from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. PI: Chandrika Ramadugu, assistant project scientist in the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences.
Photo shows Michael Pazzani.

Michael Pazzani is the vice chancellor for research and economic development at UC Riverside. Photo credit: Carlos Puma.

Pazzani is proud of other federal grants that UCR researchers were awarded in the past year, such as grants that Prue Talbot, a professor of cell biology and the director of the Stem Cell Center, received from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to investigate metal content in electronic cigarette aerosol and study the health hazards of electronic cigarettes; grants that Khaleel Razak, an associate professor of psychology, received from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense to study Fragile X syndrome along with School of Medicine researchers; and a grant that Brian Geiger, the director of the Center for Bibliographical Studies and Research received from the National Endowment for the Humanities to develop the California Digital Newspaper Project.

An increase in the number of visits UCR faculty now make to Washington, D.C., to meet with grant program officers and other federal officials is a reason Pazzani offers for the rising trend in federal grants received at UCR since 2012.

“In coordination with Kaitlin Chell, the director of federal relations, UCR has been inviting key officials from Washington, D.C., to campus, such as Sonny Ramaswamy, the director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, to speak with our faculty,” Pazzani said. “Further, we have increased our investment in research infrastructure, our investment in seed funding, and our research development activities.  And we have added more staff involved in helping faculty write proposals.”

Several fields of study at UCR have benefited as a result. Data science has received generous federal funding in recent years, most notably, a grant from the National Science Foundation to Eamonn Keogh, a professor of computer science and engineering, to study machine learning for agricultural and medical entomology; a grant to Emma Aronson, an assistant professor of plant pathology and microbiology, from the National Science Foundation to allow for the collection of biogeochemistry and microbial ecology data, and the use of “EarthCube” software to analyze that data in new and interesting ways; and a grant from NASA to Bahram Mobasher, a professor of physics and astronomy, to develop research, education, training and collaborative opportunities in big data and visualization.

Kaitlin Chell is the director of federal relations in the Office of Governmental and Community Relations at UC Riverside. Photo credit: Konrad Nagy, UC Riverside.

Kaitlin Chell is the director of federal relations in the Office of Governmental and Community Relations at UC Riverside. Photo credit: Konrad Nagy, UC Riverside.

Research in material science at UCR also received substantial federal funding in the past decade. Besides the grants that Shi and Kisailus received (mentioned above), Alexander Balandin, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, received grants from the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation to study graphene synthesis and pyroelectric effects in nanostructured materials, respectively.

“The medical school, too, is starting to have a major impact on our federal funding,” Pazzani said.  “Some of our large grants are the ones that the School of Medicine received often in collaboration with faculty from other schools.”  These include a grant from the Department of Health and Human Services to Devin Binder, an associate professor of biomedical sciences, to study the optical detection of the preseizure state; a grant from the Department of Defense to Iryna Ethell, a professor of biomedical sciences, to study Fragile X syndrome; a grant from the Department of Health and Human Services to David Lo, a distinguished professor of biomedical sciences, to develop a multiphoton confocal microscope; and a grant from Department of Health and Human Services to Ilhem Messaoudi, an associate professor of biomedical sciences, to study the impact of maternal obesity on the neonatal immune system.

Pazzani believes the rising trend in federal grants UCR has received speaks to the quality of the faculty.

“We have high caliber faculty at UCR,” he said. “And our faculty are becoming increasingly competitive at the federal level.  Our office has hosted many workshops on campus to help researchers explore more opportunities at this level.  This is at least one explanation for why the number of proposals is up considerably – from 671 to 832, or a 24 percent jump, in just two years.”

Pazzani, who joined UCR in 2012, is not hesitant to make projections for the near future.

“We have a goal of tripling our funding in 10 years,” he said. “To do that, we need about a 12 percent annual increase.  I am happy to say UCR is on track to do that.”

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Michael Pazzani
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