OSU faculty earn nearly $42 million in research grants in a single month


CORVALLIS, Ore. – Faculty at Oregon State University, already among the nation’s leading four-year research universities, have set a sizable new institutional record in monthly contracts and grants, earning nearly $42 million in September.

The total is about $7.5 million larger than OSU’s previous monthly high point, established in 2004-05, when two foundations combined to provide $24.5 million to the OSU-led Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans. By comparison, the largest grant in September 2011’s total came from the National Science Foundation -- $12 million for a green materials chemistry center being developed with partners from the University of Oregon and elsewhere.

Only three other grants among the month’s diverse 222 awards were in excess of $1 million. Federal departments from NASA to USDA – 13 agencies in all -- funded OSU studies, as did a long and diverse list of state agencies, private foundations, university partners and five separate industry interests, including Hewlett-Packard and major firms in energy exploration and development.

“Even as the funding environment becomes more competitive, our faculty consistently rise to the challenge, both at the federal level and in creating research partnerships with private industry and other research enterprises,” said OSU President Edward J. Ray. “This not only allows them to seek answers to the important questions being posed in their labs, but to involve our undergraduate and graduate students in the exciting process of discovery. That’s one of a growing number of reasons why more of the best and brightest students are choosing OSU – our research program provides experiential learning opportunities that simply aren’t available in many other places.”

The research projects are just as diverse as their funders. One aims to find more effective ways to prevent the spread of HIV among African-American youth, another will support testing of ocean wave energy technology while yet another will fund continued research in wheat program that has already bred the two most widely planted varieties in the Pacific Northwest.

The funding is vital to pushing the boundaries of research forward, and OSU plays an integral role in that regard. Faculty in some of its most prominent areas – the College of Agricultural Science, for instance – find their work cited by other scientists more often than those of any similar faculty in the United States. The university’s wave laboratory is the western hemisphere’s largest and most sophisticated for the study of tsunamis and wave energy and its nuclear energy department is the only university facility nationally authorized to test and certify reactor designs.

The funding also has a substantial economic impact in Oregon’s economy. Every dollar invested in university research generates as much as four additional dollars in economic activity through wages and purchases of goods and services, some experts say. By that measure, OSU’s September could have an economic impact on Oregon well in excess of $100 million.

“The diversity of our research program continues to expand through the entrepreneurial, competitive efforts of our outstanding faculty, and reflects the values and goals of our new research agenda” said OSU Research Vice President Rick Spinrad. “Success begets more success, helping to develop the strength of our research programs, attract the best and brightest students and lure even more outstanding faculty to OSU. So September shouldn’t be looked at as an anomaly, but as a harbinger of continued accomplishment and value to society in a variety of areas.”

The month’s largest gift, the $12-million NSF award, went to Distinguished Professor of Chemistry Douglas A. Keszler. As director of the Center for Green Materials Chemistry, he leads a multi-institutional effort to translate basic-level discoveries into the commercialization of new technologies. In the first phase of the Center, collaborating scientists at eight institutions applied environmentally friendly green-chemistry approaches to the synthesis and fabrication of compounds, thin films and composite materials. In the second phase, they seek to expand and accelerate that work through education of more students, postdoctoral fellow and faculty.

The outcome is hoped to be a new generation of materials built from chemicals that are less toxic than their predecessors for use in fields ranging from integrated-circuit manufacturing to medicine. Collaborators in the center include the Argonne and Lawrence Berkeley national laboratories, Washington University, Rutgers and more.

OSU’s efforts years ago earned the top ranking for research universities from the Carnegie Foundation. Last year, Carnegie also conferred its “community engagement” designation on OSU, making it one of only 23 land grant universities nationally to simultaneously hold both designations. The community engagement recognition is for comprehensive efforts to share the university’s intellectual treasure with the many external constituents OSU serves.

As its research program grows, OSU is increasingly turning discoveries into commercialized innovation. The university recently disclosed that licensing royalties from OSU patents exceeded $4 million in 2010-11, an increase of 63 percent over the previous year. The university has more than 100 active licenses in products ranging from Braille printers to a new pressure-sensitive adhesive technology that could be used in goods ranging from wound dressings to postage stamps.  

The work behind such product innovation led last year to recognition of Corvallis as America’s most innovative city in a study from Los Alamos National Laboratory. Home to OSU’s main campus, Corvallis was recognized for earning more patents per capita than any other city in the United States, many of them awarded to OSU faculty.