EUGENE, Ore. – (Sept. 11, 2015) – University of Oregon researchers continued to move the needle for research, scholarship and creative inquiry in 2014-2015, recording $114.6 million in grants, contracts and other competitive awards. The total represented a 3.9 percent increase from FY14. In all, 514 awards were received by 253 principal investigators, examining everything from substance abuse prevention to carbon nanotubes to disappearing languages.
UO faculty rose to the challenge of competing for increasingly scarce government research funding during the fiscal year that ended on June 30, said Brad Shelton, interim vice president for research and innovation.
“Our researchers remained very busy in FY15, securing grants and contracts that contributed millions of dollars to the Oregon economy,” Shelton said. “The climate for federally funded research dollars remains incredibly competitive, and yet our faculty members continued to outperform national success rates for awards from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Education.”
Research growth at the University of Oregon has been driven in part by increasing success with federal agencies. UO researchers were awarded $103.5 million in federal research grants in FY15, an increase of 6.3% in federal funding over the previous year. The UO has seen total growth in federal funding in excess of 5.1% over the last five years.
According to the National Science Foundation, federal obligations for research have dropped from a high of $36 billion in 2009 to $29 billion in 2013, the last year for which cumulative figures are available. Declines in funding from the Department of Health and Human Services accounted for more than half of the spending cuts.
Despite cutbacks in federal funding, researchers at the University of Oregon are securing more funding from the Department of Health and Human Services, driven in part by investments in the UO’s interdisciplinary research centers, which include the Institute for Molecular Biology, the Institute for Neuroscience, and the Prevention Science Institute.
Over the last five years, funding to the UO from the Department of Health and Human Services has increased by 17.4% to $35.4 million in FY2015. Research funding from the Department of Education has remained steady and National Science Foundation funding increased by 39% compared to five years ago to $21 million.
Researchers at the UO enjoy success rates well above the national average when applying for grants from the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Education, the three largest sources of federal funding to the UO. The majority of UO research proposals (78 percent) were submitted for federal funding. All together, UO researchers submitted 1,018 proposals requesting a total of $160.2 million in first-year funding, a 19% increase in proposal activity over five years ago.
Among the awards received in FY15 were:
- $9.1 million from the Department of Education to Judith Newman, co-director of Early Childhood CARES, to support early childhood special education in Lane County.
- $3.5 million from the Department of Education to Senior Research Associate Deanne Unruh for research into employment for youth with underdeveloped social skills.
- $3.4 million from the National Institutes of Health to counseling psychology professor Elizabeth Stormshak for substance abuse prevention research
- $3 million from the National Science Foundation to research assistant professor Christian Doabler to develop an intervention program for children with math difficulties.
- $2.5 million from the National Institutes of Health to biology professor John Postlethwait to develop new aquatic models for disease screening.
The UO, the state’s only Association of American Universities member, continues to generate research that inspires innovations, including new spinoff companies, the filing of 21 U.S. patent applications, and total licensing revenues of more than $8 million in FY15, an increase of 12.7% over the year before ($7.1 million).
Although the UO does not receive licensing revenue from an engineering school, the university had a return on investment (ROI) of 10.9% in FY15, placing it among the top universities nationally for return on research through licensing income. Last year, 90% of the licensing revenue received by the UO—more than $7.2 million—was reinvested into academic units, innovators, and the state of Oregon.
The UO’s tradition of pioneering innovation and entrepreneurship—which dates back decades to former graduate student Walter Brattain co-inventing the transistor in 1956 and track coach Bill Bowerman pioneering the modern running shoe and partnering with student athlete Phil Knight to found Nike—remains strong. UO’s involvement in the Oregon Regional Accelerator & Innovation Network (RAIN) continued in FY15 with the launch of the Paul Anthony Troiano RAINMaker Awards for Student Entrepreneurs, which funded five student startups this year.
A total of 16 startup companies have received mentoring assistance from the UO-sponsored RAIN Eugene Accelerator, the local branch of the state-sponsored network. Eight new companies are currently working with the accelerator this fall.
The UO provides 30 distinct programs for undergraduate research, including some of the longest running National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) programs. This year also saw the launch of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program and the Presidential Undergraduate Research Scholars (PURS) program, which is designed to increase the research opportunities for UO undergraduate students in the fields of chemistry, physics, and the geological sciences. Sixteen percent of undergraduate students report that they engaged in a formal research program at the UO while over a quarter of undergraduates participated in a community-based learning program.
“Research and discovery are ingrained in the culture at UO and our faculty members will continue to generate new knowledge and exciting discoveries every day on our campus,” Shelton said. “We will continue to build on the successes we’ve seen this year and stretch our research portfolio to explore new approaches to funding research.”