OSU Sets Research Record


Photo: Oregon State University

Research funding at Oregon State University increased by more than $10 million in the last fiscal year to almost $450 million, setting a university record and marking the third time in four years that OSU’s research awards have totaled more than $400 million.

The impacts of OSU research reach worldwide through initiatives such as the Cooperative Institute for Climate, Ocean and Ecosystem Studies, a Wood Identification and Screening Center that helps thwart the global scourge of timber crime, and work to harness the power of big data in the fight against COVID-19.

“Oregon State University researchers continue to raise the bar and are providing far-reaching impact by addressing real-world problems in Oregon, the nation and around the world,” said OSU President F. King Alexander. “Despite a pandemic that limited work in labs and external settings, OSU researchers found ways to overcome these challenges to deliver innovative solutions to some of our planet’s most pressing issues, including COVID-19.”

OSU scientists dived into a range of work related to the pandemic, securing nine funding awards totaling more than $4 million, with several more coronavirus research proposals awaiting decision from funding agencies. Among the work already funded are projects involving the use of genetic messenger RNA nanotherapeutics for treating the disease and OSU’s TRACE-COVID-19 door-to-door sampling that’s taken community-wide virus testing to several Oregon cities.

“We are proud of our researchers’ accomplishments,” said Irem Tumer, OSU interim vice president for research. “Oregon State University researchers work across the spectrum of scientific endeavor, from basic, curiosity-driven projects to targeted applications that save lives and promote economic well-being.”

OSU recorded $449.9 million in research grants and contracts for the 2020 fiscal year, which ended on June 30, including almost $52 million from the Department of Energy for the PacWave South energy-testing site off the coast of Newport. The total funding is up from $439.7 million in 2019.

In 2017, OSU posted its highest level of annual funding to that point, $441 million, partly on receipt of a $122 million grant for construction of a new research vessel. The National Science Foundation provided OSU $88 million in 2018 for a second vessel – when the total research funding for the university was $381.6 million – and $108 million in 2019 for a third ship.

There was $25 million in supplemental research vessel funding this year, meaning this year’s total represents a 28% increase in grant-funded research over last year when the research vessel money is taken out of the equation.

Federal funding of $301.3 million accounts for 67% of OSU’s FY20 research grants and contracts. Funding from the Department of Health and Human Services increased 11%, to almost $30 million. State and local governments provided $15.2 million; foreign governments, $352,616; nonprofit organizations, including foundations, $14.1 million; and land grant formula funding, $82 million.

Among research highlights for the past year were projects to:

• Infuse artificial intelligence and robotic systems with more common sense, enabling machine learning in the manner of how a toddler learns ($8.7 million from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency).

• Examine tiny plastics and their potential impacts on aquatic life ($3.3 million from the National Science Foundation).

• Study harmful chemicals found at federally designated Superfund sites ($12.7 million from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences).

• Train the next generation of scientists studying natural products with the potential to enhance human health ($1.2 million from the National Institutes of Health).

The impacts of Oregon State research are broad and diverse. For example, researchers in the OSU College of Engineering are collaborating with industry and community colleges to help ensure that current and future workers in the manufacturing sector have access to high-quality engineering education and technical training. The goal is to create courses that give manufacturing workers access to the education they need to expand their skill sets and stay valuable, and help manufacturing employers fill openings with highly trained candidates.

OSU researchers received support from the National Institutes of Health for innovative studies exploring new therapies. For example, with engagement from Oregon Health & Science University, OSU scientists are developing a new, more effective treatment for cachexia, a deadly muscle-wasting syndrome that kills as many as 30% of the cancer patients it afflicts.

The Department of Energy is supporting the work of OSU College of Science researchers looking for a better way to scrub carbon dioxide from industrial smokestacks, paving the way to cleaner emissions.

“Partnerships, innovation and entrepreneurial activity are vital to the success of these projects,” Tumer said. “Continued research investments by industry reflect Oregon State University’s expanding leadership in fields from agriculture and human health to marine sciences, robotics, business, liberal arts and forestry. Our faculty are collaborating with businesses, communities and individuals in Oregon and across the world to solve problems and create new economic opportunities.”

OSU’s engagement with business and industry totaled $36.8 million – its fifth straight year of exceeding $30 million. Sources include technology licensing, contracts for testing, support through the Agricultural Research Foundation and research gifts through the OSU Foundation. Almost half of the revenues covered costs for technology testing services, which OSU labs do to document the performance of innovative products and services.

One business enabler is the Oregon State University Advantage Accelerator, which spurs commercialization through the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem. Such efforts have received funding through the state-authorized University Venture Development Fund, which allows donors to the OSU Foundation to receive a 60% tax credit for contributions. Over the past decade, donors to the Foundation have contributed more than $6 million to the fund.

OSU scientists have leveraged a new Accelerator Innovation Development Fund, which was created within the UVDF, to investigate the market potential of research-based innovations. Among the new startup concepts are:

• Pedianourish, a device that monitors glucose levels of diabetic premature infants and can also inject the appropriate amount of insulin to keep the babies stable.

• Spine by Design, a software algorithm predicting surgical outcomes by analyzing a database of X-rays, which allows for the optimal surgical procedure to be done the first time.

• Medema Labs, a software tool that optimizes the materials and processes used in the manufacturing of parts and assemblies used in the aerospace and transportation industries.

• RenewCat, a new surfactant and process to manufacture non-toxic detergents for commercial and home use.

“Our entrepreneurs are vigorously driving innovation toward commercialization thanks to their dedication and the assistance of OSU’s world-class research teams, the University Venture Development Fund and support of the Advantage Accelerator program,” said Brian Wall, OSU’s associate vice president for research, innovation and economic impact.

Source: Oregon State University