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IOWA CITY — The pandemic over the past year may have hindered Iowa’s public university operations in many ways. But it also heightened their research endeavors and amplified their scientific missions — such as the need for effective COVID-19 treatments and vaccines — and it showed in their funding totals.
Both University of Iowa and Iowa State University this week reported new external funding records for the budget year that wrapped June 30.
The UI — involved in coronavirus vaccine and treatment trials that have benefited the nation and world — reported double-digit percentage spikes in several funding categories, starting with its 23 percent jump in total external funding, from last year’s record-setting $666.2 million to $818 million for fiscal 2021.
In research-specific funding from public and private sources, the UI saw a 31 percent increase from last year’s $535.5 million to $702.4 million in the 2021 budget year, according to the UI Office of the Vice President for Research.
Its funding from federal agencies increased 24 percent — thanks in part to COVID-19-related government relief and stimulus funding that enabled some of the supported UI research.
Iowa State University — the state’s other top-tier public research campus — soared past its previous total external funding record of $509.2 million in 2018 with a reported $559.1 million in the 2021 budget year.
That total includes $231.1 million in research-specific funding — $154.8 million from federal sources, according to ISU Strategic Relations and Communications. As with the UI, the ISU total includes COVID-related higher education relief funding — $90.2 million, specifically.
The ISU total represents a 13 percent increase over last year’s $494.7 million.
External funding typically is designated for specific purposes, professors, or research endeavors and can’t be used like general fund dollars to support non-specific university operations.
Leaders at both institutions issued statements in reporting out the banner year praising their faculty for persisting despite pandemic conditions that — in some cases — paused projects or created new hurdles while simultaneously heightening their work’s relevance and consequence.
“The logistical challenges COVID-19 presented for conducting research and scholarship, particularly work involving human subjects, were enormous,” UI Vice President for Research Marty Scholtz said. “In spite of that, our faculty and staff worked tirelessly day after day to continue developing medicines, explore space, create art, and expand our understanding of the world and our place in it.”
ISU Vice President for Research Peter Dorhout said his campus’ investigators remained “committed to relevance and purpose, whether it’s unearthing answers to larger questions through fundamental research, or applied research that translates to new innovations that can be commercialized to grow our economy and benefit our society.”
Both campuses received a majority of their external funding from federal sources, such as the Department of Energy, Department of Agriculture, National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, and NASA.
The UI reported a 65 percent increase in its National Science Foundation funding this year over last and a 288 percent spike in NASA funding — amounting to a $26.5 million increase, from $9.2 million last year to $35.7 million in fiscal 2021.
That NASA increase came largely through UI Physics and Astronomy Professor Craig Kletzing’s TRACERS project — which in 2019 won the university it’s largest-ever external research grant of $115 million, to be doled out over several years.
That Tandem Reconnection and Cusp Electrodynamics Reconnaissance Satellites project aims to explore the interactions between magnetic fields of the Earth and sun.
COVID-19-related research at UI included, among other things, clinical trials of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine and research into how the UI-based State Hygienic Lab’s experience meeting the high demand for COVID testing might inform responses to future infectious disease outbreaks.
One COVID-related research endeavor at Iowa State involved federal funding for the development of “better, cheaper, quicker, and more accessible testing for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.”
Other funded research
- The ISU-based and led Agriculture and Rural Communities Wireless Living Lab for Smart and Connected Rural Communities recently won a five-year $16 million grant to test and develop “affordable, high-capacity rural broadband technology.”
- A five-year $7 million Cyber-Physical Systems Frontier award from the National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Agriculture will enable ISU researchers through a COALESCE project to investigate layered technologies to help farmers fertilize, weed, and cull single plants in a field.
Through developments such as sensors, machine learning, artificial intelligence, robots and drones, farmers could move away from reliance on heavy machinery and broadcast spraying.
- A $590,000 grant from the U.S. Army Medical Research Acquisition Activity is supporting ISU research into 3D systems and screening to enhance colorectal cancer treatment.
University of Iowa
- A UI team led by neuroscience and pharmacology professor Dawn Quelle landed $2.7 million in NIH funding to explore the role specific cancer pathways play in neuroendocrine tumors, which are “clinically challenging malignancies whose cases are on the rise.”
- The UI College of Engineering received a five-year, $2.9 million Iowa Economic Development Authority grant to help the UI IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering aid rural communities in wastewater management.
The grant will enable instrument installation at the Iowa Wastewater and Waste-to-Energy Research Program Innovation Center and Tech Park in Iowa City.
- UI history professor Colin Gordon garnered $60,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities to “examine segregation and race-restrictive covenants in St. Louis between 1890 and 1950.”
- UI Stanley Museum of Art Director Lauren Lessing obtained $220,000 through the federal COVID-related CARES Act to collaborate with the UI Pentacrest Museums, UI Office of the State archaeologist, and UI Libraries to develop “synchronous virtual programs” to help seniors and senior living communities in Iowa — often-underserved and COVID-vulnerable populations — increase their sense of connection and engagement.
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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