MSU Records Yet Another Strong Year for Research
BOZEMAN — As it kicks off a year of celebrating how research enhances undergraduate education, Montana State University announced Monday that externally funded scholarship at the state’s largest research university reached another all-time high in 2018-2019.
For the fiscal year that ended in June, MSU’s research and contract expenditures from state, private and federal funding sources totaled $138.8 million, according to Vice President for Research, Economic Development and Graduate Education Jason Carter. That marks a 9.5% increase over the previous year’s expenditures and the sixth year in a row that MSU research expenditures have topped $100 million.
“It's exciting to be joining Montana State at a time when the research and creative enterprise is on the rise," said Carter, who started in his position three weeks ago. "MSU’s faculty, students and staff are dedicated to improving society through new insights into the world around us, new technologies, and much more."
The record year of expenditures comes as MSU was again classified as R1 in the Carnegie Classification for "very high research activity," making it one of only 131 universities nationwide in that category and the only one in the five-state region of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and North and South Dakota — and one of only two nationally also classified as Very High Undergraduate enrollment. Additionally, on March 26-28, more than 4,000 university students from across the U.S. will visit MSU for the National Conference on Undergraduate Research. MSU has named the 2019-2020 academic year the Year of Undergraduate Research to celebrate scientific discovery and creative activity on campus, in the Bozeman community and across Montana.
Of the expenditures across MSU, the College of Agriculture had the largest share of the total with $37.2 million, $16.1 million of which were recorded by the Montana Agricultural Experiment Station. Letters and Science had research expenditures of $22.3 million, led by the departments of chemistry, physics and ecology. The Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering had research expenditures of $18.3 million, led by its Western Transportation Institute, Center for Biofilm Engineering and Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering.
A total of 565 faculty and professional staff served as principal investigators or co-investigators on grant projects, with a total of 1,100 grant proposals submitted over the past year. Awarded grants and other funding totaled $485.9 million. This includes the sum of grants and awards won by MSU faculty during the year but which will be expended over time frames ranging from months to years.
“Those cumulative award figures indicate a commitment to Montana State’s research enterprise — both now and over the next several years,” Carter said. “Competition for grant money is fierce, and the fact that MSU’s faculty are performing as they are is a testament to their deep dedication to research, scholarship and higher education.”
Scholarship highlights from the past year include:
- NASA selected a radiation-tolerant computer prototype developed by electrical engineering professor Brock LaMeres as one of 12 payloads to journey to the moon's surface as part of the agency's Artemis lunar program. Since its inception, the project has involved more than 130 MSU students.
- The National Institutes of Health awarded a five-year, $17.6 million grant to the Montana INBRE program to continue its work growing the state’s biomedical research capacity and training new scientists in fields related to human health.
- MSU agriculture faculty started a four-year, $2 million project to develop new strategies for combatting field bindweed and creeping thistle in organic crops.
- Physicist John Sample is leading a $3 million NASA-funded project to study a mysterious atmospheric phenomenon similar to the aurora using a high-altitude balloon launched from Sweden.
- An interdisciplinary team of 22 Montana researchers, including MSU scientists Stephanie Ewing and Robert Walker, was awarded $20 million by the National Science Foundation to study how nutrients and contaminants affect water quality in the upper Clark Fork River, the Judith River watershed and the Powder River Basin.
- Engineering assistant professors Stephanie McCalla and Anja Kunze each won $500,000 NSF CAREER grants, the premier award for early-career researchers. McCalla is developing biosensors that could be used to improve diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease or traumatic brain injury; Kunze studies the tiny electrochemical signals that occur between brain cells, with possible applications for treating Alzheimer's.
Blake Wiedenheft, associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology continued to make groundbreaking discoveries about CRISPR, the bacterial immune defense system that has been repurposed for gene editing. Andrew Santiago-Frangos, a postdoctoral researcher in Wiedenheft's lab, won a prestigious $186,000 fellowship from the Life Sciences Research Foundation.
- David Mogk, Earth sciences professor, published a comprehensive article about nanomaterials in the journal Science.
- Health and human development researchers Mark Schure and Katey Franklin launched projects aimed at strengthening behavioral health in youth across the state.
- A team led by MSU land resources and environmental science professor John Priscu drew international media attention after boring through 3,500 feet of Antarctic ice to make the first study of life in a subglacial lake near the South Pole.
- An international research team led by MSU epidemiologist Raina Plowright won a $10 million grant from the U.S. Defense Department to unravel the complex causes of bat-borne diseases such as Nipah virus that have recently made the jump to humans.
- A project co-led by James Wilking, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering, and Matthew Fields, director of MSU's Center for Biofilm Engineering, won a $679,000 grant from the research wing of the U.S. Army to apply advanced 3-D printing to answering fundamental questions about biofilms.
Students and faculty in MSU's School of Arts and Architecture and Department of Education partnered with school district officials in Augusta, Montana, to design a model home that could be built on school property and used as teacher housing.
- Maggie Thorsen, assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, and Andreas Thorsen, assistant professor of management in the Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship, received $120,000 from the Center for American Indian and Rural Health Equity to study how variations across health centers affect efficiency and patient health outcomes.
- A team of faculty and students in MSU's College of Education, Health and Human Development and the College of Arts and Architecture, including professors Christine Stanton, Lucia Ricciardelli and Jioanna Carjuzaa, partnered with several American Indian tribes across the state to provide tools to record important oral histories and bring digital storytelling to life.
- Laura Larsson, professor in MSU's College of Nursing, and the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services received a $1.7 million, four-year grant to address oral health needs in young children across Montana, primarily in American Indian communities.
MSU Extension Plant Pathologist Mary Burrows, along with a team of scientists from Montana, North Dakota and Washington, won a $3.2 million grant to conduct a four-year project investigating lentil root rot and effective ways to combat it.
Out of MSU’s total, approximately $11.4 million in expenditures supported student research opportunities, including undergraduate awards and funding for graduate research assistants. Over the past year at MSU, research opportunities led to major scholarship and award wins, including National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships.
In April, four MSU undergraduates won the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship, the nation’s premier scholarship for undergraduates studying math, natural sciences and engineering. Their scholarships pushed MSU’s total number of Goldwater Scholars to 74; MSU is now tied for ninth in the nation for Goldwater recipients, ahead of Cornell University and Yale University, and ranks third among universities in the western U.S. behind Stanford and Caltech.
Recipient Ellen Brooks has researched non-invasive treatments for osteoarthritis in the lab of Ron June; Brenden Pelkie studied complex fluid flows in the Magnetic Resonance Laboratory; Carter McIver worked in Cecily Ryan's lab to develop bio-based composites with application in 3-D printing; and Garrett Peters worked with Seth Walk to research bacteria in the human gut microbiome.
“For the next five years, we will be aligning the university’s research mission with its strategic plan, 'Choosing Promise,' which has four grand challenges that focus on the environment; promoting health and wellness; advancing food and fuel security; and keeping Montana and the nation secure through research in cybersecurity, defense, governance and public policy. We will also be advancing interdisciplinary research through our University of the Yellowstone initiative,” Carter said. “It is going to be a very busy and exciting time for MSU and the state of Montana.”