Growth in research funding can spur innovation, economic development

December 01, 2008

University Park, Pa. -- Penn State reports a record $717 million in research funding for 2007-2008, ranking the University among top universities nationwide. Such a vibrant enterprise plays a key role in finding solutions to public problems and growing the economies in Pennsylvania and the nation, according to the University.

"Ideas and innovation are the most precious currency in the 21st century economy, driving new products, technologies and new ways of doing business and solving many of society's problems. Innovation can arise more readily from the outstanding basic research that undergirds our teaching, research and outreach missions at Penn State," says Eva Pell, senior vice president of research and dean of the Graduate School at Penn State.

For the past 20 years, the University's research enterprise has steadily risen from $226 million in 1989 to $717 million in 2008, which represents a 217 percent change.  Of the $717 million total, about $411 million were awarded by federal agencies led by the U.S. Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services.

For the past 10 years, industry and private research funding at Penn State has seen constant growth from $62 million in 1999 to nearly $105 million in 2008, an increase of 69 percent, despite at least several downturns in the U.S. economy during the same period.

"Our faculty scientists and scholars and their students are working closely in interdisciplinary teams, to approach issues from many different viewpoints, along with their partners in industry and communities," Pell notes.

Key examples of major research awards include:

--The Center for Nanoscale Science, a Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, won a National Science Foundation grant of $13.2 million over six years to continue its research and educational activities. The center is designed to foster collaborations that could lead to revolutionary new materials and processes.

-- The Penn State Vaccine Modeling Initiative is supported by a $10 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This research will evaluate the potential of vaccines to control deadly infectious disease outbreaks worldwide. The grant will fund the creation of computer simulations of epidemics -- showing worst-case and best-case outbreak scenarios -- and will be used to evaluate new vaccine technologies and modes of vaccine delivery.

-- Funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is supporting a joint project between the Department of Electrical Engineering and Penn State College of Medicine to merge the concepts of 3D imaging and endoscopy synergistically leading to a noninvasive analysis and visualization of the chest and lung cancer assessment. The endoscopic video is registered to 3D virtual image data to give the physician "augmented reality" information to better perform the endoscopy. The technology is being used on patients at Penn State Hershey Medical Center.

A 2007 report "Investing in Innovation" by the Pew Center on the States and National Governors Association says a majority of states are working with their research institutions to invest in research areas as diverse as nanotechnology, advanced manufacturing and alternative energy that meet the needs of existing businesses and nurture new businesses.

A 2004 economic study identified Penn State as the single largest contributor to Pennsylvania's economy with 24 locations generating $6.14 billion annually in direct net impact.

Penn State plans to further its cutting edge research in materials and life sciences by bringing together scientists and student teams from the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences and the Materials Research Institute in the planned Millennium Science Complex. The scientists are researching new technology that has the potential to revolutionize industries ranging from transportation and energy to medicine to agriculture.

The Hershey Center for Applied Research has its first private company tenant, Apogee Biotechnology Corp. Apogee, a spin-off of the Penn State College of Medicine's Department of Pharmacology, is developing chemical compounds that will inhibit the activities of sphingosine kinase, an enzyme known to drive cell proliferation and inflammation.

"Through top-ranked and funded research, a university can attract and build communities of talent and high-paying jobs to its state," Pell notes. "Through undergraduate and graduate education and workforce training, Penn State enables the state and the nation to remain competitive globally with a skilled workforce. In addition, large and small companies can tap into our faculty and student expertise and experience to find solutions for society and to move into new technologies and markets."

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Last Updated November 18, 2010