Work by Montana State University students and scientists in fields such as biochemistry, the environment, health and physics pushed the university to one of its strongest years ever for research.
Research and contract expenditures from state, private and federal funding sources topped $130.8 million for the fiscal year that ended in June, according to Renee Reijo Pera, MSU vice president for research and economic development. It marks the largest yearly total on record and a $12 million increase over the year before.
MSU researchers were more aggressive in pursuing grant funding in fiscal year 2017 than in any recent year. Faculty members wrote 1,729 grant applications over the past year, an increase of more than 100 over the previous year’s total. From those proposals, the university opened 562 new grant awards worth some $75.5 million, up more than 8 percent over the prior year.
Out of MSU’s research expenditures, $22.2 million was credited to the College of Letters and Science, the university’s largest college, with the departments of chemistry and biochemistry, cell biology and neuroscience, and ecology contributing heavily to total expenditures. The total for the Department of Microbiology and Immunology alone exceeded $8 million.
MSU’s College of Agriculture accounted for $19.4 million of the total. The college houses the departments of immunology and infectious diseases, plant pathology, and land resources and environmental sciences — three of the biggest contributors to research spending university-wide. The Montana Agricultural Experiment Station program also expended $16.7 million on research.
The College of Engineering accounted for $17 million in research spending, chiefly in electrical and computer engineering, the Center for Biofilm Engineering and the Western Transportation Institute.
Highlights from the past year’s research and scholarship include:
In October, a regional team led by MSU environmental science professor Paul Stoy in the Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences in the College of Agriculture received $6 million from the National Science Foundation to research how biofuels and carbon capture technologies can be sustainably introduced into the Upper Missouri River Basin.
The College of Nursing’s Caring for Our Own Program, designed to help Native Americans succeed in nursing, received a grant worth nearly $1 million in October from the Indian Health Service. The college also operates the MSU Center for American Indian and Rural Health Equity, founded in 2014 with a $10.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.
MSU’s Western Transportation Institute, part of the College of Engineering, won a $7.5 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant in December to lead research to improve mobility.
Connie B. Chang, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering in the College of Engineering, received a $1.3 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in January to push the boundaries of a new approach for treating the flu and other fast-evolving viruses that resist traditional vaccines.
Also in January, two MSU projects in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering received $400,000 from NASA for work on radiation-resistant computers and the study of gamma-ray bursts in thunderclouds.
In April, MSU virologist Michelle Flenniken in the Department of Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology in the College of Agriculture won a National Science Foundation CAREER Award of more than $500,000 that will fund her research into the ways that honeybees fight off viral pathogens.
In June, Erik Grumstrup, an assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry in the College of Letters and Science, was one of eight in the U.S. to win a 2017 Young Investigator Award from the Arnold O. and Mabel Beckman Foundation. The four-year, $750,000 award will further his study of nanomaterials, which are critical to cellphones, solar cells and other advanced electronics.
NASA awarded MSU physicist Nicolas Yunes in the College of Letters and Science a $750,000 grant in July to study the extreme gravity of neutron stars and black holes.