Third-quarter report indicates significant increase in research awards

BLACKSBURG, Va., May 26, 2005 – This year, the Office of the Vice President for Research at Virginia Tech began to report sponsored program activity on a quarterly basis. As it happens, the news is good. With the fiscal year nine months over, research awards are up 34.5 percent compared to the same period a year ago.

The first quarterly report was issued in January for the first half of fiscal year 2005 (The university's fiscal year ends June 30), and the second report came out in April for the first three quarters. Awards totaled $150.7 million as of the end of March 2005. "These are largely multi-year awards," said Brad Fenwick, vice president for research. "It means there is at least $150 million in the pipeline, probably over the next three years, even if we didn't receive another award – which will not be the case."

"Awards" are grants and contracts from various public agencies and private businesses to perform research. They range from funding for exploratory research in new areas to contracts for work to solve specific problems or develop technology. Awards include major instrumentation that continues to serve the research and education enterprise after the funding period concludes. And some agencies require curriculum development so that the next generation of scientists can continue work, particularly in areas that are national priorities.

Major awards that contributed to the third-quarter increase include:

Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, directed by Bruno Sobral, received four of the top 20 awards. VBI received $16.8 million in the first three quarters of 2005, including $4.9 million from Aberdeen Proving Grounds for PathPort, a computer-based tool that collects and collates genetic information about pathogens and uses powerful analysis and visualization tools to aid in rapid identification of and response to high-priority pathogens.

VBI first released PathPort in 2003 and it has become a national resource. Aberdeen Proving Grounds is funding its further development as "a common asset for biological security." The National Institutes of Health awarded $4.1 million for VBI to be one of eight Bioinformatics Resource Centers for biodefense and emerging/re-emerging infectious diseases. VBI researchers lead by Brett Tyler received two National Science Foundation (NSF) grants totaling $2.4 million for the year (NSF only authorizes annual award amounts) to research soybean resistance to phytophthora, a fungus that causes rot, and to sequence the genome of the downy mildew, peronospora parasitic.

The Institute for Policy Outreach, directed by Joseph Rees in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, received $5.2 million over two years from the Virginia Department of Social Services. The award continues a collaboration to improve social service delivery in Virginia and expand the programs and projects executed by the Financial Resource Utilization Technical Assistance Team, which have resulted in state savings and increased federal contributions of more than $13 million so far. The team developed new business practices and case management approaches to improve services to individuals, identified foster care and other social services that qualify for federal funding, and increased training of state and local social service employees.

"The institute uses a management laboratory approach to engage practitioners, academic leaders, students, and the private sector in processes of policy and program review, research, design, and implementation," Rees said. "This approach establishes an environment for innovative collaboration between the university, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and the private sector to develop creative yet realistic policy and program solutions for citizens and communities."

Faculty members in the College of Engineering received $47.4 million in awards, a 28.3 percent increase compared to the first three quarters of the previous year. Grants included $4.5 million from the NSF as one year of a five-year award (NSF only authorizes annual awards) to the Center for Power Electronic Systems, a multi-university NSF Engineering Research Center directed by Fred Lee; $3.2 million from the Office of Naval Research for development of an advanced wireless integrated Navy network by Warren Stutzman and colleagues; $2.7 million from the Department of Energy to Roe-Hoan Yoon and the multi-university Center for Advanced Separation Technologies, which is developing new coal and mineral processing technologies.

Researchers in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences received $21.1 million in awards, which is actually only a 4.3 percent increase for that college. Virginia Tech is 11th in the nation in agricultural research, according to the NSF. One large grant in 2005 was $3.2 million from the Virginia Department of Social Services to Ruby Cox, professor; Mary McFerren, project director; and Elena Serrano, assistant professor in human, nutrition, foods and exercise for their ongoing development of a nutrition education program for people who receive food stamps.

In the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, $7.4 million in awards represents a 39.6 percent increase. M. David Alexander, professor of educational leadership and policy studies, received $2 million for the Training and Technical Assistance Center, which works to improve educational opportunities and contribute to the success of children and youth with disabilities, and $954,490 for Virginia VIEW, a program that helps Virginians plan careers. Both awards are from the Virginia Department of Education.

The Office of International Research, Education, and Development has received $4.1 million so far this year from the U.S. Agency for International Development as part of a $34 million, five-year award to manage the Integrated Pest Management international Collaborative Research Support Program (CRSP) and the Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resource Management CRSP.

"Faculty members' research activity and success in attracting funding during fiscal year 2005 certainly makes up for the slump the university experienced in 2004," Fenwick said.

"When we were preparing information for the board of visitors research committee early this year, we decided to send the reports to the faculty as well. Members of the university community are very interested in the university's advancement as a research enterprise. More frequent reporting lets the community know how we are doing and areas where we are excelling," Fenwick said.