University rises 12 places in National Science Foundation ranking based on 2007 research expenditures

BLACKSBURG, Va., Aug. 27, 2008 – Based on research expenditures of $366.9 million in 2007, Virginia Tech ranked 42nd out of 662 universities nationwide, according to the National Science Foundation (NSF) Info Brief for the fiscal year 2007 Academic R and D Expenditures Survey, which was posted Aug. 21, 2008. In fiscal year 2006 (ending June 30, 2006), Virginia Tech ranked 54th with total research and development expenditures of $321.7 million.

“I am incredibly proud of our faculty and their commitment to discovery and scholarship,” said Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger.

“The rise in the rankings is exciting,” said Robert Walters, vice president for research. “More importantly, we are about $35 million ahead of our strategic plan goal to achieve $540 million in research expenditures by 2012. This is partly the result of the investments that have been made in research over the past several years by the university and the commonwealth, and partly due to the increased competitiveness of our faculty.”

Rodd Hall, associate vice president for research at Virginia Tech, said, “The rise in rankings is the result of our 14 percent growth compared to an average increase in research and development expenditures at academic institutions of 3.5 percent last year.”

Virginia Tech’s growth comes despite a slowdown in federal support for academic research in science and engineering. According to Ronda Britt of the National Science Foundation Division of Science Resources Statistics, writing for InforBrief, federal funding of academic science and engineering research and development failed to outpace inflation for the second year in a row. In current dollars, federally funded academic research and development expenditures rose 1.1 percent in fiscal year 2007 to $30.4 billion. After adjusting for inflation, this represents a 1.6 percent decline from fiscal year 2006. The federal government remains the largest source of academic research and development funding, accounting for more than 60 percent of total research and development expenditures.

Hall told the research committee of the board of visitors on Sunday, Aug. 24, that 2007 marked 10 straight years of growth in National Science Foundation-reported research expenditures at Virginia Tech despite the closing of the Waste Policy Institute several years ago, which at one time had $30 million in research contracts. “The statistics released last Thursday by [the National Science Foundation] show that we’ve grown by over twice the national average in the last three years (11 percent versus 5 percent) and just under twice the national average over the last five years (10 percent versus 6 percent),” he said.

Hall said Virginia Tech is well positioned to continue to move forward as predicted by the proposals researchers submitted to funding agencies in 2008. There was a 24 percent increase in the amount of funds being requested. The numbers of proposals submitted have remained constant, but the average amount has increased from $300,000 to $400,000. “There is a high correlation between proposals and expenditure growth,” Hall said.

Among those that Virginia Tech passed in the rankings for 2007 were the University of Iowa, Michigan State, the University of Maryland, the University of Georgia, the University of Kentucky, and North Carolina State University. The University of Cincinnati was the only school to pass Virginia Tech in expenditures.

Robert Walters pointed out that 2007 saw several multimillion dollar, multidiscipline proposals and collaborations with other universities, and that new proposals are continuing that trend, in keeping with the university’s strategic plan to do interdisciplinary research in target areas of critical interest to the state and the nation, such as energy, health, and security. The Institute for Critical Technology and Science, Fralin Life Science Institute, and the Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment provide support such as start up programs for faculty members, research infrastructure, and student support and the Office of the Vice President for Research has programs to help with proposal writing, and project management.

Virginia Tech’s two major discipline-specific institutes, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute continue to be successful in their rates of growth.

Various breakdowns:

Examples of research projects that began in 2007 are:

The Army Research Office awarded a Multi-University Research Initiative (MURI) grant, potentially worth $7.5 million, to scientists from Virginia Tech, the University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania State University, and Drexel University to develop electromechanical devices and high-performance membranes using ionic liquids. Tim Long, chemistry professor in the College of Science at Virginia Tech, is the principal investigator. Applications include fuel cell membranes and stimuli-responsive materials for micro sensors and smart clothes, said Long. Membranes can also be created that will bend, stretch, or change shape in response to a low voltage, like an artificial muscle.

Dr. Elankumaran Subbiah, assistant professor of biomedical sciences and pathobiology in the Virginia Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, received the Department of Defense “Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program” award to look at how a genetically modified variant of Avian Newcastle disease virus can treat human prostate cancer.

Ongoing research that received funding in 2007 includes:

Expenditures include research projects paid for (sponsored) by state and federal agencies, private foundations, and industry, as well as institutional and state investment in research, both direct and indirect. Institutional investment includes equipment and utilities, while state investment includes salaries and facilities. Virginia Tech's fiscal year ends June 30, but it takes more than a year for National Science Foundation rankings because of the number of institutions and differing accounting periods.