Energized by new funding opportunities that have opened up for basic and applied research, UCLA scientists had a record-breaking year in 2008-09 and reaped a total of $966.3 million in grant and contract awards. That's $50 million more than the previous record of $916.1 million set in 2006-2007.
"It's clearly a testament to the strength of our research enterprise and the excellence of our faculty," said Vice Chancellor for Research Roberto Peccei. Researchers went into high gear in response to the surge in funding opportunities triggered by the government's reinvestment in science, a commitment that preceded the Obama administration, as well as the infusion of stimulus money.
The awards are given by the government to fund specific research activities and cannot be used to offset budget cuts. But this vital revenue will support UCLA's research enterprise at a time when resources are stretched, said campus officials. And the remarkable achievement underscores UCLA's capacity to function as an economic engine, with the ability to create new jobs and spur economic development.
"There are few businesses in Southern California that grew by 10 percent during the last fiscal year," Peccei said, referring to the increase in contract and grant dollars from last year.
Arthur Toga, director of the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, submitted 31 proposals in the hope of getting stimulus money. One grant award has already come in. The lab will be able to purchase a supercomputer for $1.9 million.
The blitz of grant proposals at UCLA was heaviest between April 1 and June 15 when campus researchers scrambled to generate more than $1.05 billion in proposals — twice as many as usual. Roughly half of these proposals were for stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).
"The level of activity on the part of faculty has been nothing short of spectacular," said Peccei, who also had high praise for staff, especially the Office of Contracts and Grants. Most of the 2,400 grant proposals that were submitted during this blitz were processed by this office.
About $20 million in ARRA stimulus funding has come to UCLA so far after nearly 50 campus awards were made. The National Science Foundation, which awarded the most money, gave UCLA researchers $8.9 million. The biggest chunk, however, is still to come, research officials predict, because the National Institutes of Health (NIH), with $10 billion of stimulus money to distribute, is still reviewing some 20,000 proposals it has received. UCLA's giant biomedical research enterprise represents the largest sector of campus research.
"What we've seen so far is only the first wave of ARRA awards," said Associate Vice Chancellor for Research Administration Marcia Smith. "Our expectation is that we'll see a surge of awards in August and September."
The vast majority of the grants that came in during 2008-09 draw on non-ARRA funds.
"It's been a very positive distraction from all the other doom and gloom we are hearing," Peccei said, in contrast to the dismal state funding situation which has triggered horrendous budget cuts. "In my view, it's been very helpful to morale. The fact is that a large swath of faculty is finding opportunities to pursue their research dreams."
One of the largest grant awards during the last fiscal year went to UCLA and its 12 partner institutions — $24 million in federal funding to establish the University of California Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology, which will be based at UCLA's California NanoSystems Institute.
Andre Nel, right, chief of the Division of Nanomedicine at UCLA, heads a center that is being established with one of the largest grant awards that came in in 2008-09. The $24 million award is being used to establish the only research center of its kind to study the environmental impacts of nanotechnology. He is shown here with researcher Tian Xia.
The new center is under the direction of Dr. André Nel, chief of the Division of Nanomedicine at UCLA. It is the only center of its kind to focus on the study of environmental impacts of nanotechnology, Peccei said.
Last May, UCLA engineers scored a major coup in landing a multimillion-dollar Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the U.S. Department of Energy at $11.5 million over five years. Scientists will focus on the creation and production of nanoscale materials that will be used to convert solar energy into electricity, store electrical energy, and capture and separate greenhouse gases. The new center is directed by Vidvuds Ozolins, professor of materials science and engineering.
All of this research activity on campus will create jobs for technicians, postdoctoral scholars, study coordinators and others who will be hired to support the research work, although there is no way to predict accurately how many will be hired, Peccei said.
The boom in research will also benefit the local economy, he noted. New employees will be spending money on goods and services. And some of the awards are instrumentation grants to make large purchases of equipment.
The UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, for example, is buying a supercomputer, funded by $1.9 million in stimulus money from the National Center for Research Resources in the National Institutes of Health.
Lab director Arthur Toga, who submitted a total of 31 ARRA grant proposals in two months' time, said the new supercomputer will greatly enhance researchers' capacity to work with huge databases of brain images so that they can be compared. "There's a great deal of computation involved when you combine a lot of brain images," Toga said. "The ability to compute all this within a reasonable timeframe is going to give us a huge advantage."
The mathematics department, which has received the most stimulus money so far, was awarded two $2.5 million ARRA-funded National Science Foundation grants to jumpstart graduate students who are U.S. citizens and permanent residents into research. The grants will allow the math department to continue its highly successful program to train graduate students to do research in fields such as algebra, number theory and analysis, said Mathematics Professor Don Blasius.
Peccei, who traveled to Washington, D.C., this spring with four campus researchers, said everyone returned to campus energized by their meetings with Congressional staff, key committee members on the Hill, officials with the Office of Science, journalists and others.
Research at UCLA is very strong in the fields of energy and climate, biomedicine, computation and new materials, Peccei noted. "My guess is that this growth trend is going to continue in the new fiscal year, primarily because of the ARRA funding."