Montana State research expenditures top $200 million for first time
BOZEMAN — For a fourth straight year, Montana State University recorded an all-time high for research expenditures, which support scientific discovery, rural outreach and a variety of scholastic pursuits, as well as providing hands-on opportunities for students to engage in science and creative activities that build skills for careers after they earn their degrees.
MSU reported to the National Science Foundation that research activities accounted for roughly $201 million during the fiscal year that ended in June. That figure marks a 4% increase over last year’s total and the first time in Montana history that such expenditures at an institution of higher education have topped $200 million.
“The vast majority of these dollars come from the federal government and are won through incredibly competitive granting processes,” said Alison Harmon, MSU’s vice president for research and economic development. “This record is a credit to the work ethic, competitiveness and high caliber of our faculty.”
Exceeding $200 million in research expenditures is a metric set in MSU’s strategic plan, “Choosing Promise,” as part of the university’s goal of achieving the highest standards of research and creative outcomes. The plan calls for reaching that metric by 2024, meaning MSU has met the goal two years ahead of schedule.
“Research and creative activity makes a difference for the health and well-being of Montana’s people, our environment, food and fuel security, and our state’s growing industries,” Harmon said. “Research dollars help Montana State fulfill its land-grant mission by supporting the learning experience of students at all levels, providing resources for community engagement and allowing our faculty to reach their full potential in scholarship.”
Among MSU’s academic colleges, the College of Agriculture recorded the largest figure at $49 million, followed by the Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering at $22 million and the College of Letters and Science at $20 million. The Mark and Robyn Jones College of Nursing had a total of $15 million in expenditures, while the College of Education, Health and Human Development had $5 million.
The expenditures in 2021-2022 directly supported 755 undergraduates, providing funding through programs like MSU’s Undergraduate Scholars Program for students to work on research projects. The funds also supported 618 graduate students, up from 540 last year. A total of 478 faculty and professional staff served as principal investigators or co-investigators on grant projects.
Funding from federal agencies including the departments of Defense and Agriculture, NSF and NASA accounted for 89% of this year’s spending, with roughly 8% coming from private sources and the remainder coming from the state. During the fiscal year MSU researchers were awarded 689 new grants or contracts totaling $157 million, a 30% increase from last year. That funding will support research as it is spent over coming years.
MSU is one of only 146 institutions in the U.S. to receive an R1 designation for its very high research activity by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, and among those, MSU and Utah State University are the only two that also have an enrollment profile of “very high undergraduate.” MSU has also been named among the top universities in the world for its scientific impact and collaboration, ranking 163 out of the top 202 in the U.S. recognized for the largest contributions to international scientific journals by the CWTS Leiden Ranking.
“Our faculty and researchers continue to show why MSU is one of the top research institutions in the country,” said Bob Mokwa, MSU provost. “Their proposals get funded because Montana State is conducting impactful research that will ultimately improve lives in Montana and beyond, and their eagerness to involve our students and provide them the experience of being on the cutting edge is inspiring.”
Scholarship highlights from the past year include:
- Researchers from MSU’s College of Agriculture and Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering will collaborate with wheat producers around Montana to collect and analyze data as part of a 15-state precision agriculture project backed by a $4 million USDA grant.
- A project led by Anna Elliott, associate professor in MSU’s College of Education, Health and Human Development, aims to make clinical mental health counseling services more accessible to small communities across Montana. The work is supported by a five-year, $2.3 million U.S. Department of Education grant that MSU received in 2019.
- Under a four-year, $2.8 million grant from the U.S. Health Resources Services Administration, MSU’s Mark and Robyn Jones College of Nursing is addressing a rural nursing shortage by preparing nursing students for practice in community-based primary care settings and providing professional development opportunities to registered nurses.
- Researchers in MSU's Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering and Center for Biofilm Engineering are involved in three projects backed by $6.4 million from the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation to fine-tune algae's ability to convert sunlight and carbon dioxide into natural oils that can then be refined into vehicle fuels, plastics and more.
- Backed by a recent $3.4 million grant from U.S. Department of Energy, MSU researchers in the College of Letters and Science and College of Agriculture are investigating microorganisms that display the ability to extract important and useful metals from pyrite, an abundant mineral in the Earth’s crust.
- MSU researchers in MSU’s Center for Research on Rural Education are working to strengthen K-12 rural schools across the state by strengthening undergraduate rural teacher preparation and supporting skills development for licensed rural teachers under a $1.5 million grant MSU received in 2021.
- In April, nine filmmakers affiliated with MSU’s School of Film and Photography in the College of Arts and Architecture were awarded more than $375,000 in grants from the Montana Film Office to support their upcoming productions.
- With a new $1.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, engineering researcher Dilpreet Bajwa is leading a project to turn the pulp left over from processing sugar beets into a specialized material for improving how heat is captured and recycled in a variety of industrial settings.
- In a project led by Becky Hammack in the College of Education, Health and Human Development, an interdisciplinary team of MSU researchers in collaboration with three tribal colleges in the state is working to attract and retain underrepresented populations to future bioscience careers with a $1.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.
- As part of a renewed $63 million partnership with one of the nation’s top medical schools, MSU will play a leading role in improving medical care and public health across the Northwest through collaborative research.
- With a recent $20 million NSF grant, MSU physics and engineering researchers are establishing the MonArk Quantum Foundry to pioneer ways of harnessing quantum mechanics to generate advances in secure communications and innovative computing.
- Two MSU professors in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering won the NSF’s top award for early-career researchers, carrying funding of $600,000 or more: Yaofa Li is exploring innovative techniques for cooling supercomputers, while Cecily Ryan is leading a project to advance 3D printing so it could incorporate biological and biodegradable components.
- A team of materials science researchers led by Chelsea Heveran and Lewis Cox is using a $700,000 NSF grant to study bone cells called osteocytes with a goal of developing new treatments for bone weakness caused by aging.
- Jennifer Woodcock-Medicine Horse, instructor in the School of Art in MSU’s College of Arts and Architecture, received a $50,000 grant from the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums to create a multimedia website showcasing contemporary Native American art of the region.
- After participating in a variety of entrepreneurial support services and events in MSU’s Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship, a company founded by electrical and computer engineering professor Brock LaMeres was selected as a winner of NASA’s Entrepreneurs Challenge. LaMeres’s research team has received more than $5 million in NASA funding over the years to develop a radiation-tolerant computing technology that will head to the moon for testing in 2024.
- A recent $3 million grant from the NSF Research Traineeship program will support 21 doctoral students over five years as they study microbes known as extremophiles, which inhabit extreme environments and have important implications for industry.