University nets record research funding from stimulus, Gates foundation

Computer science professor Ian Foster received the largest grant, $32 million, from the National Science Foundation.

By Amy Myers

U of C researchers received a record $471.8 million in federal and private grants last year to fund projects on counter-bioterrorism and studies of dark energy, among others.

The 11 percent increase from last year was due in part to last fall’s stimulus bill, according to Donald Levy, vice president for research and national laboratories at the University.

Levy said a changing attitude in Washington, affected by the economic downturn, contributed to the all-time high. “There’s been an articulated desire to increase research,” he said.

Computer science professor Ian Foster received the largest grant, $32 million, from the National Science Foundation. The grant will fund Foster’s work on the TeraGrid, a network to link researchers across the country.

“It’s not so much a research project as an infrastructure project,” Foster said. He said the system of supercomputers and the creation of cyber-infrastructure will positively affect the way scientists conduct research.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded economics research professor Robert Townsend $15 million for the Social Sciences Division’s Consortium for Financial Systems and Poverty. The group will compile data on regulations in poor countries to “understand better and, hopefully, make some improvements in the way financial sectors function,” Townsend said.

Townsend emphasized the unique, cooperative nature of the consortium to discover the best possible solutions. “There are a variety of approaches. We relish in and are trying to promote collaboration among a variety of researchers, he said.

Whether or not this year’s numbers represent a trend is unknown. “I hope it’s a trend,” Levy said. “I think we’re going to do very well in competing with what’s available out there.” He cautioned that the current government’s budget deficit limits the amount of research funding awarded each year.

According to Townsend, the 11 percent increase does not reflect the current economic climate. “I think that, actually, the University went against the trend over all. Many institutions and foundations lost money in the financial area,” he said.

Townsend said his grant indicates a larger movement in research. “I think there is an overall trend toward philanthropy. Donations and foundations are playing a bigger role in research,” Townsend said. “[The University is] bucking the long-term trend and taking advantage of the short term.”