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RIT research funding climbs

Even in a bad economy, it was a good year for sponsored research at Rochester Institute of Technology. 

The college’s annual report shows that for the fiscal year ended June 30 it received $58.4 million in new research awards. The funding represents a 20 percent increase from the $48.5 million RIT brought in during the previous fiscal year. 

The growth comes in part because of a greater effort by RIT to encourage research proposals. There was a 30 percent increase in the number of individuals writing research proposals this year, creating a 50 percent jump in the number of proposals. Faculty members submitted close to 600 proposals in all. 

By research area, projects dealing with sustainability accounted for 42 percent of all funding and the Golisano Institute for Sustainability led all individual colleges within RIT with $18.7 million. Imaging and biotechnology were identified as the other key areas for research, garnering 23 percent and 13 percent of all funding respectively. 

The College of Science brought in the second most with $8.9 million. The National Technical Institute for the Deaf brought in $8.2 million, and the Kate Gleason School of Engineering brought in $6.5 million.

By comparison, the University of Rochester pulled in close to $389 million in sponsored research for the previous fiscal year.

The bulk of the growth came in RIT’s core strengths, said David Bond, director of sponsored research services at the university. 

"We’ve seen a lot of growth in the areas we continue to be good at," Bond said. "I think we’re leading the world in some areas related to sustainability and some very advanced research related to imagery. We get a lot of broad federal support, especially in these areas." 

Federal funding made up $36.7 million. Bond said that because federal budgets were set before the economic downturn, there was no drop in research money available. He also noted that the federal government has maintained its commitment to research funding, though there have been some challenges with corporate sponsorships. 

Within the federal portion, agencies from the defense and intelligence communities funded a collective $14.5 million. The Department of Education provided $6.4 million, most of which supported research at NTID. 

The state budget also was largely set before the economic downturn, so there have not yet been reductions in state funding, but Bond noted that in the current turbulent times, nothing is guaranteed. State funding made up $7.9 million of total sponsored research for the last fiscal year, while corporate sponsorships brought in $11 million. 

The report notes that the past fiscal year was the second full year of the Corporate Research initiative, which encourages more collaboration with industry. The program puts corporate projects in the hands of RIT faculty members and graduate students, allowing companies to retain intellectual property rights and giving RIT the right to publish research results. 

Donald Boyd, RIT vice president for research, said endless negotiations over intellectual property rights had impeded these kinds of relationships in the past. The program will help companies keep research and development costs low while giving RIT greater funding for projects, he said. 

Corporations in the program pay RIT by the quarter, including a fee for owning the rights to the intellectual property. The program has found support with local companies, including Paetec Holding Corp. and Carestream Health Inc. 

"This is an important part of growing several of our corporate relationships," Boyd said. 

Boyd attributes much of the increase to the emphasis RIT president William Destler and Provost Jeremy Haefner have placed on research. Destler established a goal of reaching $100 million of new annual sponsored research within the next four years, and the college has in turn encouraged more faculty members to seek funding. 

This year RIT held a "boot camp" for grant writers that included a peer review experience. The workshop brought in a record class of 42, six of whom received funding from proposals developed there. 

Boyd said there could be more chances for funding from federal stimulus spending, but the application process is slow and any funding would not be certain until next year. He noted that agencies such as the National Science Foundation, the Energy Department and the Department of Health and Human Services are expanding research funding.

Any funding RIT receives will continue to be driven by the expertise of its faculty, Boyd said. A new partnership with the Rochester General Health System means that more opportunities for biotechnology research could arise as faculty and programs grow in that area. 

"I wouldn’t have thought five years ago that an institute of technology would have a role in biomedical research, but we have people working in the advanced development of that, and enrollment in our biology and life sciences academic programs is growing too," Boyd said. 

rbj@rbj.net / 585-546-8303



09/04/09 (C) Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303. 



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