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The University of Rochester has received $34.5 million in federal stimulus funding for an array of projects over the last six months, and the money supported 116 jobs and boosted sponsored research after a dip in that funding during the previous fiscal year, university officials announced Thursday.

Through Sept. 30 the university has received 131 awards under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that support  research projects in fields such as medicine, engineering and physics. In its first quarterly report to the federal government, sent Oct. 10, UR reported that the equivalent of 35 full-time jobs had been funded as a result. The jobs created are a mix of new positions and others with funding about to expire. UR provost Ralph Kuncl said that as more funding comes in, he expects research jobs to grow.

President Joel Seligman said the funds not only help to create and save jobs but also "represent a critical investment in our nation’s economic future growth by investing in scientific innovation." Even more growth is predicted throughout the fiscal year, since stimulus grants come in on a rolling basis and those received near the end of the reporting period might not yet have payroll expenditures.

The results are expected to improve the total sponsored research funding UR receives, which fell 9 percent to $354 million in the fiscal year ending June 30.

A large increase in funding for the university’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics helped bring the fiscal 2008 total to $389 million. For the three-year period from 2005 to 2007, sponsored research had been consistently in the range of $351 million to $360 million.

Money from foundations also fell $5 million in 2009. Kuncl said this drop reflects the drastic spending cuts many foundations enacted after the stock market decline of late 2008 and early 2009.

Seligman has set a goal for UR to rank among the top 20 research universities in the nation by 2016; in science funding, the university ranked No. 27 in 2007.

In September, Rochester Institute of Technology reported $58.4 million in new research awards for the fiscal year ended June 30.

Kuncl said looking at sponsored research expenditures paints a more accurate picture of the consistent, year-after-year growth UR has experienced. Expenditures have risen at a steady rate over the last five years, reaching $377 million in the latest fiscal year.

The stimulus gains should help to offset stagnant federal funding growth, particularly non-stimulus grants through the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation, Kuncl said. He expects UR to continue to be competitive for stimulus grants, since close to 10 percent of its applications have been successful thus far.

Stimulus funding should bring a 10 percent to 15 percent jump in sponsored research for the current fiscal year and the two following years, Kuncl predicted. Beyond that, he said, it is uncertain whether other funding sources such as the NIH and NSF will make up the difference when stimulus funds end.

"We expect that baseline will grow over the next year or two because of the huge impact of the ARRA funding," Kuncl said. "That will inevitably, as with every research institution, create a bubble for a year or two. Then one doesn’t know if it will return to the baseline or bounce around for a while."

The stimulus grants and the jobs they create are much more tenuous than past federal grants, Kuncl noted. Most funding received through the NIH and NSF lasts three to five years, but stimulus grants are shorter, typically two years, he said.

This adds to the atmosphere of uncertainty and will create a stronger incentive for researchers to seek other funding sources, Kuncl said.

"Most successful researchers, if they’ve hired someone to work on a project and that project is going to run out in two years, will work very hard in that second year to get funding elsewhere to keep that project going and keep that person who has intense loyalty and is necessary to the project," he said. "One hopes the total NIH and NSF budgets will reach some higher equilibrium, but there’s a political unknown, and that creates a stronger motivation for our researchers to look for other funding."

In the next few years, UR will open facilities that will greatly improve its chances of receiving new grant funding, Kuncl said. The university is building a $76 million Clinical and Translational Science Building that would offer expanded opportunities for biomedical research funding, he noted.

To date, UR has received stimulus funding for projects that include the development of a material to increase the performance of hydrogen fuel cells and efforts to understand the molecular origins of Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases. It has received non-research awards as well, including funding supporting education programs at the Memorial Art Gallery.

10/16/09 (c) 2009 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.


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