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Aerial shot of coral reef.

Science faculty research funding in fiscal year 2021 hits a high mark

By Tamara Cissna

OSU microbiologist Rebecca Vega Thurber and other researchers are investigating the impacts of global change on the coral microbiome, the microbes that associate with corals and impact coral health.

The critical role research plays in addressing fundamental questions and society's great challenges has never been greater. So, it is significant that the College of Science had an award-winning year of funding success even in the midst of pandemic challenges. In fiscal year 2021, the College’s research awards rose to $24.4M, a 55% increase over the average of the previous three years and one of the highest award levels ever. The previous year’s total was $15.82 million.

As the graph below indicates, most of the College’s funding was awarded by federal agencies with the National Science Foundation ($13.3M) and National Institutes of Health ($3.7M) leading the list. Foundation and industry awards contributed $4.2M.

Pie chart depicting funding sources

The funding increases were distributed broadly across the College.

Bar graph of COS department funding trends

College of Science research expenditures for FY21 totaled $15.6M. Federally funded expenditures for the year were $11.3M.

Many science faculty received substantial research grants last year. College of Science research awards led to advancements in areas ranging from the COVID-19 pandemic to energy security and sustainability, understanding of the universe via low-frequency gravitational waves, the crisis of global warming, biomedical challenges, mathematical models of complex phenomena, implementation of evidence based teaching practices in mathematics and other pioneering research. Below are just a few notable awards.

  • Astrophysicist Xavier Siemens received a five-year $17M NSF grant that moved the NANOGrav Physics Frontiers Center to Oregon State University. The center will generate deeper discoveries about the universe in the coming years and will create additional opportunities for OSU students interested in pursuing careers in astrophysics.
  • Rebecca Vega Thurber, along with co-PIs Thomas Sharpton, Ryan Mueller, Maude David and Xiaoli Fern from Engineering, received a four-year $3 million NSF grant for a project entitled "Defining the ecological and genomic properties that underlie microbiome sensitivity and resilience." The award was made in the category of Understanding the Rules of Life, one of NSF’s 10 big ideas to advance pioneering research that serves the nation’s future.
  • Epidemiologist Ben Dalziel received $2.8M from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for the project "Scaling the TRACE Project with a Coordinating Center." The grant helped in the creation of a national TRACE Center that will expand OSU's COVID-19 public health project to other states. The project also received support of $800k from PacificSource Health Plans and $1.07M from the Oregon Health Authority.
  • Biochemist Ryan Mehl received a four-year $1.2M NSF grant for a project entitled "Ideal eukaryotic tetrazine ligations for imaging protein dynamics in live cells."
  • Mathematician Mary Beisiegel received a $2.1M NSF grant for her project entitled “Collaborative Research: Mathematics Graduate Teaching Assistant Professional Development Focused on Implementation of Evidence-based Teaching Practices.” This is a collaborative project with San Diego State University and Virginia Commonwealth University, and OSU’s portion is $855K over five years.
  • Biochemist Afua Nyarko's received an $820K NSF grant over four years for her proposal, “Assembly of multivalent regulatory complexes in hippo signaling.”
  • Microbiologist Rebecca Vega Thurber received a four-year $800K NSF grant for a project entitled "Collaborative Research: Tipping points in coral reefs and their associated microbiomes: interactive effects of herbivory, nutrient enrichment, and temperature."
  • Physicist Bo Sun received $528K from the Department of Defense for a project entitled "Decoding the mechano-regulation of breast tumor organoid invasion – one cell at a time."
  • A team led by chemist Douglas Keszler won a $493K grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust. The three-year grant enabled the launch of the Oregon State Continuous Flow Facility that will bring synthetic chemistry into the digital age.
  • Marine biologist Bruce Menge received a $474K NSF grant over five year for a project entitled "LTREB: Testing tipping points in a model rocky intertidal meta-ecosystem - Climate-change, increasing variances, and response mechanisms."
  • Microbiologist Thomas Sharpton received a five-year $410K from the National Institutes of Health – Department of Health and Human Services for a project entitled "Development across Lifespan and Generations and the Behavioral Consequences."

The College of Science cultivates research and scholarship, in part, through its Science Research and Innovation Seed (SciRIS) Program, which aims to accelerate the pace of research, discovery and innovation in the College. Between 2019 and 2021, SciRIS has provided $763K in seed funding to research projects that are high-impact, collaborative, cut across disciplines, and drive research toward addressing significant societal and marketplace needs.