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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Research funded by stimulus

Stimulus money from the state and federal governments is fueling campus research.     

The UA is the second largest recipient of Arizona stimulus funds. Since June 2009 more than $100 million in stimulus funding has been granted for research.

When the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was announced, university officials quickly organized a group designed to ensure money went to campus research.

Nancy Smith, corporate-business relations director, co-chaired the committee that began meeting in March 2009.

The committee offered faculty the opportunity to submit project proposals. In June, the first award was granted.

There are 171 projects that received funding, and 90 percent of it has been allocated. It served “”to supplement what we already do year in and year out,”” providing an additional source of funding for research, Smith said.

Chemistry professor Neal Armstrong heads the second largest award funded. The U.S. Department of Energy gave $13 million in what Armstrong called a “”stunning move.”” The Center for Interface Science: Solar Electric Materials is part of a larger effort comprised of 46 Department of Energy Frontier Research Center programs around the country, he said.

While only originally planning to being able to fund 16 centers, the department was able to fund 46 as a result of stimulus money.

“”It’s unfortunate that we had to come to a crisis in the nation’s economy in order to fund something like this. Whenever you fund basic research of this type, and when you couple that to the training of students, that’s never wasted money. This is going to have an enormous impact for the next 20 to 25 years,”” Armstrong said.

The center focuses on energy panel research, partnered with other universities. Over a five-year plan, it still has money for the next three and a half years. Of the 80 people involved, most are students, Armstrong said.

“”Whenever you get a big grant like this you find that most of the money is being spent on student salaries,”” he said.

Astronomy professor Marcia Rieke’s project received $10 million in stimulus funds through NASA. All of it was subcontracted and paid to companies in California, for the making of a camera bound for the James Webb Space Telescope.

NASA has funded the project since 2002. When the stimulus program surfaced, NASA applied for grants that were distributed among different projects, including Rieke’s. “”It was a bit awkward for us to do the paperwork,”” she said.

Stimulus kept the project on schedule, as NASA’s budget got tight. All the money was spent last year.

“”It was great to get it to keep us (as) close on schedule as possible. Because the longer a project stretches out, the more expensive it is in the end,”” she said.

Rieke wasn’t surprised by the amount of money given to the UA alone from the stimulus program through the state. “”Probably because we have so many of these big research projects. We do a lot of business with aerospace companies. It makes sense,”” she said.

Bruce Wright’s Bioscience Park is an unusual type of grant, Smith said, in that the money is spent primarily on infrastructure.

With $4.7 million from stimulus, the 65-acre park is a second research park for the university, specially focused on accommodating the needs of biotech companies, said Wright, university research parks associate vice president.

Scheduled to be completed by December 2011, the park will have different components such as space for university buildings, enterprises sites, a science and technology high school as well as space for commercial enterprises and high-tech companies. A hotel, conference center and a student housing area for graduate students will also be part of the complex, he said.

The money was received through the federal Office of Economy Development. Originally, the project wouldn’t receive the award through the stimulus program, but it was included as it was “”particularly suited”” for it, he said. Without the program, he estimated the project would’ve received half the amount it ultimately received.

Being a part of the stimulus program “”created a number of challenges for us in terms of timing and so on. Stimulus funding requires a lot of reporting requirements,”” Wright said.

Wright said the park is a “”wise kind of stimulus investment.”” As it will attract companies to conduct work, it’ll fuel the economy, he added.

It creates an opportunity to do exactly what the stimulus was designed for, Wright said, creating immediate employment as the park is built, developing long-term possibilities of investments and attracting businesses.

On a wider scale, there are “”a number of projects that probably would never have been funded if it hadn’t been for the stimulus,”” he said.

“”It’s been a huge boost. It’s had an enormous impact. Research money, when you get it, tends to have an enormous local impact, because it’s largely used to support students and post-docs,”” Armstrong added.

Now, the 10 percent of awards still coming through do so in a much slower stream, Smith said. The stimulus was a one-time “”opportunity to bring some significant research funds,”” she said. Smith  also added that the research investment will attract more companies.The money “”allowed us to step into new areas, expand current areas of research,”” she said, “”we have the biggest companies in the world interested in collaborating with us.””

The money stimulated new lines of research that the UA hopes will be competitive for new grants, Armstrong said.

“”Faculty around here don’t sit around and suck their thumbs when a particular grant ends,”” he said.

They’re probably out right now “”hustling new forms of”” receiving funding for research, he added.

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