Montana State research expenditures hit record high

MSU research hits record high, with College of Ag leading the way

By Marshall Swearingen — Montana State University tallied an all-time high for total research expenditures in 2019-2020, totaling $167 million.

vanessa simonds, MSU Montana research grants hit alltime high, montana living

Montana State University professor Vanessa Simonds talks over research findings with students in a summer camp. Simonds and her collaborators have received  a grant worth nearly $1 million to create a program for Apsáalooke youth that they hope will ultimately spark interest in STEM fields and lead to cleaner water for the Apsáalooke nation in southeast Montana. Photo by Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez

The total marks an 8% increase over the previous year’s total expenditures of $154 million reported to the National Science Foundation, and the seventh year in a row that research expenditures have topped $100 million, according to Jason Carter, MSU’s vice president for research, economic development and graduate education . 

"Research, creativity and innovation are fundamental to our land-grant mission, and this record year of scholarship shows that MSU faculty and researchers are excelling on that front," Carter said. 

According to Carter, the past year showed balanced growth in sponsored research grants and contract expenditures across MSU's research entities, reflecting how the university's research activity is distributed across a range of fields, including the four Grand Challenges identified in MSU’s strategic plan, “Choosing Promise.” 

The College of Agriculture recorded the largest figure, $44 million, which represented a 4% increase in sponsored research from the prior year. The Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering had nearly $20 million in sponsored research, a 9% increase. The College of Letters and Sciences also recorded a 9% increase from the prior year, with expenditures of $18.5 million. Several research centers and institutes also notched record sponsored research grants and contracts, led by more than $15 million at MilTech, $7.5 million at TechLink, $3.6 million at Montana’s IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE), and $3.3 million at MSU Extension.

MSU is classified as R1 in the Carnegie Classification for "very high research activity," making it one of only 131 universities nationwide in that category and the only one in the five-state region of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and North and South Dakota — and one of only two nationally also classified as Very High Undergraduate enrollment.

A total of 585 faculty and professional staff served as principal investigators or co-investigators on grant projects, with a total of 1,268 grant proposals submitted over the past year. Awarded grants and other funding totaled $100 million. This includes the sum of grants and contracts won by MSU faculty during the year but which will be expended over time frames ranging from months to years.

Scholarship highlights from the past year include: 

The coronavirus pandemic challenged several MSU researchers with relevant expertise to retool their equipment and knowledge to provide aid, Carter noted. A device normally used in Michelle Flenniken's lab to detect the genetic signatures of bee viruses was moved to Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital, where she helped train technicians to perform up to 60 much-needed COVID-19 tests per day. Wiedenheft helped pioneer the sampling of municipal wastewater as a method of gauging community infection rates for the virus, with microbiology researcher Seth Walk applying the methods as part of the Gallatin City-County Health Department's surveillance strategy for West Yellowstone, Big Sky and Three Forks.

In July, in partnership with Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, Walk's lab began processing 500 or more patient samples per day as part of the state's surveillance testing of asymptomatic individuals. 

During the past year, four undergraduates involved with MSU research won the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship, the nation’s premier scholarship for undergraduates studying math, natural sciences and engineering, bringing MSU's total number of Goldwater winners to 78. Three MSU engineering alumni drew upon their undergraduate research experiences to win NSF Graduate Research Fellowships.
Numerous MSU graduate students and postdoctoral researchers won prestigious awards, including the Parker B. Francis Fellowship and Burroughs Wellcome Fund fellowship.   

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