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Archive for Friday, April 5, 2002

KU research efforts span the globe

In fiscal year 2001, KU spent a record $224 million on innovative projects

April 5, 2002

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With the fight for state dollars getting tougher and tougher, Kansas University administrators have increased their efforts to land more federal and private research dollars.

And the effort has paid off.

David Downing, a professor of aerospace engineering at Kansas
University, is leading part of a national research project called
Small Aircraft Transportation System. The SATS program would make
better use of small airports and aircraft for everyday travel.

David Downing, a professor of aerospace engineering at Kansas University, is leading part of a national research project called Small Aircraft Transportation System. The SATS program would make better use of small airports and aircraft for everyday travel.

In fiscal year 2001, KU spent a record $224 million on research projects, an increase of 19 percent over 2000, and an increase of 80 percent since 1996, according to the KU Center for Research Inc.

Included in that amount, KU Medical Center researchers received $53.5 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health during 2001, up from $43.6 million in 2000.

Robert Barnhill, vice chancellor for research and president of the KU Center for Research, said research "has become an everyday topic of discussion and a real research university ambience has been established."

The amount of research going on at KU translates into about 9,000 jobs statewide, and puts the school on the nationwide map in research.

Good news, bad news

KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway says the aggressive research efforts will bring KU closer to its goal of being among the top 25 public research universities in the country. Based on the 2000 dollars, KU ranked 53rd among the nation's public universities, according to a ranking by the National Science Foundation.

"Now more than ever, we see the importance of federally funded research at our public universities," Hemenway said. "The fact that KU continues to attract more funding speaks volumes about the quality of our researchers and their projects."

But all is not rosy in the KU research world.

Two nationally acclaimed and longtime researchers at KU Medical Center recently left to pursue better research opportunities at Vanderbilt University.

KU officials were stunned by the losses.

Janet Murguia, KU's executive vice chancellor for university relations, said the departures showed the Legislature and Gov. Bill Graves need to make higher education funding and research investments a top priority.

Despite the setbacks, KU's range of research projects is global.

Dollars at work

Jerry Dobson, a professor of geography and researcher in the Kansas Applied Remote Sensing Program, is leading a team of scientists in development of a population database that will help emergency officials respond to acts of terrorism, natural disasters or nuclear and chemical accidents.

The database already has been used to aid in rescue efforts during flooding last year in Mozambique.

"I know that if there is a biological release anywhere in the world and the U.S. military is aware of it they will use their air-diffusion model to estimate where the contaminant will go and they will use this database to estimate how many people may be exposed," Dobson said.

In February, a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities helped develop a Web site on Langston Hughes during a symposium at KU that attracted scholars from across the country to celebrate the author who lived in Lawrence from 1903 to 1915.

And even though Kansas is landlocked, KU researchers are working on an $8.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation and National Aeronautics and Space Administration to determine why sea levels are rising.

The researchers will deploy mobile radar sensors in the polar regions to analyze data about the ice sheets, oceans and atmospheres.

Those are just some of the dozens of research projects going on at the university.

Help from Legislature

Despite tight state finances, university officials are hoping the Kansas Legislature will lend a hand.

Last year, U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., told state lawmakers that Kansas was missing out on its share of federal research dollars because of inadequate facilities.

In response, the Kansas Board of Regents has asked the Legislature to approve issuance of bonds in the near future to kick-start research construction of three research facilities at KU, Kansas State University and Wichita State University.

The money would go toward helping build a biomedical research facility at KU, a food-safety center at Kansas State and an aviation facility at Wichita State.

Lawmakers showed extreme interest in the proposal, with more than 100 of them traveling to Manhattan to be briefed on research efforts going on at the three universities.

Under the proposal, the state would issue bonds worth about $110 million, and then pay off about $50 million of the debt. The three universities would be responsible for paying off the rest, presumably through increased research activity.

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