Iowa State Receives $253 Million In External Research Funding In FY2020

University Establishes New Benchmark in Federal Research Funding at $186 Million

By Dan Kirkpatrick, Iowa State University Office of the Vice President for Research

Iowa State University received $253 million in external sponsored research funding, including a new record of $186 million in federal research funding, for the 2020 fiscal year that ended June 30, 2020. Sponsored research funding accounted for a little more than one half of the $494.7 million in total external funding the university attracted during the 2020 fiscal year, up $25.6 million or 5.5% compared to the 2019 fiscal year.

The $253 million in external sponsored research funding Iowa State received in FY20 is $7.9 million or 3% below the record of $260.9 million established in FY19, but the second-highest total in the past five fiscal years. The $186 million in federal research funding in FY20 represents an increase of $4.9 million or 2.7% over the previous record of $181.1 million in FY19. However, non-federal research funding was down $12.9 million or 16.1% from FY19’s record of $79.8 million to just under $67 million in FY20.

“I really believe the 2020 fiscal and academic year is a study in both perseverance and relevance,” said Guru Rao, Iowa State Interim Vice President for Research. “A segment of Iowa State researchers persevered through a soft agricultural economy that had a dampening effect on non-federal research investment in the university. Then, our research community as a whole, persevered through the COVID-19 pandemic – and continues to do so – to deliver relevant research that further builds on Iowa State’s legacy as a trusted and valued partner to both federal and non-federal sponsors alike.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March, Iowa State University research reduced its footprint and researchers quickly transitioned to work that could be performed remotely, such as data analysis, writing, and submitting grant proposals to federal agencies and submitting articles to peer-reviewed journals. Within this new remote working environment, collaboration – especially across disciplines – became more important than ever. In late April, the Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) organized and conducted two virtual networking events to explore collaborative, interdisciplinary research opportunities for addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. The online events attracted more than 80 university researchers with academic backgrounds ranging from preventive medicine to statistics.

Like many of their peers across the country, Iowa State researchers have been working hard to try to find answers to the many questions that surround coronavirus and the ongoing pandemic.

  • Robbyn Anand and her team in the Chemistry department are exploring the development of a paper-strip urine test to detect infection by the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. A technology called electrokinetics is used to amplify the sensitivity of the testing mechanism, which is needed to detect the presence of a coronavirus protein;
  • Lily Wang, associate professor of statistics, is leading a research team whose statistical models are helping the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) track and predict COVID-19 deaths in the United States. Using the team’s models and forecasts – encompassing all 3,104 counties in the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia – the CDC is able to more accurately assess how COVID-19 will impact the nation;
  • Another team led by Marit Nilsen-Hamilton, professor of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Molecular Biology, is part of a multi-institutional research group working to develop an innovative viral testing platform that could function inexpensively in rural areas. The research has the potential to help address the current pandemic and could make a big difference if similar viral outbreaks occur in the years ahead; and
  • Nigel Reuel, assistant professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, is leading a team effort with the Alexander Green research group of Arizona State University and the Keith Pardee group of the University of Toronto to develop a diagnostic platform that is well-suited for widespread monitoring of infection during pandemics, such as the current COVID-19 crisis. It consists of a low-cost mailer that can be used at home, returned in the mail in a safety-sealed, confidential envelope and quickly scanned upon receipt without opening to diagnose the infection. This approach would off-load the burden of diagnostics from health workers, eliminate the increased use of limited personal protective equipment and provide a better overall response to outbreaks.

“Research plays a critical role in supporting Iowa State University’s mission to create, share and apply knowledge to make Iowa and the world a better place,” said Rao. “Our research community’s response to this pandemic has really underscored our faculty’s and university’s commitment to exploring new ideas and solutions to the grand challenge of promoting healthy lives throughout our society.”


Federal Research Funding Overview

The $186 million in total federal research funding received in FY20 is particularly impressive considering the previous benchmark of $181.8 million set in FY19 was buoyed in part by the Critical Materials Institute (CMI) of Ames Laboratory receiving two years of Department of Energy (DOE) funding – totaling approximately $45 million – during the university’s 2019 fiscal year. With just one $25-million allocation for CMI received in FY20, DOE funding for Ames Lab totaled $60.6 million, down $22.4 million or 27% compared to FY19’s total of $83 million.

Click here for more details on federal research funding Iowa State received during the 2020 fiscal year.


Non-federal Research Funding Overview

The close to $67 million in external non-federal research funding Iowa State received during the 2020 fiscal year is a five-year low, and $12.9 million or 16.1% below last year’s record tally of $79.8 million.

Click here for more details on non-federal research funding Iowa State received during the 2020 fiscal year.


FY20 Faculty Research Recognitions

One of the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious recognitions, The Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award supports early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education.

In FY20, NSF granted CAREER awards and more than $2.6 million in funding to 10 Iowa State faculty to support research projects ranging from implementing mathematical modeling for emergent bilinguals to seeking a better understanding of plate tectonics and earthquake generation. Iowa State’s CAREER award recipients for FY20 include:

  • Jacquelin Reber, assistant professor, Geological and Atmospheric Sciences;
  • Julia Zaikina, assistant professor, Chemistry;
  • Zhe Fei, assistant professor, Physics and Astronomy;
  • Thomas Mansell, assistant professor, Chemical and Biological Engineering;
  • Grace Wilkinson, assistant professor, Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology;
  • Ji-Yeong I, assistant professor, Education;
  • Chaoqun Lu, assistant professor, Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology;
  • Jia (Kevin) Liu, assistant professor, Computer Science;
  • Mai Zheng, assistant professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering; and
  • Elizabeth Swanner, assistant professor, Geology.

Private foundations also have awards in place to support the research and teaching careers of outstanding young faculty. These Iowa State faculty members won prestigious early-career recognitions from private foundations during the 2020 fiscal year:


FY20 Grand Challenges

Iowa State and the university’s faculty are committed to purposeful research, whether it’s foundational research that contributes the building blocks to greater exploration and understanding, or translational research that directly leads to new innovations and technologies that benefit society. Most research at Iowa State is defined by grand societal challenge themes that are a core component of the university strategic plan. Many projects within the institution are shaped and framed to address at least one of these challenge themes:

  • Promoting healthy lives (plants, animals, people, communities)
  • Building sustainable human and natural ecosystems
  • Creating next-generation materials and manufacturing technologies
  • Advancing data-driven discovery and secure cyber systems
  • Developing global citizens and vibrant societies

Click here for more details on just a few examples of how Iowa State researchers are tackling some of society’s greatest challenges.