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Sponsored funding gives Iowa State researchers and scholars opportunities to create, innovate

By Dana Wilson and Paula Van Brocklin

Iowa State University received its second-highest level of research funding in fiscal year 2018. Researchers landed $245.8 million from external sponsors to support groundbreaking research.

Iowa State received $170.3 million in research support from federal agencies, including the Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Institutes of Health. Research funding from non-federal sponsors totaled $75.4 million. Non-federal sponsors include industry, commodity organizations, nonprofits, the state of Iowa, and subcontracts from other higher education institutions.

Federal Highlights

The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides funding to Iowa State researchers for improving the production of animals and plants to support local, national and global demand for food and energy. This year, new USDA funding is helping researchers develop sensors that measure water uptake in corn, allowing researchers to identify corn lines that are more drought resistant. Researchers are seeking to improve conservation strategies by understanding how monarch butterfly populations perceive  breeding habitats within agroecosystems, investigating new treatments for bovine lameness on organic dairy farms,and describing gene expression in tissues and immune cells of domestic pigs to help select genetically superior pigs for future generations.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) sponsors a wide range of science, technology, engineering and mathematical (STEM) research discoveries at Iowa State and their application to real-world problems and workforce development. Especially notable this year is the seven faculty in Iowa State’s College of Engineering who have received CAREER grants. Considered NSF’s most prestigious honor, CAREER awards support early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education. Additional funding from NSF this year is giving researchers opportunities to develop new tools to analyze online political campaign advertising to investigate how campaigns target voters with a new generation of ads tailored with specific messages for different types of voters. With NSF support, researchers will also examine the potential to create innovative biorenewable products from a part of the yeast genome, following on previous discoveries for biorenewable nylons, with applications in agriculture and pharmaceuticals.

The Department of Energy is another key source of funding, much of which supports the Ames Laboratory, a national lab on Iowa State’s campus that conducts research on materials science, condensed matter physics and chemistry. New funding was awarded this year to ISU researchers to develop software that estimates future energy needs for more effective management of the power grid, and to improve climate predictions for the U.S. and southern great plains as a basis for mitigating effects of future climate changes.

Research funding from the National Institutes of Health has continued to grow in support of Iowa State’s biomedical and health research. For example, investigators are developing nanovaccines for treating pancreatic cancer in its early stages, and a new virus-based therapy to target and kill prostate tumor cells during progressive stages of prostate cancer. NIH funding also is also enabling researchers to examine the benefits of resistance exercise in preventing cardiovascular disease.

The Center for Statistics and Applications in Forensic Evidence (CSAFE) received another year of funding from the National Institute of Standards and Technology for developing statistical foundations for interpreting pattern evidence. Continued support allows researchers to build a new tool to assess information in digital photos that might be related to a criminal case. CSAFE researchers are also developing predictive models to evaluate the likelihood of a match for shoe prints and bullet casings.

Research funding sponsored by the Department of Defense supports a diversity of topics. This year’s awards include developing new methods for protecting privacy of personal data when third parties conduct analyses about consumers, and evaluating habitat restoration options on the island of Guam where the invasive brown tree snake has decimated native bird populations, which are important for seed dispersal of vegetation on the island.

Researchers in the humanities rely on the National Endowment for the Humanities for fellowships. This year a new project was funded to examine the history of science fiction in Latin America as it developed during the era of the global space age under events such as Hiroshima, Sputnik, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the moon landing.

Funding from other federal agencies is key for Iowa State in its mission to advance research initiatives for the greater good. With support from the Environmental Protection Agency, scientists will create models to identify genetic and environmental factors that influence the appearance of algal blooms in Iowa’s recreational lakes. Funds from the Department of Justice will allow researchers to study the effectiveness of the ACTV program, which has been disseminated throughout Iowa for the past seven years, in reducing aggression and the likelihood that perpetrators of domestic assault will reoffend.

Non-federal Funding

Non-federal sponsors, such as industry, commodity groupsnonprofit organizations and the state of Iowa, are also vital to Iowa State’s research portfolio. This year, funding from the Iowa Soybean Association will enable a multi-institutional research team to work on sustainable management practices of the soybean cyst nematode (SCN), the most damaging pathogen to soybean production in North America. Annual yield losses due to SCN are estimated at more than $1.2 billion. Also, funding from the State of Andhra Pradesh in India will help pave the way for a new collaborative partnership to ensure that quality seeds reach smallholder farmers in Andhra Pradesh through the Andhra Pradesh Mega Seed Park (APMSP).  Iowa State will provide technical assistance and research in seed security innovations and policies.