CU Boulder sponsored research sets record

BOULDER — Sponsored research funding at the University of Colorado Boulder reached a record-breaking $511.1 million in the 2017-2018 fiscal year, topping the $507.9 million recorded the prior year.

Numbers for the 2017-2018 fiscal year are preliminary, with final numbers expected later this year.

The CU system as a whole also saw record levels of research funding, bringing in $1.053 billion in 2017-18.

Among the recent grants to CU Boulder-affiliated researchers was a six-year, $50 million award to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

“We’re thrilled that our research funding has again exceeded $500 million, and represents record external investment in the important work of the university,” Terri Fiez, vice chancellor for research and innovation, said in a prepared statement. “This research reflects CU Boulder’s commitment to innovation and impact — in areas as diverse as aerospace, energy, human health and earth and environmental sciences — made possible by our exceptional researchers, faculty, staff and students.”

The CU system as a whole similarly saw record levels of research funding in 2017-18. Together, the four Colorado campuses obtained $1.053 billion in awards, the second year in a row these totals climbed above $1 billion.

“One key way that the University of Colorado improves people’s lives is through the research conducted by our world-class faculty,” CU President Bruce D. Benson said in a statement. “Because of this impressive level of investment by federal, state and local entities, CU grows even stronger in its ability to advance knowledge that makes all of us better.”

Examples of recent sponsored research projects at CU Boulder include:

  • Keeping an eye on ice. The CU Boulder-based National Snow and Ice Data Center received a six-year, $50 million grant from NASA to archive and disseminate data on the frozen parts of the world — including satellite and field measurements of changing ice conditions in Antarctica and Greenland. The award will support NSIDC in managing and operating NASA’s Earth Observing System Data and Information System Snow and Ice Distributed Active Archive Center.
  • Imagining the future of food. Researchers from CU Boulder’s Department of Mechanical Engineering received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop the greenhouses of the future. The team is designing a new film that can split the light streaming into greenhouses into rays that plants can use more efficiently. Gardeners can also use the less efficient beams of light to purify their water supplies. The technology could help people to grow more food when resources are scarce.
  • Detecting methane leaks. Colorado researchers turned Nobel Prize-winning technology into a rugged and portable device capable of remotely spying methane leaks from oil and gas operations — catching trace amounts of the gas from miles away. The research stems from a $2.7 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). Team members include scientists from CU Boulder, the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Institute of Standards and Technology.
  • Digesting with robots. Mark Rentschler and colleagues in CU Boulder’s Department of Mechanical Engineering are exploring the next phase of robotics: guts. Drawing on support from the National Science Foundation, the team is developing a robotic small intestine that researchers could use to test out new medical technologies and treatments without the need for human subjects.