Research Funding Rises, Results Delivered, Imagination Ignited

Research Funding Rises, Results Delivered, Imagination Ignited

For the second time ever researchers at the University of Central Florida received more than $125 million in grants, which not only help the local economy but are leading to remarkable discoveries that capture the imagination and provide hope for the future.

The total raised in grants was $128.9 million, including $73 million in federal funding. That’s a 21 percent increase more than the previous year.

The College of Engineering and Computer Science received the most with $17.2 million, followed by the Institute for Simulation and Training with $16.7 million and the College of Sciences with $14.4 million.

Some notable federal funding included: five awards from the Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP) and two National Science Foundation Early Faculty CAREER awards. The university received $44.5 million in funding from industry and another $11.3 million from the state. Thirty-five researchers were inducted into the university’s millionaires club, meaning they received at least $1 million in funding throughout the year.

“We are pleased with the effort put forth by our faculty who continue to compete for funding with the best in the country, despite increasing demands forced by state budget cuts,” said M.J. Soileau, vice president for research and commercialization.

The state has cut $144 million from UCF’s budget during the past five years, including $52 million this year, resulting in increased course loads and class sizes for many professors.

“For faculty to continue to write proposals and win awards is a testament to their dedication and commitment to their work,” Soileau said.  “Much of the research is done after hours, on weekends and in between teaching assignments.”

Despite the challenges, faculty members and their students have produced results. Among the many successes this past year:

A recent Ph.D. graduate, Kevin Stevenson discovered UCF’s first planet.

Engineering Assistant Professor Shaojie Zhang used a complex computer program to analyze RNA motifs – the subunits that make up RNA (ribonucleic acid). The ability to do this analysis quickly may unlock the key to developing treatments for a host of diseases including certain kinds of cancer.

UCF Associate Professor J. Manuel Perez and Professor Saleh Naser and their research team developed a sensitive method to detect elusive pathogens associated with Crohn’s disease. The technique uses nanoparticles coated with DNA markers specific to the pathogens and may potentially give doctors a faster way to detect the disease.

Other research underway is already poised to produce more results that will directly benefit the community.

Tom O’Neal, the associate vice president for research & commercialization and executive director of the UCF Business Incubation Program and the Florida Economic Gardening Institute, led efforts to bring partners together for some impressive results. His efforts resulted in $1.3 million from the U.S. Economic Development Administration for a partnership between UCF, the Technological Research and Development Authority and the University of Florida’s Florida Energy Systems Consortium to establish a network to promote the growth of the clean tech industry.

Cleantech refers to products or services that improve productivity while reducing costs, energy consumption, waste, and environmental pollution.

“UCF continues to find new ways to leverage funding from our partners into opportunities to better our community,” O’Neal said.

Cleantech is an area where UCF’s innovative spirit is alive and well. The U.S. Department of Energy awarded UCF $1 million to establish Megawatt Ventures Network, a program to encourage students to partner with entrepreneurs to launch and grow innovative green technology companies.

A UCF student whose company, Mesdi Systems, Inc., was a finalist in the Megawatt Venture Challenge competition, went on to win the ACC $100,000 regional prize and then competed at the national clean energy competition held at the White House over the summer.

Connecting research with industry is key and when done right benefits the community and the economy.

A 2012 study of the UCF Business Incubation Program shows that incubator client companies have created more than 3,120 jobs with a total economic impact of $363 million a year.

“Science and discovery, research and commercialization, help individuals, communities and societies,” Soileau said.   “As UCF grows in these areas, the community, state and even the world will continue to see the benefits.”