Northwestern University: Research funding marks another high, growing to nearly $924 million

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Northwestern University continued its decade-long ascent in annual sponsored research funding, totaling $923.8 million from various sources to enable high-impact basic and translational work to thrive across the University. As fiscal year 2022 closed on Aug. 31, Northwestern’s research funding had risen 3% over the previous year, driven by a 4% increase in awards, which totaled 3,581. The figures are being audited but expected to shift only slightly after final review.

This performance is part of a larger growth trajectory, with the University’s overall research funding increasing nearly 82% since 2012. Such growth has furthered the societal impact of Northwestern’s research while consistently elevating the University into the top 10 national rankings. The scope of University activity continued to be broad, with researchers making important contributions across many areas, including through frequent interdisciplinary work that remained prominent, bringing together teams from across the life sciences, engineering, the social sciences, humanities and more.

Northwestern investigations over the past year were numerous and included the development of a pioneering injectable therapy aimed at repairing severe spinal injuries. Another advance produced the world’s first winged microflier, a tiny electronic computer chip the size of a sand grain that might be used to monitor air pollution or airborne disease. Northwestern chemists discovered a process to break down so-called “forever chemicals,” a finding with significant potential environmental and health implications. Researchers also gained additional support to map proteins in the human body — work with important therapeutic potential — and to pursue greater understanding and treatment of neurodegenerative disorders, including ongoing investigations of primary progressive aphasia.

“The range and excellence of Northwestern’s research is incredible, with high-impact contributions across domains, and frequently at the intersections of these domains,” said Vice President for Research Milan Mrksich. “Our multidisciplinary approach to research is exciting, bold and produces breakthrough results. It’s also rooted in our strategic design and the vision we have for Northwestern to continue consolidating its strengths as a global research powerhouse.”

Mrksich said Northwestern is a place that encourages collaboration and where people often embrace opportunities to solve big challenges together, using knowledge, tools and techniques that bridge many different areas. “In doing so, they transform their fields and create great societal and economic benefit through fundamental and translational research innovation.”

Tweet this quoteOur disciplined, strategic approach to developing the research enterprise has already positioned Northwestern among the world’s best academic institutions. We will continue to advance our strengths, explore new opportunities where we can be leaders, and remain committed to solving crucial challenges. Society will benefit, and Northwestern will flourish.”
Milan Mrksich, vice president for research
He also noted that the University’s large and growing research portfolio positions Northwestern among the very best academic institutions producing transformative knowledge. A culture that encourages robust partnerships among faculty and administrative leaders across all schools and units contributes to the University’s pathbreaking research, he said.

“We have a research ecosystem not easily imitated, but often admired,” said Mrksich, himself a multidisciplinary leader in the life sciences.

Examples of research collaboration included the cross-disciplinary work occurring within 35+ University-wide research institutes and centers (URICs) that attract talent from multiple Northwestern schools. In FY22, the URICs accounted for nearly $73 million in research funding — a 3% increase from the previous year — and have helped make the University a key player on major projects. These include a basic science research collaboration between the U.S. Army and Northwestern’s Center for Synthetic Biology scientists directed at accelerating design and manufacture of innovative molecules, materials and sensors. Another effort funded by the National Science Foundation aims to catalyze advanced manufacturing across the nation.

A majority of this year’s research funding came from the National Institutes of Health ($513 million, +5% over FY21), with additional significant funding sponsored by the National Science Foundation ($73.9 million, +26%) and the Department of Defense ($58.6 million, +27%). School-level funding was led by the Feinberg School of Medicine ($648.2 million), the McCormick School of Engineering ($125.3 million) and the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences ($96.3 million).

The number of awards ticked up year over year, and continued a trend toward greater complexity with larger research teams and collaborations across institutions accounting for substantial activity, according to Northwestern’s Sponsored Research team, the Office for Research unit responsible for negotiating, accepting and setting up awards.

As Northwestern’s sponsored funding keeps growing, the support promises to propel more great research and further elevate the University’s reputation, said Mrksich, who credited “brilliant faculty, dedicated staff and exceptional students” for creating a community unlike any other.

“Our disciplined, strategic approach to developing the research enterprise has already positioned Northwestern among the world’s best academic institutions,” Mrksich said. “We will continue to advance our strengths, explore new opportunities where we can be leaders, and remain committed to solving crucial challenges. Society will benefit, and Northwestern will flourish.”

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