Oregon State University: Oregon State University research enterprise continues upward trend

Research funding at Oregon State University has topped $380 million for the fifth straight fiscal year, and research expenditures by the university, a key measure of research output, rose despite the pandemic for the seventh consecutive year, increasing by 5%.

Oregon State University – Cascades’ research funding total was $3.4 million, the second highest annual amount in the history of the Bend campus.

The contributions of OSU research extend worldwide, through programs such as real-time ocean monitoring, the development of spatial datasets that reveal short- and long-term climate trends, the national expansion of Oregon State’s TRACE-COVID-19 public health project, and a Physics Frontier Center that seeks to understand the universe through gravitational waves.

“Oregon State University faculty continue to address real-world problems in Oregon, around the United States and across the globe,” said OSU Interim President Becky Johnson. “Despite a pandemic that placed limits on their activities, our scientists found ways to engage in discovery and produce innovative answers to some of the planet’s most important issues, including the ongoing challenge of COVID-19.”

The total funding of $383.9 million for fiscal year 2021, which ended June 30, is the fourth highest in OSU history. Meanwhile, the rise in research expenditures by the university marked the 17th time in the last 19 years that expenditures have shown a year-to-year increase.

“Expenditures correlate strongly with research activity and results – they’re monies spent in the lab and the field in pursuit of new knowledge that improves and enriches lives,” said Irem Tumer, OSU vice president for research.

Last year’s funding total generated by OSU researchers was particularly impressive and indicative of the upward trend of Oregon State’s overall research enterprise because it includes only a small amount of money from two large projects – the construction of several research vessels and a wave energy testing facility – that have strengthened OSU’s total research funding since 2017.

Since 2017, those two projects alone have annually brought as much as $77 million to $127 million in research grants to OSU.

OSU’s groundbreaking TRACE-COVID-19 project, which has conducted more than 80,000 individual coronavirus tests and more than 4,000 wastewater tests in dozens of communities around Oregon, received $2 million from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation to create a national TRACE Center that expands the project to other states.

The TRACE Center harnesses the power of public health departments, universities and other institutions around the country to help measure the prevalence of the virus that causes COVID-19 by combining community surveillance sampling, wastewater analysis, viral sequence data and mathematical models of SARS-CoV-2 prevalence that OSU TRACE researchers developed.

“We are very proud of the TRACE team’s accomplishments and proud of the many achievements by OSU researchers,” Tumer said. “Oregon State University researchers work along the entire spectrum of scientific endeavor, from targeted applications like TRACE that save lives, to others that promote economic and societal well-being, to curiosity-driven projects that expand our knowledge of how the world and the galaxies work.”

Oregon State is the lead institution for a $17 million National Science Foundation Physics Frontier Center that studies the universe through low-frequency ripples in the fabric of time-space. The center, the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves, or NANOGrav, uses pulsar timing arrays to listen for choruses of wave signals from multiple super-massive black hole mergers. The goal is to push the boundaries of the understanding of physics and astronomy through the study of black hole mergers, which are many times the mass of the sun.

OSU is also part of a pair of $20 million NSF centers aimed at improving lives by developing artificial intelligence solutions for two of society’s most important challenges: sustaining agricultural production amid diminishing water and labor supplies, weather variations and climate change; and helping people to continue living in their own homes as they develop cognitive impairments associated with aging.

OSU scientists received another $3 million from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to work on controlling blight in carrots, a signature seed crop in the Northwest and a nearly $1 billion U.S. industry.

Oregon State researchers were awarded $2 million to develop new varieties of organic naked barley – the seed can be threshed right from the hull – to be used in a range of dietary ways. Historically, barley has mainly been used as animal feed, but it has an optimal level of beta-glucan, a soluble dietary fiber that lowers cholesterol and aids digestion.

The myriad aspects of climate change continue to be areas of emphasis for OSU scientists, who among other awards received $6 million from the NSF to manage the data transmission cyberinfrastructure of the Ocean Observatories Initiative, an ongoing multi-university coalition that monitors ocean conditions in real time, and an additional $2 million from the NSF to study the pace at which tidewater glaciers are melting.

Oregon State’s total research funding of $449.9 in 2020 included $25 million in research vessel funding from the NSF as well as $52 million from the Department of Energy for the PacWave South energy testing site off the coast of Newport.

Federal funding of $246.4 million accounts for 64% of OSU’s fiscal year 2021 research grants and contracts. Land grant formula funding provided $79 million; nonprofit organizations, including foundations, $13.5 million; state and local governments, $9.7 million; and foreign governments, $458,922.

OSU’s engagement with business and industry totaled $34.7 million –exceeding $30 million for the sixth straight year. Sources include technology licensing, contracts for testing, support through the Agricultural Research Foundation and research gifts through the OSU Foundation. Almost half of the revenues covered costs for technology testing services, which OSU labs do to document the performance of innovative private sector products and services.

One of those innovations this past year was an after-market device for solving a longstanding safety problem in the trucking industry: drivers slipping and falling when getting into or out of their cab. At the request of Daimler Trucks North America, students in OSU’s Prototype Development Lab created a handle to be mounted in the manner of a fence gate under the instrument panel, giving the driver something to hold onto while entering or exiting a tall cab of a freight vehicle.

“Partnerships, innovation and entrepreneurial activity are critical to the success of these projects,” Tumer said. “Continued research investments by industry show Oregon State University’s expanding leadership in fields from agriculture and human health to marine sciences, robotics, business, liberal arts and forestry. Our faculty collaborate with businesses, communities and individuals around the world to solve problems and create new economic opportunities.”

One business enabler is the Oregon State University Advantage Accelerator, which spurs societal and economic impact through the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem. Specific innovation-based efforts have received funding through the state-authorized University Venture Development Fund, which allows donors to the OSU Foundation to receive a 60% tax credit for contributions. Over the past decade, donors to the foundation have contributed more than $6 million to the fund.

OSU scientists have leveraged the Accelerator Innovation Development Fund, which was created within the UVDF, to investigate the market potential of research-based innovations.

Among the new startup concepts are Pacific Vaccines, which seeks to develop a vaccine for gonorrhea; Oligo Activity Enhancer, which aims to create a new delivery system for cancer drugs; PediaNourish, at work on a device that monitors glucose levels in premature infants and delivers the appropriate level of nutrients and glucose autonomously; and Microbiome Engineering, whose product is a gut/brain chip that serves as a screening tool to rapidly assess the impact of gut microbiota metabolites on issues such as autism, depression and cognition.

Other startups include Tactical Augmented Reality Flashlight, which seeks to create a directional device for first responders’ vehicles that projects turn-by-turn directions on the road, in daylight and at night, and RenewCat, which is trying to develop a line of non-petroleum-derived cleaners with an initial focus on antiseptic wipes.

“Our entrepreneurs are constantly and aggressively driving innovation toward commercialization because of their dedication to maximizing OSU’s impact, and thanks to the assistance of Oregon State’s world-class research capabilities, the University Venture Development Fund and support of the OSU Advantage programs,” said Brian Wall, OSU’s associate vice president for research, innovation and economic impact.