The University of California, Davis, set a new record for external research funding in fiscal year 2019-20, receiving $941.2 million in awards, a $94.5 million increase from the previous record set in 2018.
The awards reflect a broad range of critical work, from therapies for pancreatic cancer and disability research to new online learning platforms and tackling issues related to climate change, such as wildfire smoke and the spillover of zoonotic diseases.
“This new record validates how UC Davis is sought more than ever to find solutions for the world’s most critical issues,” Chancellor Gary S. May said. “During these historic times, our collaborative research community is eager to make breakthroughs in health, environmental sustainability, education and so much more.”
The largest increases in funding compared to the previous year were in the College of Engineering (up $60 million), Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing (up $40 million) and College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (up $29 million). (Reports are based on the principal investigator’s school or college.)
UC Davis researchers also applied their unique areas of expertise to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. More than two dozen grants totaling $2.4 million were awarded during fiscal year 2019-20, which ended June 30.
COVID-19 grants have funded multiple clinical trials and the development of novel vaccine strategies, as well as launching new studies on poverty and social distancing, the impact of online learning, community spread and mitigation measures, and predicting potential mutations of the virus, among others.
“Our researchers’ eagerness and ability to quickly respond to the pandemic is a testament to their passion and mission-driven focus to provide critical insight and solutions that help our global community,” said Prasant Mohapatra, vice chancellor for research. “Right from the onset of the pandemic, we witnessed an inspiring level of collaboration across different areas of expertise, including between the School of Medicine and researchers on the campus in Davis.”
In general, the level of research funding associated with cross-disciplinary research units, where experts from different fields of study collaborate on projects, has been one of the fastest growing segments over the last five years — climbing 162 percent. One of these units, the California National Primate Research Center, received a $3.8 million award to develop a model to study early Alzheimer’s disease. Another, the Air Quality Research Center, received $3.75 million for the assessment and mitigation of wildfire-induced air pollution.
- College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences — Anita Oberholster, Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Viticulture and Enology, received a $3.2 million grant from the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture to lead a collaborative effort to study grapevine red blotch disease, which threatens the $162 billion U.S. grape industry.
- College of Biological Sciences — Professor Lee Miller, Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior, is the principal investigator for a $1.5 million grant from the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program, Department of Defense, to continue development of a diagnostic tool that uses an individual’s brain waves to uncover hidden hearing loss.
- College of Engineering — Professor Steven George, chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, is the principal investigator for a $1.1 million grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, of the National Institutes of Health, to create and validate a three-dimensional model of human atrial conduction using patient-derived stem cells. The model can be used to test the safety and efficacy of drugs to treat atrial fibrillation.
- College of Letters and Science — Professor Michael Siminovitch is the principal investigator for a $5.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor for the California Lighting Technology Center, or CLTC, which is part of the Department of Design. The grant will allow CLTC to expand electrical training programs in California and Nevada.
- Graduate Studies — Jose Ballesteros is the principal investigator for a $549,400 grant from the U.S. Department of Education for the McNair Scholars Program, of which he is the director. The McNair program prepares undergraduate students for doctoral studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities.
- Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing — Professor Heather Young is the principal investigator for a $37.5 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to launch a new fellowship program that recognizes early-career nursing scholars and innovators with a high potential to accelerate leadership in nursing-science research, practice, education, policy and entrepreneurship.
- Graduate School of Management — Professor Andrew Hargadon, Graduate School of Management and the Mike and Renee Child Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, received a $100,000 grant from the California Energy Commission as part of California State University, Fresno’s BlueTechValley: Central Valley Regional Innovation Cluster to expand the Big Bang! Business Competition’s services and support in pursuit of energy innovations that positively impact California ratepayers. The total awarded to date is $400,000.
- School of Education — Professor Heidi Ballard is the principal investigator for a $536,378 award from the National Science Foundation to launch Our Forests, a multiyear program in partnership with the Sierra Streams Institute and the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools. The anticipated total award for Our Forests is $2.5 million. The project will train elementary school teachers as they work with their students to study local forests and fire risk.
- School of Medicine — Professor Simon Cherry, Department of Biomedical Engineering, is the principal investigator for a $3 million grant from the NIH National Cancer Institute for EXPLORER, the world’s first full-body PET scanner that he developed with Professor Ramsey Badawi.
- School of Veterinary Medicine — Professor Woutrina Smith is the principal investigator for a $22.5 million grant ($85 million over the next five years) from the U.S. Agency for International Development to implement the One Health Workforce-Next Generation project.
The federal government remains the top funder for research at UC Davis, making up half the total awards with a slight increase to $477 million in total grants. Funding from the National Institutes of Health was the highest funder at $251.5 million, with awards from the National Science Foundation totaling $44.7 million and awards from the U.S. Department of Agriculture totaling $39.7 million.
State funding rose slightly to $132 million, with $53.7 million in research funding from the Department of Transportation, $34.5 million from the Department of Food and Agriculture and $22.1 million from the Resources Agency.
UC Davis also saw significant increases from other funders, including a $37.5 million increase in foundation funding for a total of $47.5 million; a $25.7 million increase in other government funding totaling $45.6 million; and an $11 million increase in business funding, which totaled $85.4 million in awards for fiscal year 2019-20.
Where funds are awarded up-front to cover several years, the money is counted in the first year the award was received. Incrementally funded awards are counted as authorized in each year.
Driver of innovation and the economy
Research enabled by this funding not only helps to better understand and solve issues facing our society, but also leads to new innovations, products and startup companies — each supporting economic growth. Over the last fiscal year, 15 emerging startups licensed foundational technology developed at UC Davis. Researchers also submitted 141 invention disclosures and were awarded 89 domestic and foreign patents that same year.