Externally funded research at Tech tops $20 million

Charles A. Robinson, a graduate student of the electrical engineering program from Charlotte, Tennessee, works with Charles Van Neste on the energy harvesting project at the Shipley Farm.

COOKEVILLE – Tennessee Tech University officials announced that externally funded research topped $20 million for the second consecutive year. 

“Despite all of the disruptions we faced this year, Tech researchers continued their work, which enabled us to reach this level again,” said Tech President Phil Oldham. “This is a testament to how outside organizations value Tech’s expertise.”

Tech researchers saw 154 sponsored research activations made in 2019-2020, with funding from federal agencies (98 activations valued at $11.8 million), a variety of state of Tennessee agencies (27 valued at $3.2 million) and private organizations (21 valued at more than $500,000).

The top funding agencies were all federal, with the U.S. Department of Transportation as the largest single funding agency ($2.5 million), followed by the National Science Foundation ($2 million), the U.S. Department of Energy ($2 million), the U.S. Department of Defense ($1.8 million) and the U.S. Department of the Interior ($1.1 million). Other organizations funding Tech researchers include NASA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Education and The Nature Conservancy. Private companies, non-profit foundations and local agencies also provided external funding.

“The faculty and staff researchers at Tech have done an excellent job, both in their research and in securing outside funding,” said Jennifer Taylor, vice president of research. “Even though much of this year was impacted by the pandemic, we still saw increases in both proposals and activations.”

According to the Office of Research, there was a 15.5% increase in the number of proposals, and a 3.4% increase in activations over 2018-2019.

Last year, Tech announced its goal to increase externally funded research to $40 million by 2025. The Carnegie Classification, the national system for classifying colleges and universities, for Tech is an R2 university — a doctoral university with high research activity. Criteria for this classification includes research funding. 

“As we continue to build our research support infrastructure, we will be better able to aid Tech’s researchers in obtaining crucial outside funding for their work,” Taylor said.

For 2019-2020, 110 Tech faculty and staff are the principal investigator (PI) or a co-PI on the funded projects, 28 of whom obtained funding of more than $100,000 each. Three individuals topped $1 million in external funding: Kevin Liska, director of Tech’s iCube; Martha Howard, associate professor of early childhood special education; and Charles Van Neste, research assistant professor in the Center for Energy Systems Research.

Five of Tech’s colleges received at least $1 million in outside funding. Tech’s College of Engineering accounted for the largest funding amount, followed by the College of Business, the College of Arts & Sciences, the College of Education and the College of Agriculture & Human Ecology.

The $20.1 million total for the year included $3.75 million in state funding for Tech’s three Centers of Excellence: The Center for Energy Systems Research; the Center for Manufacturing Research; and the Center for the Management, Utilization & Protection of Water Resources.

“Our faculty and staff researchers put in a lot of effort to obtain this important funding,” Oldham said. “This enables them to better serve their students, the state and the world.

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