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University receives record amount of research funding

| Sunday, September 28, 2014

In the 2014 fiscal year, the University of Notre Dame received $113 million in research awards, an increase of $17 million from last year and the highest recorded amount ever in a non-stimulus year.

Robert Bernhard, vice president for research, said contracts came from government agencies, various companies and foundations.

“The National Science Foundation (NSF) is our largest sponsor,” he said. “The National Institute of Health (NIH) is generally our second-largest sponsor, but this year, their funding is reduced nationally.

“We are also funded by the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense. We have funding from corporations, the two largest are General Electric and a consortium of companies in the semiconductor business that includes IBM and Intel. … The biggest foundation sponsors are the Gates Foundation, two different Templeton Foundations, the Lilly Endowment and the Mellon Foundation.”

Bernhard said anywhere between one-in-three and only one-in-15 proposals pass peer reviews and evaluations to receive funding. He said he credits Notre Dame’s immense success in such a competitive environment to the skill and determination of its faculty.

“It all comes down to the creativity and hard work of the faculty members,” he said. “They have to understand what the sponsors are looking for. They have to be the best in their field, and then they have to write a very well-crafted proposal.”

Director of the Energy Frontier Research Center Peter Burns, who is receiving money from the Department of Energy for actinide research, said the increased resources came with increased responsibilities.

“I’m trundling along working as a research professor with only a few students,” he said. “Now the money comes in, and now I’m trundling along directing in a multi-investigative center focusing on energy-related problems and then my own group gets larger with 13 Ph.D. students, about six or seven post-docs, eight undergrads, six high school students and three staff. So it’s much bigger and the productivity goes up, and the amount of people we educate goes way up.”

Professor of political science Daniel Philpott, who is receiving funding from the Templeton Religion Trust to study Christian communities’ responses to persecution around the world, said these projects have the ability to help Notre Dame realize its identity.

“I think that a lot of the most important things a Catholic university can do in order to achieve its Catholic mission is to be in solidarity with Christian communities that are suffering from persecution,” he said. “This grant can help Notre Dame fulfill its fundamental Catholic mission.”

Professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering Samuel Paolucci is currently receiving funding from the National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA) for his work in predictive modeling of shock conditions for material synthesis. Paolucci said the two to five years of work leading to a proposal presentation is an often overlooked part of the submission process, but the payoff of one successful proposal transcends the accrued funding and knowledge.

“[The NNSA] isn’t just interested in the funding, but they’re also interested in pushing the frontier of computational science and frontiers of science,” he said. “They’re also trying to involve more Americans in graduate studies and getting Ph.D.’s because that enhances the ability of this country to hire and put the best minds we have to work on the problems we have.”


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