Thursday, August 27, 2009


University of California, Davis
August 27, 2009


[Editor's note: For help finding the NIH and NSF Web sites that provide details on Recovery Act grants to UC Davis, contact Liese Greensfelder at (530) 752-6101 or .]

In a year that's held little good news for budget planners at the University of California, Davis, a steady stream of grants from federal stimulus funds is providing a much-needed cushion for research programs campus-wide.

According to information available online from two federal agencies that administer research funding, as of Aug. 24, UC Davis faculty have garnered 88 research grants totaling nearly $32.6 million.

"At a time when we are very hard-pressed, this stimulus funding will allow us to build up an infrastructure that will serve us well for many years," said Barry Klein, vice chancellor for research at UC Davis. "And that is precisely the purpose of these awards: to get things under way quickly that will have a long-term positive impact on the stability of the workforce on campus."

Klein said he expects to see many more stimulus-funded grants flowing to the campus over the coming months. "We have about a half billion dollars of proposals submitted, while only a fraction of stimulus funds have been awarded so far," he said.

Whatever the final tally, it will significantly boost research funding the campus receives from established government and philanthropic channels. Support from these external sources has steadily climbed from just under $300 million in 2000-01 to just under $600 million for the 2007-08 fiscal year.

While federal regulations prohibit research grants from substituting for budget deficits, Klein said, ARRA grants will be saving jobs for faculty and staff.

"Adjunct professors are supported through grant funds, as are research administrators, technicians and staff research associates,"
he explained. "And these grants will also create jobs by enabling us to hire graduate students and postdoctoral scholars to participate in the research."

Benefits of the grants will extend beyond the campus, as well, Klein said, pointing out that researchers will be purchasing equipment and supplies with their awards. In addition, grants that support renovation or construction will provide jobs in a diversity of fields.

Creating jobs through research

Signed into law by President Obama in February, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, also known as ARRA, was designed to save or create more than 3.5 million jobs over the course of two years.

Killing two birds with one stone, the act proposed to create jobs while revitalizing the nation's scientific research programs, which have been in a decline following half a decade of near-static budget appropriations for such agencies as the National Institutes of Health
(NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The act charged the NIH and NSF with distributing $11.2 billion in stimulus funds to scientists around the country. For months now the agencies have been evaluating thousands of new proposals as well as awarding grants for deserving projects from last year's grant cycle that went unfunded due to budget shortfalls.

The grants that UC Davis has received target a broad array of projects across the research spectrum.

"These grants really cover a lot of ground," Klein said. "From the life sciences, to the physical sciences, to engineering, the profile of our recipients reflects a lot of strength across the campus. I congratulate our excellent research community for these successes and for the hard work that's been put into the proposals."

Big projects in the works

Of the 88 grants that have already been designated for campus research, the lowest award is for $12,500 and the highest for $2.2 million. But much larger sums may be in the offing, said Paul Schwartz, assistant director of capital program management in the Office of Resource Management and Planning.

Schwartz has been working on half a dozen proposals for new buildings and renovations with multimillion dollar price tags. A request to the NIH for $6 million would create a facility in the Chemistry Building to house chemical biology and bio-analytical facilities under one roof. Another proposal, for $15 million, would upgrade and expand quarters for the physics department, which has been jammed into a fixed space for years even as new faculty have been hired and student enrollment has risen.

Because ARRA-funded projects are expected to get under way virtually as soon as an award is granted, proposals for the building projects are more complex than any he's ever seen, Schwartz said. From schematic-level designs to title reports, each submission is costing the university from $40,000 to $70,000. "The point is to create proposals that bring each project as close to shovel-ready as we can go while keeping in mind that these are projects that are not yet funded," Schwartz said.

With so much of the planning already completed, Schwartz said, construction could start just eight to 10 months after awards are announced next year.

ARRA funds to students, Unitrans

Apart from research and building grants, ARRA funds are arriving at the campus through other channels, as well.

The Department of Transportation, for example, awarded two grants to the City of Davis, which in turn re-granted them to Unitrans, the partnership between the city and the UC Davis student government that provides public transportation service throughout the campus and city. Totaling $4.9 million, the awards will be used for the purchase of 11 new fuel-efficient, natural-gas buses, which will replace old vehicles in the Unitrans fleet.

ARRA funds will also directly benefit UC Davis students. Thousands will see hikes in their federal Pell Grants of up to $619, while hundreds of others will now qualify for Pell Grants as a result of a change in eligibility requirements funded through the act.

In addition, the Financial Aid Office has received $487,977 in stimulus funds for payments to students enrolled in the federal Work-Study program.

A sampling of six UC Davis research proposals funded by ARRA:

* $98,028 from the NIH to Wenbin Deng, assistant professor of cell biology and human anatomy at the School of Medicine.

Deng will use cellular and molecular techniques to learn how lead harms neurons during critical stages in the development of the brain.
His work will expand the understanding of risks associated with lead exposure and support efforts to develop strategies for dealing with lead toxicity.

* $229,250 from the NIH to Jay Solnick, professor of medicine and medical microbiology at the School of Medicine and at the Center for Comparative Medicine.

Solnick will use the funds to continue his study of the bacterium that causes peptic ulcers and stomach cancer, Helicobacter pylori. In previous work, Solnick has found that H. pylori triggers an antimicrobial response, which, paradoxically, seems to boost its competitive edge among the various microbes within the stomach.

* $547,740 from the NIH to William Reisen, professor of pathology, microbiology and immunology at the School of Veterinary Medicine, and director of the Center for Vectorborne Diseases.

By investigating the complex interactions among multiple environmental and biological factors related to the overwintering and spring transmission of West Nile virus, Reisen's team will attempt to develop a system of predicting early in the mosquito season whether the virus will remain at low levels or expand to create outbreaks of human cases.

* $330,000 from the NSF to Kai Liu, professor of physics in the College of Letters and Science.

Liu plans to fabricate nanowires studded with tiny magnets
("spin-valves") in order to explore a new method of controlling magnetic states by using electric current to locally switch the polarity of magnets rather than the standard method of using magnetic fields to accomplish the task. These studies hold the potential of opening up whole new classes of materials and mechanisms for exploration in the field of spintronics, which uses the spin as well as charge of electrons for electronic information storage, transmission and manipulation.

* $430,000 NSF CAREER Award to David Horsley, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in the College of Engineering.
(CAREER awards are NSF's most prestigious awards for young faculty members, recognizing outstanding scientists and engineers who show exceptional potential for research, teaching and leadership.)

Horsley will use the grant to further his research into boosting the sensitivity and lowering the power consumption of micro-electromechanical systems, or MEMS. Horsley's improvements of these tiny devices that are embedded into semiconductor chips will benefit a wide range of instruments, including high-precision navigation systems and atomic force microscopes. Horsley will also develop a hands-on summer course for high-school students to learn about MEMS and microfabrication techniques used in their production.

* $205,812 from the NIH to Peter Mundy, professor at the School of Education and the School of Medicine's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and director of education at the M.I.N.D.

Mundy's work will explore applications of virtual reality technology for social-skills training of children with higher functioning autism. He will bring together two groups of experts -- clinical scientists who study autism and scientists who use virtual reality to study social interactions -- to develop a series of virtual reality social-skills training tasks for children with higher functioning autism. Results of this work have the potential for providing widespread and cost-effective training programs for children with a variety of other neuro-developmental disorders, including ADHD.

About UC Davis

For 100 years, UC Davis has engaged in teaching, research and public service that matter to California and transform the world. Located close to the state capital, UC Davis has 31,000 students, an annual research budget that exceeds $500 million, a comprehensive health system and 13 specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and more than 100 undergraduate majors in four colleges -- Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences, Engineering, and Letters and Science -- and advanced degrees from six professional schools -- Education, Law, Management, Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing.

Media contact(s):
* Liese Greensfelder, UC Davis News Service, (530) 752-6101,