September 4, 2009

Cornell Research Receives $60M in Stimulus Funds

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Despite the budget cuts across all departments of the University, scientific research at Cornell has the finances to prosper thanks to the funds received from the government’s stimulus plan.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 passed by Congress in February pumped $787 billion into the ailing economy. A part of the stimulus included increasing spending in education, health care and infrastructure.
But the Act also allotted $8.9 billion to scientific research, which was split among several of the nation’s major research centers, including NASA, the National Science Foundation, research universities and the U.S. Department of Energy.
After a summer of hectic grant submissions, Cornell researchers have already received funding for several projects including the creation of a Center for Nanostructured Interfaces for Energy Generation, Conversion and Storage. One of 46 Energy Frontiers Research Centers, the new center at Cornell will research how to improve current fuel cells, batteries, photovoltaics and photo-electrochemical cells so that they can become more efficient.
Héctor D. Abruña, E.M. Chamot professor of chemistry, will direct the center.
In an interview with the University Abruña said, “The proposal we put forth was a great collective effort, and the Department of Energy recognized in it Cornell’s strengths in materials design, characterization and modeling, and the close-coupling of the various components of the proposed work. This is great news.”
One application of the research is to harness winds and solar energy sources for use in hybrid vehicles. Funding for the research came from a $17.5 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy.
“New York state is the second in the country for academic research, so we’re very proud of that; but we’re not anywhere near second in the country with the transfer of that research into technology,” Senior Vice Provost for Research Robert Buhrman said. “Cornell is focusing on that a lot now. I think we’ve been making great progress, but it’s a major concern for the state.”
As of the end of August, the University received more than $60 million in ARRA funds. Additional grants are still being proposed, so the University is hoping to be granted more funding for research.
With the unsteady economy, precautions must be taken to secure for future research.
Buhrman said, “Our task is to take very good advantage of [the funds] and to be on strong ground for the somewhat leaner times ahead.”
Prof. Brian Lazzaro, entomology, is another recipient of ARRA funds from the National Institute of Health.
“Using a fruit fly — Drosophila melanogaster — as a model, our lab will evaluate the importance of genetic variation in linking immunity to nutritional, energetic and reproductive stress,” Lazzaron said. “This work will contribute to understanding disease resistance and susceptibility.”
While professors are very pleased to have the funds for their research, an addition of stress is added to their routines.
“It’s going to be a very interesting and very hectic time,” Buhrman said. “[The ARRA funds] will enable us to do research and train the next generation of scientists and engineers, which is a big part of what we’re here to do.”
However, managing the inflow of grants and tracking their use may pose a difficulty for the University. Buhrman suggested that one administration position should be created to sort through the ARRA money.
But with the host of cutbacks at Cornell recently, it is financially difficult to create such a position.
“To pay for that without having other cuts elsewhere, we’re asking the faculty to write this into the budget,” Buhrman said.