Research surge continues

A key indicator of research productivity at the University of Georgia has surged for a second consecutive year to reach a record level.

In fiscal year 2016, research expenditures at UGA increased by 14 percent to reach $175.3 million. UGA’s dramatic increase in fiscal year 2016 comes on the heels of a 7 percent increase in fiscal year 2015 for a 21 percent rise over the past two years.

“As the university’s research productivity continues to increase, so does our ability to make a positive impact on our state, nation and world,” said President Jere W. Morehead. “I am grateful to our outstanding faculty, whose commitment to excellence is helping to strengthen UGA’s position among the top public research universities in the country.”

Research awards, which indicate future research expenditures and provide another metric of research productivity, have increased by 22 percent over the past two years.

“By any measure, UGA’s research enterprise is on a powerful upward trajectory, with increases in funding from industry and nonprofits complementing gains in federal funding,” said Vice President for Research David Lee.

The research productivity of existing faculty and investments in new talent through recent Presidential Hiring Initiatives and the sustained recruitment of Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholars have played an important role in advancing UGA’s research enterprise. Endowed faculty chairs also help attract and retain top faculty members, and UGA added 16 in FY 2016 to bring the university’s total number of endowed chairs to 267.

Increases in expenditures and new awards at UGA also reflect growth in areas of research within the university’s Signature Research Themes of Inquiring and Innovating to Improve Human Health; Safeguarding and Sustaining Our World; and Changing Lives through the Land-Grant Mission. The themes, which were identified in 2015 with input from faculty and administrators, enable a more strategic allocation of resources.

“Faculty members at the University of Georgia are pushing the boundaries of knowledge and discovery in ways that profoundly impact fields ranging from human health to agriculture and education,” said Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Pamela Whitten. “This institution’s dramatic growth in research funding over the past two years underscores our commitment to having an even greater impact in the years to come.”

Recent examples of notable projects in each of UGA’s Signature Research Themes are below:

Inquiring and Innovating to Improve Human Health

Ted Ross (above, right), who joined UGA last year as the GRA Eminent Scholar in Infectious Diseases, is working to develop a universal influenza vaccine that protects against many virus strains over several years, potentially eliminating the need for seasonal flu vaccines.

This work, funded by Sanofi-Aventis, one of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturers, contributed to the marked increase in industry-sponsored expenditures in fiscal year 2016. Ross serves as director of the newly established Center for Vaccines and Immunology in the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine. The center will bring new faculty to campus, increase UGA’s vaccine research capacity, help attract more federal funds and facilitate new industry partnerships.

In addition, a team of researchers led by Rick Tarleton (above, second from left), UGA Athletic Association Distinguished Research Professor of Biological Sciences in the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases, received funding from Anacor Pharmaceuticals to develop a new drug for the treatment of Chagas disease, a parasitic infection that causes irreparable damage to the heart and digestive system. Tarleton’s laboratory and his partners at Anacor hope to have a drug candidate ready to enter clinical trials this year.

Safeguarding and Sustaining Our World

Contributing significantly to the fiscal year 2016 increases from nonprofits was funding from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative to Samantha Joye (above, second from right), the Athletic Association Professor of Arts and Sciences and a professor of marine sciences in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. The funding is supporting multi-institutional studies of natural oil seeps and the long-term impacts of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. 

In addition, the university received a significant increase in funding from the National Science Foundation that highlights UGA’s strength in plant research. Five research teams, including one led by a recent Presidential hire Esther van der Knaap (above, left), a professor of horticulture in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, received more than $14 million to explore the growth, development and behavior of a variety of plants, including tomatoes, sunflowers, maize, legumes, dogwood trees and soybeans.

Changing Lives through the Land-Grant Mission

In the College of Education, assistant research scientist Georgia Wood Hodges is leading a $1.3 million project funded by the National Institutes of Health to study the use of digital learning tools to enhance STEM education. In addition to promoting the development of higher-order thinking skills, the SYSTEMS project (Stimulating Young Scientists to Engage, Motivate and Synthesize) aims to encourage students to consider careers in science and health care.

A team of researchers led by Ted Futris, an associate professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, is working on an $8.2 million project funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that aims to improve the lives of children and families in Georgia’s child welfare system. The team, which includes several schools and colleges from across campus and whose partners include the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services, is using research-based services to promote healthy marriage and relationship skills as well as economic stability.