UGA puts signature on research

Input from University of Georgia faculty, deans and other administrators, as well as the use of multiple data analytics tools, has illuminated three broad Signature Research Themes at the university:

  • Inquiring and Innovating to Improve Human Health
  • Safeguarding and Sustaining our World
  • Changing Lives through the Land-Grant Mission

“Our Signature Research Themes enable us to more clearly and concisely explain the impact of our research and scholarship,” said Pamela Whitten, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. “Defining the areas where we excel also enables us to prioritize our investments so that we can build on our strengths.”

David Lee, vice president for research, noted that the Signature Research Themes are intentionally broad to reflect the interdisciplinary nature of the challenges UGA faculty members address through their scholarship.

“These themes are responsive to the grand challenges faced by society, acknowledge that solutions require diverse skill sets and perspectives and reflect UGA’s mission-driven focus as a proud land-grant university,” Lee said.

Inquiring and Innovating to Improve Human Health includes research in vaccine development, parasitic diseases, drug discovery, obesity and nutrition, health communication and several other fields across UGA’s schools and colleges.  

Infectious disease research has long been an area of emphasis at UGA, which has more than 100 faculty members in its interdisciplinary Faculty of Infectious Diseases. GRA Eminent Scholar Ted Ross alone has received $33 million in cumulative grant support and is working with one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies to create a universal vaccine that protects against all strains of seasonal and pandemic influenza. He recently made headlines by partnering with Georgia-based GeoVax Labs Inc. to develop and test a vaccine to prevent Zika virus infection. Ross directs UGA’s Center for Vaccines and Immunology, which will move to a newly renovated facility on South Campus this spring.

A new facility for the Center for Molecular Medicine, which will include a focus on therapeutics, is rising next to the university’s world-renowned Complex Carbohydrate Research Center, and partnerships with Emory University and federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are boosting the reputation of the Atlanta-Athens corridor as a national hub for biomedical research.  

Safeguarding and Sustaining our World includes research being conducted in fields as varied as cybersecurity, plant breeding and genetics, digital humanities and export controls.

UGA’s Plant Center, for example, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and has more than 50 faculty members. Plant center researchers have sequenced the genomes of commercially important crops ranging from peanuts to canola, and new crop and ornamental plant varieties developed by faculty members at the university generate approximately $4 million in annual royalties to the UGA Research Foundation. 

UGA is also home to the nation’s first standalone school of ecology, the Odum School of Ecology, and world-renowned researchers in marine and atmospheric sciences.

On North Campus, the Center for International Trade and Security uses its research findings to inform trainings given to government officials, academics and industry representatives from 60 countries. CITS has garnered more than $3.8 million in external research funding over the past two years alone and has made China a major area of focus, with workshops, research and corporate outreach.

Changing Lives Through the Land-Grant Mission reflects UGA’s focus on creating a more prosperous future and improving quality of life. UGA became a land-grant institution in 1872 under the federal Morrill Act, which formalized the university’s commitment to using its resources to benefit the state’s citizens. Today, a statewide network of UGA Cooperative Extension agents and programs brings lifelong learning to the citizens of Georgia through research-based education related to agriculture, the environment, communities, youth and families.

The life-changing impact of UGA research is also evident in fields ranging from teacher preparation to legal studies and community revitalization. The Center for Family Research, for example, uses its findings on social, behavioral and biological factors that enable families and children to thrive to inform its outreach programs. The Center for Family Research has garnered more than $75 million in funding for its work, and the Strong African American Families program is being implemented in communities throughout the nation and in Georgia. 

The economic impact of research conducted by UGA faculty members exceeds $470 million annually in Georgia, and it also extends well beyond the state’s borders. UGA is consistently ranked as one of the nation’s top universities for moving faculty inventions into the marketplace, with more than 575 products developed at UGA-ranging from vaccines to crop varieties-currently on the market. In addition, more than 135 startup companies are based on UGA research, including biotech companies Abeome Corporation and ArunA Biomedical, agricultural technology company Electrostatic Spraying Systems and educational software company Cogent Education.

More about UGA’s Signature Research Themes is available at