Though the pandemic proved challenging in 2020, Rochester Institute of Technology continued its growth as a research university, drawing federal dollars to fund innovation across campus.
As of June 30, the end of its most recently completed fiscal year, RIT had received more than $76 million in sponsored research grants, of which more than $38 million came from federal sources. Funding was down from the previous year’s $82 million, but up from $59 million in 2018-19. Moreover, the university set a record for the total value—$246 million—and number of proposals submitted—779.
“The days of sponsored research being dominated by only one or two of RIT’s nine colleges are over,” says Ryne Raffaelle, vice president for research and associate provost at RIT.
An increase in grant awards and proposals provides RIT with flexibility and an ability to respond to research needs as sponsor funding priorities shift, he notes.
The National Science Foundation was the single largest sponsor at $10.6 million for research in the last fiscal year. The Department of Defense ($9.4 million) and the Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the National Institutes of Health ($7.5 million), followed close behind.
In 2019, RIT was listed as a high research activity institution or R2 under the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. The designation put RIT among the top schools in the nation that confer that least 20 research/scholarship doctorates and spend a minimum of $5 million in research annually.
Based on the NSF Higher Education Research and Development Survey rankings, which ranks universities based on their research expenditures, RIT is now in the top 50 private research universities, and the top 20 for those universities without a medical center, RIT officials say.
In 2020-21, the university inducted 13 new members into its Principal Investigator Millionaires Club, bringing the total of such researchers to 115 faculty. These members have received research awards of $1 million or more since 2010.
RIT also earned funding through the NSF Major Research Instrumentation Program, allowing researchers to acquire specific instruments for research and experimentation. For instance, Manuela Campanelli’s team in RIT’s College of Science received $230,000 toward the acquisition of a new data storage and analysis cluster to support multimessenger astrophysics research. Campanelli is a professor in the School of Mathematical Sciences.
In the current fiscal year, RIT has already received several grants to fuel research projects. RIT is one of 13 institutions working on a $15 million NSF grant to establish the first national academic research network on wasted food in the United States.
During the five-year project, researchers will work to improve data on wasted food. RIT will receive $1.8 million for its efforts headed by Callie Babbitt, a professor in the Golisano Institute for Sustainability. Babbitt serves as a co-principal investigator.
“Our research will re-envision wasted food as a valuable resource as it relates to the circular economy,” Babbitt says. “RIT will collaborate with business and industry partners to explore and create solutions that maximize the healthy, nutritious food used to feed people, minimize costly inefficiencies, and recycle unavoidable wastes into bio-based products and clean energy that powers the regional economy.”
Moumita Das, an RIT associate professor, and her team are working on self-directed, programmable, and reconfigurable materials—using biological building blocks including proteins and cells—that can produce force and motion. Das is part of a team that received $1.8 million from the NSF.
Other funded projects this year include the exploration of the use of horseshoe crab blood to detect toxins in vaccines and medical tools, the search for novel antibiotics to fight multidrug-resistant bacteria and an NSF research traineeship program that will prioritize women, deaf and hard-of-hearing, and African American, Latino American, and Native American graduate students.
Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.