U.Va. Engineering Research Programs See Funding Growth

September 28, 2010

September 28, 2010 — Faculty members from the University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science were principal investigators on research projects that received almost $62 million during the last fiscal year. This represents a 24 percent increase in research awards over the 2009 fiscal year total. 

Sponsors included the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Energy, Science Applications International Corporation, the Virginia Tobacco Commission and the Virginia Transportation Research Council. The school also received funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, among many other sources.

The research expansion includes funding from five Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative grant projects. The five-year MURI awards – the first three of which were awarded in 2007 – are providing more than $30 million to the U.Va. Engineering School and other collaborating institutions. 

"Externally funded research is an important component of the Engineering School's overall mission, and we are pleased to see these programs flourish," said Dean Jim Aylor. "Boosting the size and enhancing the quality of our research programs are important ways for us to compete with peer institutions and advance the University's mission of establishing itself as a premier research institution."

Aylor noted that faculty members are increasingly collaborating on projects across disciplines, both within the Engineering School's nine departments and throughout the University.

A recent example is a project to develop smart building energy systems with funding from a four-year, $2 million National Science Foundation grant, which involves faculty from the departments of Computer Science, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Systems Engineering, as well as faculty from U.Va.'s School of Architecture and Darden School of Business. The research team will also work with Staengl Engineering, a local energy-efficient HVAC and mechanical systems design firm, and with architect Carrie M. Burke.

Barry Johnson, senior associate dean and associate dean for research at the Engineering School, credits faculty hiring over the past 10 years as an important factor contributing to the research programs' growth.

"Over the past 10 to 20 years or so we have hired some excellent new faculty members," Johnson said. "Those faculty members are now coming into their prime, and the research is showing it."

Johnson and other Engineering School administrators have been actively encouraging more faculty members to become involved in externally funded research, and the number of faculty writing proposals and winning grants has grown substantially. The school's administrators also have been encouraging faculty members to pursue larger research programs, such as the $10 million National Center for Hypersonic Combined Cycle Propulsion led by Jim McDaniel, a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and the Center for Applied Biomechanics led by Jeff Crandall, also a professor in the department.

In the coming years, the Engineering School research programs will also benefit from the establishment of the Applied Research Institute. This University-wide institute has been created to expand the research capabilities of the University by being able to conduct classified government and proprietary commercial research.

— By Zak Richards