High-tech NDSU research center runs into funding problems


A high-tech research program at North Dakota State University is essentially done because of money problems.

The Center for Nanoscale Science and Engineering is no longer getting enough funding, Forum writes, and is being absorbed into other parts of the university.

On the center's website, it called the move part of a "reorganizational transition" – portions of the center got moved to the U's Research Operations department, under the Office of Research and Creative Activity.

The center, which was established in 2002, says it did "high level research" on things such as wireless micro electronics, polymeric materials, and energy conversion, and was a Defense Microelectronics Activity Center of Excellence.

All but three of the employees there got other positions on the campus; most of the research will go on, and the space will be used, the Forum reports. But it'll be with a much smaller workforce, with fewer papers published each year.

Grants tough to come by

Some of the blame is placed on federal earmarks (that's when U.S. lawmakers would designate money for specific groups or institutions as part of a larger bill, the Washington Post explains) being banned a few years ago.

That left the center applying for highly competitive grants, which are less reliable, Forum explains.

NPR wrote about grants last year, describing the "booms and busts" of college science funding.

NPR attributes the recent sharp decrease to shrinking funding for the National Institute of Health, which had provided many of those grants.

In 2015, the NIH awarded NDSU about $4.1 million in grants, according to the institute's records – down from about $5.8 million in 2005. And in 2008, the U.S. Department of Energy granted the center $5.9 million.

Writes NPR:

"Grants are the lifeblood of university research. Scientists rely on that steady stream of cash to hire staff, buy equipment and run the experiments. Their results help propel innovation, medical advances and local economies. Academic research is a major reason the United States remains a leader in medicine and biotechnology; but the future is uncertain."

Some universities and colleges aren't doing a great job adjusting to less funding, Tradeline writes. The site says new state-of-the-art science and research facilities can attract top talent, but if there's no plan in place to pay for the operational costs that come with, it'll ultimately turn those same people away.

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