Skip to main content

ASU reports record growth in research awards

September 30, 2010

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was chosen as one of ASU's highlights from 2010. Look here for a look back at some of the year's most prized stories.

Arizona State University has reported that research awards in fiscal year 2010 (FY10) grew substantially, to more than to $347.4 million (a 33 percent increase) – a record for the university.

The significant growth in research awards at ASU follows years of focusing its scientific strengths, building its research infrastructure and attracting top researchers. Since July 1, 2002, ASU research awards have grown 136 percent, from $146.9 million in FY02 to $347.4 million in FY10.

“ASU continues to enjoy extraordinary growth as a research institution, which is a direct result of our world class faculty committed to discovery,” said R.F. “Rick” Shangraw Jr., ASU’s senior vice president for Knowledge Enterprise Development. “As impressive as these overall numbers are, what really is important is what the investment in research makes possible – exciting new discoveries, new solutions, new economic growth and new directions for the future of Arizona and our nation.”

ASU’s $347.4 million in research awards comes from a variety of sources, with the majority coming from the federal government.

A new component to funding for FY10 is stimulus funding for research – as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) – which totaled $60.8 million. The significance of the ARRA funds is that they are awarded on a competitive basis, which speaks to the strength of ASU’s research position, said Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, ASU’s deputy vice president in the Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development and university chief research officer.

“ASU’s performance in these highly competitive grants testifies to our status as a top research university in the nation,” Panchanathan said. “ASU is strategically positioned to lead several important national research areas like alternative energy, health care and education.”

New energy

One of the most pressing needs facing our nation, as well as the world, is to end our dependence on oil. To help fuel this effort, ASU has won several grants in alternative fuels research including two from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) ARPA-E program, which is geared towards high-risk, high-reward advances with the potential to change the way the nation generates and consumes energy.

ASU was the only university to win two awards in the first round of ARPA-E funding. The grants are for work on a new class of high-performance metal-air batteries and the use of photosynthetic bacteria to produce automotive fuel from a combination of sunlight, water and carbon dioxide.

A $5.2 million grant for two years funds work on photosynthetic bacteria called cyanobacteria that are modified to over-produce and secrete fatty acids for biofuel feedstocks using just sunlight, water and carbon dioxide. This new process is designed to avoid much of the environmental drawbacks to current cyanobacteria or algae conversion processes by not generating waste product when the organisms are cracked open, and avoiding the use of solvents and additional energy normally needed to extract the lipids or fatty acids from the photosynthetic microbes.

The second ARPA-E grant ($5.1 million for two years) supports advances in battery technology and energy storage. Researchers in this project are developing a new type of ultra-high-energy metal-air batteries that use advanced ionic liquids and promise to provide low-cost, long-range power for all-electric and hybrid vehicles.

Another area that ASU has been a leader in, and which receives on going funding, is the development of algae as a biofuel. This past year, the DOE awarded ASU a $6 million grant as part of a program focused on algae-based biofuels.

The ASU-led group, the Sustainable Algal Biofuels Consortium, is focusing on testing the acceptability of algal biofuels as replacements for petroleum-derived fuels and is investigating biochemical conversion of algae to fuels and products, as well as analyzing the physical chemistry properties of algal fuels and fuel intermediates.

Focus on health care

Health care is another focus of research at ASU of national importance. For example, the Biodesign Institute at ASU and the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust set up the new Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics and funded it with $35 million from the from Piper Trust. Joshua LaBaer was recruited from Harvard to direct the new center.

The Center for Personalized Diagnostics pursues earlier, more accurate diagnosis of diseases including cancer and diabetes. It is leveraging the latest capabilities in personalized medicine, an emerging field with potential to improve patient treatments and outcomes by factoring in an individual’s unique genetic and metabolic profile.

LaBaer leads a team that will play a major role in biomarker discovery and validation for cancer and diabetes in collaboration with the larger Partnership for Personalized Medicine, which also includes the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute in Seattle and TGen in Phoenix.

In another project, ASU researchers are using the laws of physics to figure out how to control cancer cells. The new Center for Convergence of Physical Science and Cancer Biology at ASU (funded at $1.7 million for each of its first two years) is one of 12 Physical Sciences-Oncology Centers supported by the National Institutes of Health's National Cancer Institute. Each center brings a non-traditional approach to cancer research with the goal of developing new methods of arresting tumor growth and metastasis. Renowned cosmologist Paul Davies leads the new ASU center.

Expanding education

Educating students of all ages remains a priority at ASU. One ASU program, that immerses future teachers in school settings to maximize their readiness for successful careers as educators, was awarded a $33.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education Teacher Quality Partnership Grant program. The grant allows ASU to expand across metropolitan Phoenix and the state of Arizona, spanning rural American Indian communities and the Tucson area.

ASU’s Professional Development School (PDS) program gives students three times the amount of hands-on, practical classroom experience as traditional teacher education programs. The five-year grant will establish “PDS NEXT,” a program involving 15 urban and rural partner school districts in Arizona. Simultaneously, the project is making possible a number of enhancements to the existing PDS program to produce graduates who are well prepared for success in the classroom, while expanding PDS to implement comprehensive school reform and full-range professional development.

Student’s role

While the scope of research at ASU is far ranging, students play a key role in many of the projects, Panchanathan said.

“Our most valuable resource is the talent of our faculty members and their students,” he said. “For students, doing research provides an unparalleled hands-on learning experience that is an essential part of their educational experience, and our students have taken advantage of this opportunity and made significant contributions to the advancement of knowledge at ASU.”

One example is Jennifer Dischler. As a senior in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, Dischler helped to increase the understanding of earthquakes so that they could be better forecast. Dischler, who studied computer systems engineering (she graduated in May 2010), analyzed data collected along fault lines in the states of California, Washington, Wyoming and Utah. As part of the project, she helped enhance the activities of, a website where the public can view 3-D images and download data covering various fault lines.

The data Dischler analyzed are important because they show the landscape record of recent fault slip. Energy released during rapid fault slip is what causes earthquakes.

“Jen was the captain of that team and helped keep everyone on track,” said Ramon Arrowsmith, a geoscientist and a professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration. Arrowsmith also is co-investigator for – an NSF funded facility. “It’s really important that we bring in students like her, who are not earth scientists, but who have important talents in other fields such as information technology and computer science.”


Rick Shangraw, (480) 965-4087
Panch Panchanathan, (480) 965-3699

Media contact:

Skip Derra,
(480) 965-4823