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UF sets a record: $900 million in research funding this year

Researchers are exploring breakthroughs in engineering, agriculture, arts and sciences and medicine, including work to combat COVID-19.

The University of Florida announced Tuesday that it surpassed its record for research awards, reaching $900.7 million during the 2020 fiscal year.

The school, which ranks 15th among public universities for research spending, has increased the amount it received for research by 45 percent since 2011.

That’s good news for the state, said David Norton, UF’s vice president for research.

“There’s a lot of reasons to be optimistic going forward,” he said. “This is posturing the state to be a leader for attracting talent and be a state where really smart people want to study and work and do business. ... Universities like UF are working on the most pressing challenges that face society today.”

Much of the research was in the fields of medicine, engineering, agriculture and liberal arts and sciences. Norton said UF is looking forward to what the remainder of the year brings in terms of research done in artificial intelligence. The university recently received a $25 million gift from an alumnus to help install a supercomputer, a move that kick-started an initiative to incorporate the topic of artificial intelligence across the entire curriculum.

A release from the university stated that $639.2 million in research funding came from federal sources in 2020, including $321.8 million from the Department of Health and Human Services. The school also received $241.5 million from the National Institutes of Health, $62.9 million from the National Science Foundation, $61.3 million from the Department of Defense and $39.9 million from the Department of Education.

The university also received $43 million from state and local governments, $47.5 million from private industries and $112 million from nonprofits and foundations.

More than 100 grants were over $1 million, including a $5.5 million grant from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to identify genetic traits that make sweet corn taste better and grow in different parts of the country. A $4.5 million grant from the Patterson Family Foundation aimed to improve early childhood literacy.

“We’re working on problems that are important, which is why there’s funding to do that work,” Norton said.

Many researchers, he said, have also been active in COVID-19 research, despite the fact that some labs were temporarily closed.

The College of Medicine received nearly $1 million to expand telemedicine services and equipment among under-served and vulnerable populations. Also, researchers at UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute received $104,000 to study how to kill virus particles on personal protective equipment. An electrical and computer engineering professor was awarded a $185,000 grant to help develop a low-cost, multi-patient ventilator system.

“The researchers are really doing the work to come up with solutions that advance the state, nation and world,” Norton said.