During a year when much work around the world ground to a halt, researchers at the University of California San Diego were busier than ever working on ways to better understand the movement of SARS-CoV-2; using data science to help predict wildfire behavior; and assessing the risks of weather extremes such as flooding and sea level rise. This work was supported by a record-breaking year of research funding.
In fiscal year 2021 (July 1-June 30), UC San Diego earned $1.54 billion in sponsored research funding, a 6% increase over the previous year. This is the largest number ever for the university and marks the 12th consecutive year the campus has earned more than $1 billion in funding to support its extensive research enterprise.
“The power of scientific research to change lives has never been more apparent or more needed,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. “Despite the challenging circumstances of the pandemic, UC San Diego researchers expanded their efforts to explore the basis of human knowledge, address disparities in society, enrich human life, and understand and protect our planet.”
Vice Chancellor for Research Sandra A. Brown praised the university community for its commitment over the past year, saying “To reach a new funding milestone at a time when everyone faced unimaginable challenges of the pandemic is a testament to the resiliency and dedication of our researchers and the staff who support them. The research success underscores that UC San Diego is home to some of the most talented, innovative thinkers in the nation.”
Funding from federal agencies reached $891 million, an increase of 7.1% from last year’s number. The largest portion of federal funding came from the National Institutes of Health at $549 million. Other significant federal funding came from the National Science Foundation ($138 million), the Department of Defense ($90 million) and the Department of Energy ($40 million).
Contracts and grants from industry sponsors accounted for $193 million, while funding from the state of California totaled nearly $25 million. Funding from private and non-profit organizations exceeded $267 million. Research gifts—defined as monies donated to support the university’s general research enterprise—rose to $149 million, an increase of nearly 32% over last year.
Research Today for a Brighter Tomorrow
Over the past year, funding has been used to establish large-scale centers of excellence, support early career faculty and conduct research to increase wildfire monitoring and prevention.
The Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) was established with an $18 million grant from the National Science Foundation. The center brings together researchers from physical sciences, biological sciences, computational sciences and engineering to build new materials aimed at improving human lives.
In FY21 UC San Diego researchers received a total of 19 NSF CAREER Awards, offered to early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.
Associate Professor Arya Mazumdar at the Halıcıoğlu Data Science Institute is using his CAREER Award to study reliability in large-scale storage systems, while Assistant Professor of Bioengineering Daniela Valdez-Jasso is studying the mathematical modeling of organ and tissue function, particularly as it pertains to pulmonary hypertension.
The university also received almost $25 million in wildfire research. This funding comes from the federal government, the state of California and public utilities—underscoring the magnitude of the problem and the need for partnership in addressing it. This money will be used to investigate the health impacts of wildfires, as well as continuing to build out of AlertWildfire’s network of cameras used to locate and monitor wildfires in real time.
UC San Diego Clinical Professor of Psychiatry Carla Marienfeld received a $2 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration to expand and develop the UC San Diego Addiction Psychiatry Fellowship, which will help train a workforce of physicians skilled to treat underserved patients struggling with opioid use disorder and addiction.
Awards from non-profit and philanthropic organizations are also crucial to research support. A $500,000 grant from the Conrad Prebys Foundation will help the Department of Music expand its reach and accessibility by producing concert-quality livestreaming and recorded videos—something that became critically important to the continuation of arts research and programming during the pandemic.
A Call to Action in the Fight Against COVID-19
As the scope and severity of COVID-19 began to grow in early 2020, UC San Diego was at the forefront of research, investigating how the virus spread, validating that loss of smell and taste were early symptoms of COVID-19, developing color-changing test strips, and facilitating clinical trials to test the efficacy of vaccines. UC San Diego earned over $55 million in COVID-19-related research, but the work goes beyond dollars as the research community came together in unprecedented ways during the pandemic to support the health and safety of people around the world.
- Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry at Scripps Institution of Oceanography Kimberly Prather became a leading expert on the aerosol transmission of the SARS-CoV2 virus. Prather also shared her expertise with the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and the Biden administration.
- Researchers in the School of Medicine published findings that the first cases of COVID-19 in China circulated months before official reports and explained how SARS-CoV-2 quickly overwhelmed detection and intervention efforts in North America and Europe.
- Assistant Professor in the School of Medicine and Division of Biological Sciences Fabian Rivera-Chávez helped communicate the safety and life-saving importance of COVID-19 vaccination in underserved communities, including Spanish-speaking Hispanic communities.
- Research from UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy investigated whether economic hardship affected the likelihood of complying with stay-at-home orders, while the Rady School of Management linked a decrease in exercise to higher rates of depression during the pandemic.
- A team of environmental engineers used a high-performance computer at the San Diego Supercomputer Center at UC San Diego to simulate how SARS-CoV-2’s airborne pathogens travel and land at the supermarket.
- A multi-campus study funded by the University of California’s New Electorate Project investigated the growing political divide on preferences for voting by mail during the pandemic and its possible effects on the 2020 election.