Vice Chancellor’s Letter

The State of Research at UC Santa Barbara

Vice Chancellor for Research Michael Witherell

Vice Chancellor for Research Michael Witherell

Everything that we do at UC Santa Barbara is done in the interest of fulfilling our three missions: teaching, research, and public service. For much of what we do, the missions are inseparable.

The intellectual environment at UC Santa Barbara depends on the especially close connection between academic research and graduate studies. Research under faculty mentorship is a central part of Ph.D. training, and graduate students are critical to academic research programs. Outstanding graduate students enable great research, and a reputation for superb research attracts the best graduate students. Faculty investigators are awarded research funds by extramural agencies, and part of this funding supports the salaries and fees of a large number of UCSB graduate students.

The university also successfully engages a large number of undergraduate students in the research enterprise, giving them their first chance to create new knowledge. All of the undergraduates benefit from this experience, and many of them develop a drive to go on to graduate and professional schools as a result.

Turning to public service, we also have developed an extraordinary record of research applied to compelling societal needs. Taking an example from the last year, UC Santa Barbara experts on marine oil releases responded quickly to the massive oil spill that resulted from an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico: http://www.ia.ucsb.edu/pa/features-09-10.aspx .

Although all three of these missions are central to our university, the funding for activities related to these missions comes from different sources. State funds and tuition are the dominant funding sources for undergraduate education. Federal and private sponsors fund most of our research. Because of their deep involvement in teaching and research, graduate students are supported through all of these sources. Most of our public service is not separately funded and is usually carried out in connection with our education and research programs.

The total funding awarded to sponsored projects at UCSB in 2009-10, from July 1 to June 30, was a record $222 million. This is an increase of 28% over last year’s total of $174 million, and represents a doubling of extramural funding over the last ten years.

This dramatic increase in extramural funding is mostly due to increased funding from the federal research agencies. We received $192 million in federal funding in 2009-10, of which $67 million came from the National Science Foundation. Each of these numbers is about 30% greater than the previous record year, which was 2008-09.

These record funding levels can be linked directly to the effect of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), from which we received about $39 million. These ARRA funds were awarded through extremely competitive programs run by federal research agencies. In fact, $35 million of the ARRA funds awarded to UCSB came from two agencies, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Office of Science within the Department of Energy (DOE).

The single largest research grant was the $15.7 million awarded to the Institute for Energy Efficiency (IEE) to establish the Center for Energy-Efficient Materials (CEEM). John Bowers is Director of both IEE and CEEM, which was funded by the DOE Office of Science as one of their Energy Frontier Research Centers. The goal of CEEM is to make breakthroughs in the fundamental science and engineering behind three of the most promising technologies in the energy sector: photovoltaics, thermoelectrics, and solid-state lighting. This funding coming to UCSB is part of a $19 million award to CEEM, supporting an ambitious research program that will extend to 2014.

UCSB faculty have also done well at competing for support for research in areas that receive very little federal support, like the humanities. Patricia Fumerton of the English Department received a third two-year grant of $315,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities for the English Broadside Ballad Archive. This represents a very large commitment by the agency, about 1% of the total amount it gives annually in direct research grants nationwide.

I would like to call special attention to how well our assistant professors are competing for research funding early in their academic career. In the year 2009-10, assistant professors in science and engineering received seven Faculty Early Career Development awards from the NSF. The Foundation describes these awards as the “most prestigious awards in support of the early career-development activities of those teacher-scholars who most effectively integrate research and education.” Over the last six years, a larger fraction of our assistant professors in science and engineering have won these awards than those from any university in the country, with the exception of MIT, who did just as well. We are still attracting the best and brightest to come build their career at UC Santa Barbara. This is a wonderful indicator that the quality of UCSB research will continue to be very high for the foreseeable future.

The research record of UCSB’s faculty stands up to the best in the country, as indicated by the prestigious research awards across a broad range of disciplines. The National Academy of Sciences, which elects only 72 new members each year in all fields of sicence, elected Doug Burbank (Earth Sciences and Earth Research Institute) and Gary Horowitz (Physics) to their ranks in 2010. The Royal Society elected Craig Hawker as a new fellow and Michael Goodchild as a new foreign member. They were among only seven from all U.S. universities so honored.

UCSB research is advancing human knowledge and understanding across a remarkable range of disciplines. This research enhances the education that we provide our students as it benefits global society.