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August 16, 2002

"Big impact" ideas to receive start-up funds

by Anne Krapfl
Five significant academic initiatives will receive start-up funds this fiscal year and salary funding for seven new faculty positions next year. The interdisciplinary initiatives are the "big impact" ideas President Gregory Geoffroy talked about last summer and fall when he first arrived at Iowa State. They are intended to respond to critical needs in Iowa and the country, and enhance Iowa State's status among peer land-grant schools.

The five were selected by a faculty committee and approved by Geoffroy in a competitive process that drew 31 pre-proposals. (A sixth initiative has the backing of the colleges of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine, the President's Office and the animal science department and is on a fast track to get under way early this fall.)

Funding for the five initiatives, $274,000 in one-time or base funding in FY03, comes from increased tuition revenues. Faculty salary and benefits funding, totaling $801,000, has been budgeted for funding in FY04 or as soon as the new faculty positions are filled.

"I extend my thanks to (vice provost for research and advanced studies) Jim Bloedel, his staff and the committee for all their work soliciting and reviewing proposals," Geoffroy said. "I also want to thank all those in the Iowa State community who submitted ideas for consideration."

Geoffroy said the ideas selected for funding are highly collaborative and will involve many researchers from across campus. They build on Iowa State's strengths and fit the university's land-grant mission. They also are likely to generate significant amounts of external financial support as they progress, he added. In addition to developing world-class research components, each of the initiatives will strengthen or create graduate academic programs.

Planning continues for the initiatives. It is expected that as organizational structures and other details are decided, each of the initiatives will be presented to the Board of Regents, State of Iowa, for approval.

Following is a short description of the five centrally funded initiatives and the sixth, which will be administered within the College of Agriculture and also supported by faculty in the colleges of Veterinary Medicine and Liberal Arts and Sciences. While all of the initiatives selected for funding were highly ranked, the first three -- Combinatorial Discovery, Food Safety and Food Security, and Human Computer Interaction -- finished highest in the competitive process.

The Combinatorial Discovery Initiative will seek to discover and test new materials for a wide range of uses, particularly nano or high-performance materials, biomaterials (synthetic materials that mimic living systems) and catalysts, using the combinatorial method. This relatively new chemistry method, used primarily in the pharmaceutical industry, randomly assembles molecules into thousands of combinations of compounds for testing over hours or days, instead of weeks or years in the traditional "one-at-a-time" approach.

The Food Safety and Food Security Initiative will strengthen existing programs and develop strategic research and training programs that address human health risks associated with food processing, global warming and other environmental changes, globalization and agroterrorism. It will serve farmers, producers, processors and consumers and focus on several areas: food-borne infectious diseases, food production (including post-harvest processing), food service and retail, international food security, public policy and communication, and food-borne disease models and risk analysis.

The Human Computer Interaction (HCI) Initiative will use ISU's Virtual Reality Applications Center to stay in front of technological trends in computers and computing in order to develop more useful interfaces for the people who use them. The emerging field of HCI essentially is the study of the relationship between people and increasingly powerful, yet portable, computers.

The Bioeconomy Initiative will investigate the use of plants and agricultural crops to produce chemicals, fuels, materials and energy, reducing this country's reliance on imported petroleum and reducing air pollution associated with fossil fuels. Bio-based products are expected to enhance rural development by creating new markets demanding new crops.

The Information Infrastructure Initiative will strengthen information technology (IT) research at ISU by consolidating the numerous, but scattered, IT-related research activities and creating multidisciplinary teams in areas such as ag engineering, smart transportation systems, earthquake engineering simulations, air traffic control, genetic engineering and bioinformatics, and financial systems. IT technologies, such as high-performance computing, new processor and memory designs, security, software engineering and distributed computing, are expected to improve through the coordinated approach.

The sixth initiative, the proposed Center for Integrated Animal Genomics, will be presented to the regents for approval at their September meeting. The center will link working groups involved in research areas that build on ISU strengths and are predicted to be important in animal agriculture and human health. These include identifying and understanding the function and control of genes both to develop new genetic technologies and improve the health of ag-important animals; and understanding the genetics of disease resistance to promote safer animal-based food products.

First-year funding for the initiative, totaling just over $273,000, includes $100,000 from the President's office (new tuition revenues) for a new faculty position, $50,000 each from the College of Veterinary Medicine and the department of animal science for a second faculty position, and $73,333 in operational funds from the College of Agriculture.

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