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$1 Billion and Growing

$1 Billion and Growing

How much is $1 billion in sponsored research? Laid end to end, a billion dollars would circle the earth more than three and a half times.

The University of Dayton Research Institute has topped the $1 billion historic mark in sponsored research and is on its way to breaking last year’s record volume of $53 million. In the last three years, UDRI has added 38 new jobs to meet the growing research volume.

“This milestone provides a springboard from which we will continue our efforts to connect science, engineering and technology to developments that positively impact the economy and our society,” said Mickey McCabe, director of UDRI. “The University of Dayton will define its institutional excellence, in part, upon our ability to be a world-class resource to our region, Ohio and the nation.”

UDRI was officially established in 1956, but it traces its roots to a $10,200 Air Force contract in 1949 to analyze aircraft flight loads data. Today -- approximately 27,000 contracts later -- it’s the largest nonmedical facility on a Catholic university campus and is second to Penn State University in the area of sponsored research in materials, according to the National Science Foundation. UDRI is the first in Ohio and ranks 16th in the country among non-profit institutions receiving Department of Defense research contracts and grants. In all, UDRI holds 137 patents and has entered into 130 licensing agreements with companies to transfer technology from the lab to the market.

UDRI has come a long way from that first small Air Force contract. Just recently, it won two “delivery order” contracts totaling more than $80 million -- $49 million to research power and thermal technologies for the Air and Space Scientific Research Program and $31.5 million to develop better, cheaper jet fuel, first in military aircraft and later in commercial jets. Under these types of contracts, the federal government sets a ceiling on funding, and researchers propose projects that meet the research guidelines, according to McCabe. In the highly competitive arena of federally sponsored research, the contracts are important because they allow research-and-development organizations the ability to compete for funding for major projects in areas of their expertise, McCabe said.

UDRI’s expertise historically has been centered in materials research, particularly projects that make aircraft safer. Today, it’s working to make Ohio a center of nanomaterials research. This month, UDRI signed a licensing agreement with NanoSperse, a start-up Akron company, to commercialize a nanomaterials technology that can be used to make composite materials lighter, stronger and more durable. The University of Dayton is also establishing a $3 million Wright Brothers Institute Endowed Chair in Nanomaterials and this spring will open what McCabe called “a world-class suite of laboratories in nanomaterials” in the new Science Center on campus.

“We have solid funding of $12 million in nanomaterials research over the next three years,” McCabe said. “Our emphasis in this area is not just recent. In the mid-1990s, we transferred a technology to Hybrid Plastics, named one of the 10 most promising nanotechnology companies in 2002. We worked in this area before it became a buzz word.”

Nanotechnology – what researchers describe as the science of constructing new materials with dimensions about the size of five to 10 atoms -- has enormous potential. “Federal funding in nano-related research has grown from $250 million in 1999 to more than a billion dollars projected in 2005,” McCabe said.

UDRI has pioneered the use of microscopy that allows researchers to see elements at the nano scale – one-billionth of one meter. These molecules are 50,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, researchers say. UDRI researchers also have developed nanocomposite magnets that have exceeded world-record energy levels.

“Nanotechnology is fundamentally changing the way materials and devices will be produced in the future,” McCabe said. “It will translate into the ability to develop plastics that will conduct electricity at the flip of a switch, electronics that are smarter and smaller than today, paints and coatings that can change color on demand, airplane structures that tell you before they fail that there is damage, and airplane wings and jet engine fan blades that change shape according to flight conditions.”

February 2004


News and Communication

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