Research, economic development and other sponsored activities at Georgia Tech passed a significant milestone during the fiscal year that concluded on June 30, recording more than a billion dollars in new grants, contracts and other awards. The record amount comes from federal government agencies, companies, private organizations, the state of Georgia and other sources.
The growth in new awards for sponsored activity allows Georgia Tech to take on complex and significant challenges involving multiple disciplines and collaborating organizations that bring together teams of researchers with a broad range of specialized expertise, noted Chaouki Abdallah, Georgia Tech’s executive vice president for research.
“Tackling society’s most pressing challenges requires multidisciplinary teams of scientists, engineers, business experts, policymakers and humanists, crosses multiple areas of specialization and often necessitates involvement from more than one research organization,” Abdallah said. “This level of funding allows us to participate in and lead more complex, more important and more impactful research projects. We are grateful to our research collaborators and to the state of Georgia for the confidence they have placed in us by providing these resources.”
The new funds also show Georgia Tech’s expanding role in national security, where defense agencies increasingly rely on the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) – Georgia Tech’s applied research arm – to tackle complex national defense, homeland security and related challenges. For some of this work, GTRI has contracts through its designation as a University Affiliated Research Center (UARC) that delivers essential engineering capabilities to Department of Defense agencies.
Accounting for approximately $643 million of the $1,050,095,192 total, GTRI employs more than 2,300 engineers, scientists and support staff at facilities in Atlanta, Warner Robins and other locations around the United States. GTRI’s research spans a variety of disciplines, including autonomous systems, cybersecurity, electromagnetics, electronic warfare, modeling and simulation, sensors, systems engineering, test and evaluation, and threat systems.
Among the examples of large, collaborative projects funded at Georgia Tech during fiscal 2019 is a $21.9 million award from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop new techniques for battling a potential flu pandemic. The project will involve five universities, a company and the Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention in developing new ways to help the body resist infection, fight the virus and boost the effects of vaccines.
In another example, Georgia Tech is leading a consortium of 12 universities and 10 national laboratories in a $25 million project with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to develop new technologies and educational programs to support the agency’s nuclear science, security and nonproliferation goals. The award will link basic research at universities with the capabilities of U.S. national laboratories.
Beyond defense and national security, Georgia Tech received a $13.5 million award from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help bring together research teams working on a global grand challenge: reinventing the toilet. The project could improve sanitation for 2.5 billion people worldwide without requiring costly new sewer lines or wastewater treatment facilities.
In the humanities, Georgia Tech’s Digital Integrative Liberal Arts Center (DILAC) received a three-year, $1.5 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to continue and expand its innovative work in the digital humanities. The new award followed $1 million of initial funding from the Mellon Foundation that established the DILAC, which uses digital projects to engage undergraduate students in the liberal arts.
For its home state, Georgia Tech conducts research to benefit farmers and food companies with improved crop monitoring, food processing and inspection technology. And researchers recently helped the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services protect case managers with the development of ClickSafe, a small device that can quickly summon help if needed.
Solving critical challenges for research sponsors is just one part of Georgia Tech’s innovation pipeline. Research often leads to discoveries that can, in due course, become the basis for new products, new goods, new services and new industries. To create new jobs and new investment, Georgia Tech can license technology to existing companies and startups. During fiscal 2019, Georgia Tech filed 87 U.S. patent applications and executed 55 licenses for the use of intellectual property. At least seven startup companies were launched during the year based on research discoveries.
Startup companies in Georgia Tech’s VentureLab program – which helps faculty, staff and students create new enterprises – attracted $347 million in new investment during the fiscal year. During 2019, VentureLab assisted 111 Georgia Tech faculty members. The National Science Foundation I-Corps program, which helps faculty members prepare for commercializing technology, served 43 Georgia Tech faculty members during fiscal year 2019. Georgia Tech I-Corps teams attracted $14 million in investment.
In addition to its impact on the nation’s safety, quality of life and economic prosperity, Georgia Tech’s research program benefits its students by providing real-world experience. In fiscal 2019, approximately 4,000 students worked in the research program as graduate research assistants, while another 2,400 students participated in undergraduate research, supplementing classroom, laboratory and other educational activities.
Two measures are often used to assess the volume of university research programs. A number for total awards represents new funding provided during a specific fiscal year. These awards often support sponsored activities that take place across more than one year, so funding from a specific award may be included in multiple expenditure reports, which are the other metric commonly used for measuring research programs. An expenditures number includes the total amount actually spent during a specific year.
Georgia Tech conducts research through GTRI, its six academic colleges, 11 interdisciplinary research institutes and the Enterprise Innovation Institute, Georgia Tech’s economic development and business assistance unit.