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Randy McEntaffer - X-Ray Spectrometer

Randall McEntaffer, head of Penn State's Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, makes adjustments to the flight electronics and power supply of the X-ray spectrometer that he and his team built for a September launch with NASA. Credit: Patrick Mansell / Penn State. Creative Commons

Penn State reached a record $1.034 billion in research expenditures during fiscal year 2021-22, an overall 4.1% increase from the previous year. The funding, which comes from federal and state agencies, industry sponsors, private donors, the University and other sources, advances research innovations and enables Penn State faculty and students to push the boundaries of discovery, bringing experiences into the classrooms, and offering a world-class education to undergraduate and graduate students. 

“This marks a banner year in the trajectory of research at Penn State,” said Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi. “We are proud that funders view Penn State as a pillar of high-quality research and education. Their significant investments in the University are a testament to the abilities of our faculty, staff and students to create knowledge, innovations and technologies that help advance our land-grant mission.” 

The total figure, $1.034 billion, places Penn State among a select group of research universities nationally and reflects the interdisciplinary strength built over more than three decades. Penn State continues to rank in the top 25 academic institutions by expenditures with 12 disciplines ranked in the top 10. Only three other universities in the nation have more top-10 ranked disciplines.  

“Our research has been driving innovations in critical areas such as climate change and health disparities, and it has been having a transformative impact on fundamental discovery, creative works, scholarly endeavors, economic development, and national security,” said Lora Weiss, Penn State senior vice president for research. “Penn State’s demonstrated ability to leverage our expertise in interdisciplinary collaborations, both within the University and with colleagues from around the world, positions us as leaders known for tackling major societal challenges and imparting knowledge on our students so that they can do the same for generations to come.”  

Funding from federal agencies comprised the majority of Penn State’s research expenditures, totaling a record $663.7 million in fiscal year 2022, a $53.7 million increase from the previous year. Awards contributing to this include:   

  • $25 million from the National Institutes of Health to improve access to clinical trials and new medical and behavioral treatments and interventions for residents of Pennsylvania. 
  • $20 million from the National Science Foundation to develop high-performance materials that can be used to create flexible electronics, among other novel applications. 
  • $17 million from the Department of Energy to study climate change resilience in cities. 

Nearly 27% of overall funding is attributed to the Applied Research Laboratory, a Department of Defense-designated university affiliated research center, dedicated to conducting research that helps secure our nation while simultaneously preparing students for careers in national security. 

Federal funding also provided significant support for graduate and undergraduate students. For example, in 2020-21, external grants and contracts provided $65.9 million in graduate student stipend support.  

“Penn State’s research and teaching missions are deeply entwined,” said Bendapudi. “Students receive hands-on training from faculty members who are leading experts in their fields, and in turn, students contribute substantially to the overall research enterprise. Research dollars enable us to prepare our students for competitive academic, industry, government and nonprofit jobs once they graduate.”  

“Penn State’s demonstrated ability to leverage our expertise in interdisciplinary collaborations, both within the University and with colleagues from around the world, positions us as leaders known for tackling major societal challenges and imparting knowledge on our students so that they can do the same for generations to come.”
- Lora Weiss, senior vice president for research

Expenditures for fiscal year 2022 also included $26 million in industry sponsorships from several hundred companies. These industry partnerships are driving economic development, training the workforce of the future, and facilitating technology transfer in a variety of public-private partnerships.   

According to Weiss, industry-sponsored research is often focused on creating innovations and advancing them out of the lab to startup companies, established companies, and through licensing and technology transfer, so that the economic development and benefit to our communities and society is substantial.  

For example, Weiss said, in 2021, Penn State became Volvo’s first and only academic partner for research. Volvo has only two on-site university research park locations: Penn State and Sweden, and the company is sponsoring research in and training students on hydrogen fuels, batteries, artificial intelligence and machine learning. In addition, researchers at Penn State are being funded by Nasdaq, J.P. Morgan and Wells Fargo to use advanced analytics to develop approaches for equitable entrepreneurship and to tailor solutions for female and minority entrepreneurs. Many awards are also multi-year awards. For example, as of September, Penn State currently has 94 active research projects with NASA, with a total value of $43 million.  

“While the bulk of research expenditures comes from external sources, Penn State also invests in its own research,” said Weiss. “We support our faculty to help them get their work off the ground. For example, the University regularly provides seed funding to researchers to collect preliminary data that are often necessary to secure external funding. University research dollars also support some of the unique facilities and equipment that enable our faculty to achieve their research visions. With such activity, Penn State continues to be a thought-leader, helping develop the national narrative on what is achievable.” 

Weiss explained that external research awards, which often span multiple years, are provided by sponsors in response to competitive proposal submissions. They are provided in advance of any expenditures and authorize spending up to a certain amount for specific activities described in the proposal, which often includes undergraduate and graduate student research support, postdoctoral support, travel, conference participation, materials and supplies. Awards are leading indicators of research growth, while expenditures are reflections of current research activity. Research expenditures are also the metric used for research rankings, for which Penn State is ranked 22nd in the nation. 

Weiss also explained that Penn State is no exception to the trend of universities becoming major innovation centers, as Penn State research attracts leading faculty who are innovators and creators of knowledge and discovery; it attracts students and provides them with experiences for career successes; and it attracts industry, helping companies anticipate and solve their challenges. Penn State research is driving progress across the state, the nation, and the world. 

For more information about research at Penn State, go to research.psu.edu