A version of this column was published in the July 11, 2020 edition of The Blade newspaper with the headline “University of Toledo’s research might grows.”
Research is a critical focus of The University of Toledo’s mission to discover life-changing solutions to global challenges and drive economic development in the northwest Ohio region.
Our strong research profile continues to grow as research dollars-to-date are more than $54.2 million, an increase of 17% over all of fiscal year 2019 and 41.5% higher than our research awards four years ago. And that number continues to climb as we close the fiscal year report after Labor Day.
Thanks to talented, determined researchers working in laboratories across UToledo campuses and advocates like U.S. Representative Marcy Kaptur, we have been able to secure significantly more competitive national funding from agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Department of Energy, NASA and the USDA.
Research grants from the NIH alone jumped 53% over the last five years, going from more than $9 million in 2016 to more than $14 million so far in 2020 awarded to the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, College of Engineering, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.
For example, Dr. Travis Taylor, assistant professor of medical microbiology and immunology in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, was just awarded last month a five-year, $1.92 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the NIH to advance a promising avenue he found for a potential therapy for tick- and mosquito-borne flaviviruses, such as West Nile, which are currently untreatable beyond supportive care and burden the global economy with billions in healthcare costs.
This year UToledo’s invasive grass carp strike team based at the UToledo Lake Erie Center received more than quadruple the research funding compared to last year for its work to remove invasive grass carp from Lake Erie and its tributaries, with $484,834 from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and $475,832 from the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. Using that funding and with the help of an additional $320,000 from those agencies to buy more boats, we have expanded the number of crews from one to now four getting out on the lake and rivers targeting this threatening fish population.
UToledo has a strong record of technology transfer and commercialization. Research universities support a regional innovation economy, attract and retain talent into the area, create direct and indirect jobs, enrich communities through the arts and humanities, support health and welfare, connect a region to experts throughout the globe, and serve as a venue for events of all sorts.
In addition to activities that directly benefit our region, our astrophysics faculty continue to explore the universe answering questions about our origins, our humanities scholars examine writings that offer insight into the human spirit, and our artists produce works that open the soul. If not for research universities, who would do such work?
UToledo conducts research across the breadth of disciplines found at the nation’s largest universities. And our size allows our faculty to connect easily with experts in different disciplines to form interdisciplinary teams to attack problems that cross disciplinary boundaries, such as our research on water quality and human health.
UToledo has one of the top solar energy programs in the nation, with the Wright Center for Photovoltaics Innovation and Commercialization supporting 15 scientists and 40 graduate students at its Dorr Street location. Scientists there won over $12 million in awards this academic year alone. These researchers work with local colleagues at First Solar, Toledo Solar, Pilkington NSG, Lucintech and others to make Toledo one of the globe’s leading centers for an industry destined to grow in importance for decades to come.
Our Water Task Force is made up of more than 30 faculty members from across the University working on research to protect water quality and the health of Lake Erie. Faculty from the Lake Erie Center have been monitoring algae in Lake Erie for 18 years, and researchers are investigating every aspect of harmful algal blooms, from nutrient loading into waterways, conditions in the lake that support algal blooms, ways to treat water at municipal treatment plants, the health impacts from both recreational and ingestion exposure, and policies and laws to protect the lakes.
UToledo also is home to a powerhouse team leading the fight against human trafficking. Dr. Celia Williamson defends the rights of vulnerable individuals on a local, national and international level through education, research and advocacy. UToledo research provides guidance to the courts, social agencies and law enforcement on protecting and rescuing victims from “modern day slavery.”
With the support of Kaptur, UToledo has established research connections with leading national research laboratories across the country. Not only do these labs support many of the world’s top scientists and engineers, they also have the world’s fastest supercomputers and other scientific laboratories that we connect to from Toledo.
For example, our scientists are working with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory on developing modeling and monitoring of the terrestrial aquatic interface, the zone where the ocean and Great Lakes meet the land, to understand how climate change and other factors such as land use practices affect the health of water bodies.
We also have a team developing a new project with the Idaho National Laboratory to generate hydrogen from the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant in Ottawa County at times when electricity demand is low. Hydrogen is a clean source of fuel for transportation and can be used in a myriad of industrial applications.
Faculty from the UToledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences and College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics are working with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for testing of COVID-19 in regional waste water to provide the region with advance notice that a rise of the virus is present in our community before clinical cases are reported.
Looking to future research, the UToledo College of Engineering is putting together a new project with Oak Ridge National Laboratory to develop a regional additive manufacturing center to support our local industry in developing 3D printing capabilities for their operations, enabling the creation of lighter, stronger parts and systems.
And our University continues to work with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory on electricity grid modernization to include ways for solar and other renewable energy sources to be best incorporated into the grid and to provide signals to consumers on ways to use electricity efficiently. This work is expanding to include issues of cybersecurity with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and hydrogen sources involving Idaho National Laboratory.
A research university is a valuable asset for a community in many ways. Toledo is fortunate to have a higher education institution where faculty members are engaged in research and scholarship and apply this advanced insight to the benefits of their students, community and nation, as well as the global scientific community.
Frank Calzonetti, Ph.D., is vice president of research at The University of Toledo.