Decade of success builds momentum for Big Red research, creative activity

Troy Fedderson, April 8, 2024

Decade of success builds momentum for Big Red research, creative activity

Fueled by more than a decade of excellence, the research and creative activity enterprise at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln is making big impacts statewide and around the world.

Big Red Impact _ Research and Creative Activity graphic

“The University of Nebraska–Lincoln is a community of scholars dedicated to changing the world through discovery, creativity and innovation,” said Chancellor Rodney D. Bennett. “That shared passion to improve and inform society lies at the heart of everything we strive for as Nebraska’s flagship, land-grant university.”

In the last decade, the university’s total research expenditures have grown 37% – from $266.5 million in 2013 to $366 million in 2023. And, since 2010, Husker research teams have combined to set a record for total expenditures in each fiscal year.

UNL has also experienced tremendous growth in externally sponsored federal funding, increasing from $115 million in 2021 to $163 million in 2023.

Since 2010, UNL’s research expenditures have set a new record every year. The momentum continued in 2023, which was recently reported at $366 million. Click to enlarge. Katie Black | University Communication and Marketing

Multiple research teams have contributed to the university’s record growth. Leading efforts include:

The world also turns to Nebraska for multiple areas of research expertise. Those include nearly all things agriculturedrought monitoring and mitigationweather extremesroadside safetyworking with indigenous peoplessocial and behavioral sciences; and plant science innovation.

Nebraska’s Midwest Roadside Safety Facility conducts research focused on all aspects of highway design and safety. The team recently made headlines through crash tests designed to answer safety and military defense questions around electric vehicles. Learn more about the study. Aaron Nix | University Communication and Marketing

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is deepening its connections to UNL through a new National Center for Resilient and Regenerative Precision Agriculture. Construction of the $160 million lab will begin this summer at Nebraska Innovation Campus. The partnership is projected to double the USDA’s science and support staff at UNL.

“Research, creative activity and innovation at UNL advances Nebraska, the nation and the world,” said Sherri Jones, interim vice chancellor for research and economic development. “The depth and breadth of the work happening here is simply incredible — and should be a point of pride for our campus community and all of Nebraska.”

Research aims coupled with support programs offered by the Office of Research and Economic Development are also generating more honors for individual Nebraska researchers. These include record numbers of career development awards from the NSF, Department of Energy and Office of Naval Research.

“We have a number of programs in place — such as Research Development Fellows Program, Research Leaders Program, and NSF CAREER Club — to help our researchers develop strong programs of research and more high-quality proposals,” Jones said. “These strategic supports along with our Grand Challenges initiative are helping develop more interdisciplinary teams and lead to greater individual and collective successes.”

Faculty members who participate in the NSF CAREER Club have a 50% success rate in competing for the awards. That total is well above the national average for funded NSF proposals, Jones said.

In 2023, eight Nebraska researchers earned CAREER awards, placing UNL among 11 academic institutions to receive six or more of the honors. The university has already earned six CAREER awards to date in 2024, a tally that ranks second among Big Ten universities. Additional CAREER awards are pending.

Faculty are earning more U.S. patents, helping advance the UNL/UNMC ranking in the National Academy of Inventors’ Top 100 list for the seventh-straight year. And, in 2023, faculty were awarded 87 external recognitions, 15 of which are listed by the National Research Council as some of the most prestigious honors available.

Video: Nebraska’s Shane Farritor has led a research team that developed a surgical robot that, earlier this year, was tested aboard the International Space Station and received federal approval for use in operating rooms.

Some of the top individual awards include:

The university is also home to an array of world-renowned research and art collections, including those housed at the University of Nebraska State MuseumSheldon Museum of Art and the International Quilt Museum.

Video: The International Quilt Museum has become one of the largest collections of quilts and related textiles

Looking to the future, Jones sees nothing short of greater levels of success for the university’s research and creative activity enterprise.

“We expect that our research expenditures will set a record again this year. And our total awards received is also increasing, which is a positive indicator for future growth,” Jones said. “Based on our momentum and the drive of our research teams, I do not see that slowing down.”

Sources expected to support that growth include a growing number of industry partnerships and projects with community organizations.

“Research is a cornerstone of our university’s mission — it drives innovation, fosters economic growth and enriches lives,” Bennett said. “This university has had an incredible decade of success and now we need to build on our momentum. Through our collaborative research efforts, UNL will continue to unlock new opportunities, inspire breakthroughs, and build a brighter future for Nebraska and beyond.”