Growth and impact highlight FY '23 research numbers
For a second straight year, Virginia Tech’s research awards and expenditures have grown by more than 10 percent.
Based on fiscal year 2023 data estimates, federal, state, local, and private research awards grew a combined 17 percent, while research expenditures rose 12 percent in a single year. Over a two-year period, awards have seen a 31 percent increase and expenditures a 28 percent increase.
“Virginia Tech research continues to build on its strengths, transcending traditional disciplinary boundaries in ways that make positive impacts on global priorities and the human condition,” said Dan Sui, senior vice president for research and innovation and chief research and innovation officer. “This is reflected in our continued growth in expenditures and awards. This illustrates confidence from outside sponsors and bolsters efforts such as paid undergraduate and graduate research, post-doctoral programing, and ultimately has a positive impact on the local and regional economies.”
Research represents about 90 percent of the sponsored work done at Virginia Tech. Awards are a measure of money provided by outside agencies for purposes of innovative research, while expenditures reflect awarded money spent during those projects. Awards outpacing expenditures is a show of confidence in the work being done.
Three research institutes — Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, the Virginia Tech National Security Institute, and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute —‚ saw their externally sponsored research expenditures grow by a total of 22.7 percent. Together, they account for more than one quarter of the university’s research expenditures, while the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute alone accounts for 11 percent.
All three institutes had double-digit percentage growth. Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and the Virginia Tech National Security Institute Leading the way with 35 percent and 31 percent, respectively, while researchers at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute won the university's three largest individual awards, for a total of $23.6m. The individual awards were from government sponsors to study the impacts of smart, automated systems on road transportation and driver safety.
Research assists rise in rankings
Virginia Tech saw substantial gains in the Quacquarelli Symonds (QA) World University Rankings 2024, which were released in July. The university ranked No. 302 globally out of 1,497 institutions ranked, which placed the university among the top 21 percent of world institutions. Last year, the university ranked No. 363 overall in these rankings.
Notably, Virginia Tech scored well in the international research network, an indicator of the global engagement category. This indicator assesses the diversity of an institution’s international research partnerships and how these partnerships help to solve the most pressing global challenges. Virginia Tech ranked No. 197 in this indicator and No. 35 out of the 199 United States institutions evaluated.
Three elected to prestigious national academies
The Charles P. Lunsford Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Marr started her research on airborne virus transmission in 2009, and her work became the center of attention in 2020 with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bodnar has been a geosciences faculty member since his arrival at Virginia Tech in 1985. He was named Clifton C. Garvin Professor of Geochemistry in 1997 and University Distinguished Professor in 1999.
Xiao, the Patricia A. Caldwell Faculty Fellow in the College of Science, received the National Academy of Sciences Award in the Evolution of Earth and Life-Mary Clark Thompson Medal in 2021.
Innovation and Partnerships offers support
In partnership with Advancement and the university community, philanthropic investment by corporations and foundations exceeded $80 million, in fiscal year 2023. Innovation and Partnerships supports industry engagement, partnerships, and new venture creation
LICENSE executed 25 license agreements, including four to faculty start-ups and received 142 new invention disclosures to fuel future licenses. Past and new licenses contributed to an increase in revenue of 20 percent over fiscal year 2022.
The inaugural Tech-Transfer Boot Camp was delivered to over 30 faculty and graduate students.
LAUNCH awarded a record 12 Proof-of-Concept grants to the university community. A new feature was designed into the 2023 Proof-of-Concept Program, which allows recipients to use funding as matching funds for pursuing Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation Commonwealth Commercialization funding. This can more than double funding for early-stage commercialization efforts.
Presidential Postdoctoral Fellowship continues to grow
Seven fellows joined the Research Frontiers Track during fiscal year 2023 as well as three in the Cybersecurity Track, which is funded by the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative. This fall, three additional fellows will begin the Research Frontiers Track and one additional fellow the Cybersecurity Track as well as the first fellow for the Science Policy and Research Ethics Track.
The Innovation Track selected two fellows, one of which will officially begin in fall 2023, while the other has moved on to a full-time role at the start-up company he co-founded in spring 2023.
Research institutes, initiatives, and affiliated corporations make life better
With far too many examples to be all-inclusive, below is merely a sampling of the positive impact Virginia Tech faculty and students are making through the university’s research institutes.
Fralin Biomedical Research Institute
When a girl was born with a rare genetic mutation that affects brain development, her family found a way forward at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC Neuromotor Research Clinic.
With a new, four-year, $6.1 million grant, Brittany Howell is leading a team of Virginia Tech researchers seeking to fill a knowledge gap: How do early exposure to opioids and other factors influence babies’ brain, physical, and behavioral development?
Fralin Life Sciences Institute
Biotech in a Box, Virginia Tech’s flagship life sciences outreach program, has reached more than 420,000 students in 246 schools across the commonwealth with hands-on science experiences. A $1.5 million endowment from Tracy and Sarah Wilkins will ensure it continues and grows for years to come.
The first center planning grants were awarded to two research teams led by principal investigators Michelle Theus and Peter Vikesland. The significant investment over three years will support affiliated faculty’s quest to pursue federally funded, prestigious multimillion dollar center or program project grants.
Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology
The institute collaborated with the university’s Communications and Marketing Division to create a projection on Torgersen Bridge that allowed hundreds of people to experience Virginia Tech’s past 150 years through images and sound.
A fully immersive, 15-minute, sonically rich, layered audio spatial experience, the performance inside the Cube at Virginia Tech resulted from a collaboration between Ben Knapp, executive director of the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology and professor of computer science, and Eric Lyon, a music technologist and composer, and professor of composition and creative technologies in the School of Performing Arts.
Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science
This is the lab’s ninth major ratings release since researchers began rating helmets in 2011. Researchers have tested and rated helmets for varsity, youth, and flag football; soccer; cycling; hockey; snow sports; and whitewater sports, transforming the science of sports safety by giving athletes, parents, and coaches unbiased, quantitative data they can use to choose the safest equipment.
The Federal Aviation Administration’s Alliance for System Safety of Unmanned Aircraft Systems through Research Excellence is a research powerhouse that comprises 26 U.S. and global universities and more than 100 partners across industry and government
Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment
Leigh-Anne Krometis and an interdisciplinary team of five colleagues and five graduate students aim to quantify the economic and health implications of using multiple water sources, such as natural springs and bottled water, when in-home water is not accessible or the quality is questionable.
Researchers receive a $3.6 million grant to solve the problem of freshwater salinization in the Occoquan Reservoir through a combination of engineering, biology, ecology, and social science.
Virginia Tech National Security Institute
One of four universities selected by the Department of Defense to participate in the pilot interdisciplinary scholarship and talent development program for intelligence and defense, Virginia Tech’s cohort is being co-led by the institute and the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets.
“This collaboration agreement between two excellent institutions presents an exciting opportunity to build the next generation of national security leaders through education, experiential learning, and common understanding of the challenges we face as a country,” said Laura Freeman, deputy director of the Virginia Tech National Security Institute.
Virginia Tech Transportation Institute
The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute's (VTTI) lighting study findings and recommendations "played a significant role in the marking and lighting configuration of our newly designed patrol SUV's," said Col. Gary T. Settle, superintendent of the Virginia State Police. “We are grateful for the significant research and collaborative efforts that VTTI extended to the Virginia State Police during the multiple phases of the study.”
Using 4G/LTE, otherwise known as wireless data transmission-based technology, the expanded system detects speeding vehicles and triggers an air horn to alert roadside workers of vehicles traveling above the speed limit.
Commonwealth Cyber Initiative
The workforce development initiative encompasses a network of 42 Virginia higher education institutions with more than 350 researchers working at the intersection of security, autonomous systems, and intelligence.
One of six centers in North America and one of 15 in the world approved by the O-RAN Alliance, the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative center will be an essential component to boosting advancements and competition in wireless mobile networks based on open radio access networks (O-RAN).
Commonwealth Cyber Initiative, Southwest Virginia Node
This work will include the first large-scale measurement study of unintentional toxicity, the creation of artificial intelligence models to probe for intentional toxic behavior, and the hopeful creation of an ever-evolving toxic language identifier and filter.
Researchers are collaborating with historically Black colleges and universities to train faculty members, acquire lab equipment, and develop curricula to meet the growing demand for a quantum-trained workforce.
Virginia Tech Applied Research Corporation
COSMIC is a partnership between Space Systems Command and Virginia Tech Applied Research Corporation to facilitate Space Systems Command collaboration with commercial industry, drive synergies with government agency partners, and deliver capabilities to the warfighter with greater speed and cost efficiency.
The research team demonstrated how a field user equipped with an augmented reality headset received seamless low-latency, high-bandwidth interactive remote assistance over 5G from a remote PC user located anywhere in the world.