President Barack Obama’s stimulus package is already stimulating innovation and jobs at the University of California, Berkeley, with more than 130 projects underway. The work is being funded by nearly $65 million in new money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).
UC Berkeley’s share of ARRA funds is just a small part of some $21.5 billion promised nationwide to science research, equipment and construction – news highlighted this week by the launch of ScienceWorksForUS http://scienceworksforus.org/ . The Web site was created by the American Association of Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and The Science Coalition, which together represent more than 200 of the nation’s leading academic research institutions.
So far, the ARRA funds awarded to UC Berkeley come primarily from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), along with one grant each from the Department of Energy and the U.S. Geological Survey.
“These extra research funds are a big plus for the campus, enhancing its research agenda and allowing us to hire additional students, post-doctoral fellows and technicians,” said Mark Schlissel, professor of molecular and cell biology and dean of the biological sciences in UC Berkeley’s College of Letters and Science. “The majority of the stimulus money supplements existing programs, which have already been vetted and reviewed. But the new funds allow a researcher to expand the scope of a study, do things more quickly, or move in an unanticipated direction.”
Schlissel noted that the research funds also come with extra federal money to cover campus indirect costs, thereby supporting research and teaching facilities and administration that have been cut in the face of systemwide budget reductions.
The stimulus funding ranges from a small supplement to support UC Berkeley students this past summer on a project involving diabetes in the Chinese American community, to two-year, multimillion dollar campus projects on leukemia, improved vaccines and basic mathematics.
At the School of Public Health, Patricia Buffler, for example, received a two-year, $2.3 million ARRA grant from NIH that will accelerate her 14-year study of the causes of childhood leukemia.
“The stimulus funds will make our study sounder and more robust, allowing us to refine the association between household chemicals and childhood leukemia,” said Buffler, professor of epidemiology and the school’s former dean. “We can do better science.”
Already, her work has shown that household use of paints is associated with increased risk of acute lymphocytic leukemia, the dominant type of childhood leukemia, while use of solvents in the home is associated with an increased risk of acute myelocytic leukemia. The ARRA funds will allow her to hire 3.7 FTEs (full-time equivalents ) and retain another 1.3 FTEs, who will revisit homes and collect dust samples for analysis to bolster the association between chemicals in the home and leukemia risk.
Another School of Public Health project will be one of the first to look at the impact on children of the chemical bisphenol A (BPA), an endocrine disruptor found in can liners and plastic water bottles that is causing growing concern around the world. Kim Harley, principal investigator for the two-year, $1.5 million NIH-funded project, plans to hire seven people to analyze nine years of blood and urine samples already collected from a cohort in the Salinas Valley, in search of correlations between levels of BPA and IQ, obesity and onset of puberty.
Daniel Portnoy, a professor in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology and in the School of Public Health, received a two-year, $5 million program project grant from the NIH to investigate how bacteria that cause illnesses such as tuberculosis, Legionnaire’s disease and food-borne listeriosis are able to evade the body’s immune system. He said that the grant spurred the move of a start-up company, Aduro BioTech, to the city of Berkeley to collaborate with his team, which includes researchers from UC San Francisco and Stanford University.
“The funds will support a highly interactive group addressing problems of global health and biodefense. This research is aimed to lead to the development of vaccines,” said Portnoy. “Without the Recovery Act funds, this very synergistic group was going to fall apart.”
In the short term, the grant allows Portnoy to retain the administrative core of his group, plus hire a chemist, two postdoctoral fellows, one technician and two people to set up a core facility to be shared by all the researchers. In the long term, Portnoy said this joint research could likely lead to an entire new vaccine market within the biotech industry.
Not only is the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory getting new Quanterra data loggers from the U.S. Geological Survey for each of the 50 seismic stations UC Berkeley operates in Northern California, but it’s also receiving $721,000 in stimulus funds to install them and upgrade the network, a key part of the state’s earthquake monitoring system. The new data loggers will replace 18-year-old computers, speeding up data analysis and making possible a future early warning system. According to lab director Barbara Romanowicz, the funds will support two of four highly trained field engineers who might otherwise be laid off because of a 30 percent budget cut at the lab.
“It is very important for us to preserve the team we have as much as possible, because it takes years to train a field engineer,” said Romanowicz, UC Berkeley professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Science in the College of Letters and Science.
The Allen Telescope Array in Hat Creek, Calif., has received a three-year, half-million-dollar grant from NSF to fund research and, in the process, help retain key technical staff. The observatory is in an economically depressed region of the state, according to principal investigator Geoffrey Bower, UC Berkeley assistant professor in the Department of Astronomy.
Many of the stimulus grants to UC Berkeley support primarily graduate students. An example is the LoCal Energy Network, a project in the College of Engineering that received $1.5 million in funding to overlay the current energy grid with a cybernetwork that would improve the efficiency, reliability and quality of power delivered. According to principal investigator Randy Katz, UC Berkeley professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, the project will support six graduate students for three years.
In addition, a five-year, $5 million grant from the NSF to the Graduate Division will fund graduate fellowships for an additional 40 doctoral students across the campus.