Research Hits Record $56 Million During 2020

WPI researchers brought in $56 million in government, corporate, and private funding for their work during the 2020 fiscal year, a jump of 50 percent over the previous year.

Bogdan Vernescu, vice provost for research, credited talented faculty, institutional efforts to find and develop opportunities, and new facilities for the leap in awards.

“We’ve built infrastructure through our Research Solutions Institute to support research, we know what expertise our researchers have, and we are finding opportunities to go after and support faculty to develop the proposals,” Vernescu says. “The support we provide allows researchers to seek out larger, more complex awards and to work across disciplines on proposals.”

Bogdan Vernescu, vice provost for researech
Bogdan Vernescu

About 240 awards were received during the year ended June 30, supporting work ranging from learning technologies to the development of PracticePoint facilities at the Gateway Park campus.

The biggest funder of awards to WPI during 2020 was the National Science Foundation, which originated about $17.9 million in awards to the university’s researchers, followed by the U.S. Army, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Education, and the National Institutes of Health.

A team led by Danielle Cote, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, was awarded the largest individual award—$5 million from the U.S. Army—as part of a $25 million contract to develop 3D printing technology for the repair of military vehicles and equipment in the field.

Neil Heffernan, William Smith Dean’s Professor of Computer Science and director of the Learning Sciences and Technologies Program at WPI, received the largest initial award of $4.98 million from the U.S. Department of Education to scale and expand ASSISTments, an online teaching and learning tool. The total award for the five- year project is expected to reach nearly $8 million.

The amount of research money a university brings in matters because it can support work that bolsters reputation and attracts more students. At WPI, it also helps to financially support more than 150 graduate students, research scientists, and research engineers. In FY 2020, research expenditures on grants exceeded $31 million.

In addition, research funding opens opportunities in the labs, which benefit students by preparing them for the workforce, Vernescu says.

“If we have faculty and infrastructure that is at the cutting edge of technology and science,” he says, “we can train our students for the best jobs.”

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