By Dr. Morley O. Stone, Senior Vice President for Research, The Ohio State University
Fundamental science is true to its name – it serves as the foundation for a vast array of technologies and industries. From defense and energy to agriculture and health care, critical sectors of the American economy rely heavily on fundamental research that is supported by an investment from American taxpayers.
The Science Coalition (TSC), which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, remains one of the nation’s leading coalitions of public and private research universities in support of federal investment in fundamental research and American innovation. The Ohio State University shares that goal and we are proud to have been one of the first universities to join TSC after its founding.
To say that a lot has happened in the world of science and technology since 1994 would be an understatement. The internet was still in its infancy. There was no International Space Station circling the globe. The Human Genome project was a decade away from unlocking our genetic code. The global positioning system network had just been activated after decades of development. While these technologies seem like a given today, their evolution from imagination to reality did not happen overnight. And their existence today is rooted in decades of fundamental research supported by the federal government.
In 2017, over half of R&D expenditures were directed to Ohio State from federal research agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Energy. We are one of the top public research universities in America, due in part to our robust partnership with the federal government that supports the cutting-edge research projects being conducted on our campus.
An example of the powerful impact of these investments is the work of Dr. Jianjie Ma, the head of thoracic surgery at the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State, who together with his team of researchers identified a gene that acts like a molecular bandage. This gene was then engineered and reliably recreated en masse to develop a number of regenerative medical treatments – from ointments capable of healing second degree burns to an inhalant that treats acute lung injuries, which will soon help treat wounded soldiers on the battlefield. Without funding from our partners at NIH and the Department of Defense (DOD), these treatments would not exist today.
Fundamental science also seeks to change the way we think about materials, down to the microscopic level. Take for example the Multidisciplinary University Research Initiatives (MURI), which are funded by DOD. Two recent recipients of these awards call Ohio home. One team will leverage world class instrumentation at Ohio State’s Center for Electron Microscopy and Analysis (CEMAS) to understand how a compound, such as gallium oxide, can be grown in bulk for use in semiconductor applications.
The other team will use CEMAS capabilities to examine how physical processes can affect additively manufactured alloys – an immensely important area for the Office of Naval Research and the nation. In plain English, our scientists will research the fundamental nature of materials so they can be put to use in support of our country’s national defense. That momentum is building, as DOD released its latest round of MURI awards in April 2019 and includes four new recipients from Ohio State. These awardees are terrific examples of how cross-institutional cooperation and collaboration can benefit a broad range of states, industries, and fields of study.
The Ohio State University was one of the first members of The Science Coalition because we recognize the impact of sustained federal funding for fundamental research in Ohio and across the country. Since those early days, we are proud to have been joined by more than 50 other leading private and public universities – each of us working to promote the American scientific enterprise, spur innovation, develop groundbreaking discoveries and foster economic growth. We can’t wait to see what the next 25 years will bring.