Research funding at UNC Charlotte reached an all-time high in 2020-21, supporting University researchers’ efforts to address some of society’s greatest challenges, among them keeping communities healthy, mitigating cybersecurity threats and enhancing the resilience of the power grid. Funding from federal and state agencies drove external support followed by investment from nonprofit organizations and the private sector.
Research awards grew 11.8% from fiscal year 2019-20 to fiscal year 2020-21 to reach $58 million. Overall since 2016, the University’s awards have increased by 44%, providing momentum for expanding Charlotte’s research profile.
“The expansion of our research enterprise — underway for established and emerging areas of institutional excellence — is one component of our comprehensive strategic plan that is directing the University’s path toward shaping what’s next,” said Chancellor Sharon L. Gaber. “The remarkable growth of external investment reflects the increasing and far-reaching impact of UNC Charlotte researchers and the outstanding work they are leading in our community, throughout the state and region, and across the globe.”
public and private investment
The ongoing focus on the COVID-19 pandemic and UNC Charlotte’s leadership in detecting the presence of coronavirus and monitoring the presence of new variants through wastewater testing and sequencing — on campus and in the greater Charlotte community and beyond — prompted significant external support. In late 2020, an appropriation from the North Carolina State Legislature supported groundbreaking COVID-19 research that is widely applicable in communities around the nation. Separately, the University established an effective COVID-19 testing process for students, faculty and staff as well as a CLIA (Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments)-certified lab to provide fast and accurate results to COVID-19 tests.
Currently, more than half of UNC Charlotte’s research funding comes from federal agencies. Support from the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. Departments of Energy, Education, Transportation and Defense, and others bolsters the work of a wide range of projects that hold the potential to change lives and improve communities. Funding from private foundations and nonprofit organizations accounted for $3.9 million (6.7%), while industry represented another $3.2 million (5.5%). Some of the work sustained by this combination of public and private support includes: studying complex gene mutations and RNA technology to unlock new treatments for a variety of diseases and genetic disorders, seeking solutions to changing migrant foodscapes in U.S. cities due to urban restructuring, improving education and employment outcomes for youth with disabilities, and addressing the burgeoning demand for charging stations for powering electric vehicles.
“The extraordinary growth of high-impact research at UNC Charlotte is a testament to the creativity and persistence of our faculty,” said Rick Tankersley, vice chancellor for research and economic development. “In addition to teaching and engaging in highly innovative research activities, they are extraordinarily committed to providing students with opportunities to experience and learn from meaningful collaboration in their labs, which ultimately benefits the students’ future employers and communities.”
Last year, sponsored research helped support more than 643 graduate students, research scientists and engineers. Over the past five years, faculty and student inventors have received 98 new patents ranging from cancer diagnostics to solar panels and launched 17 new start-up companies, placing UNC Charlotte among the country's top institutions for innovation productivity and technology commercialization.