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In an increasingly competitive funding environment, Utah State University closed the books recently on another record year of research support — $232.8 million in total, up five percent from last year.

This external funding is a major boon to the university and the state. Approximately 35 percent of USU's total revenue now comes from external research awards. These funds are critical for advancing USU's land-grant mission of education, research and engagement.

One key benefit of USU's sponsored awards is the development of state-of-the-art research infrastructure. Thanks to competitive grants that fund research equipment, USU is constantly adding leading-edge discovery and innovation research centers for faculty and students alike.

Our microscopy core facility, which opened in February, now houses a world-class scanning electron microscope and a laser dissection microscope funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation. This technology is available to all USU faculty and students, and it's being put to good use.

Alexis Ault, assistant professor of geology, used the scanning electron microscope to employ a new radioisotopic dating technique to directly date when small earthquakes happened in the past along the Wasatch fault. Thanks to the higher resolution and clarity provided by the SEM, Ault is helping us better understand earthquake physics here in the Utah and worldwide.

Chemistry professor Lisa Berreau's highly competitive grant from the National Science Foundation allowed her to obtain a Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectrometer, one of the most powerful tools available to chemists to study the structure of molecules.

The NMR will help Berreau conduct "frontier research" to identify unknown substances, to characterize specific arrangements of atoms within molecules, and to study the dynamics of interactions between molecules. At the same time, chemistry undergraduates, some just out of high school, will also be able to conduct experiments of their own design on this new equipment in USU's extensive undergraduate research program.

Students in Regan Zane's lab access both state-of-the-art equipment, but also first-of-their-kind discoveries. Zane, USTAR professor of electrical and computer engineering, is developing Utah's first electric vehicle test track fitted for in-motion wireless electrical charging.

Undergraduate and graduate students work alongside Zane in the USU Power Electronics Lab, and others learn from him and his colleagues as they use their research findings to build a curriculum for a world-class power electronics program at USU.

As a top research institution, USU is an exceptional learning environment for undergraduate and graduate students. We are particularly proud of combining research and education with our Extension program, the third leg of our land-grant mission and a core piece of our research infrastructure.

USU is the hub of our statewide learning network, with conduits reaching out to every county in the state. When our research strengths are part of that hub, the entire network, from Washington to Rich counties, reaps the benefits.

USU's Extension specialists have recognized this and have made a significant commitment this year to securing external funding and to further strengthening those county-based conduits and the programs and knowledge that flow through them.

Last year, we made record-breaking strides in expanding our statewide iUTAH watershed science network, including partnerships with many of Utah's other higher education institutions. This year, we continue improving one of the most important parts of our infrastructure — our graduate student population.

Researching faculty and graduate students are interdependent; faculty need graduate students to continue and grow their programs, just as much as the graduate students themselves need to be able to study under the tutelage of world-class researchers to develop the skill sets needed by a high-tech workforce.

Thanks to continued support from the Utah Legislature, USU has been able to support a growing graduate student population with specialized grants that directly support graduate student training.

Our flagship program, the Presidential Doctoral Research Fellows program, fully funds 51 of the best and brightest graduate students from across the country to study at Utah State. This program expands USU's research capacity and reputation, bringing prestige to Utah State — and to the state itself — as a place of learning.

But, we still have work to do. The Carnegie Foundation places USU at the very top of all land-grant institutions in terms of research dollars generated, but our Ph.D. numbers trail our national land-grant peers. We must continue to create research programs to support the highest levels of academic training, which elevates the quality of every degree on campus and helps us fulfill all three parts of USU's land-grant mission in the state.

Mark McLellan is Utah State University's vice president for research and dean of the School of Graduate Studies. He's a member of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Science Advisory Board and the USDA's Policy Board (NAREEE).