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New federal data shows UA ranked 35th in research funding

The University of Arizona is once again among the nation's top public research universities with $761 million in total research activity in fiscal year 2020, according to data released Monday by the National Science Foundation.

The NSF's Higher Education Research and Development survey annually ranks more than 900 colleges and universities and is considered the primary source of information on research and development expenditures at U.S. colleges and universities.

The UA saw an increase of more than $27 million over its fiscal year 2019 total. The university’s research and development expenditures rank No. 20 among public institutions and No. 35 overall. This ranking places UA in the top 4 percent of all U.S. universities, both public and private. The university also retained its No. 1 ranking in astronomy and astrophysics expenditures at nearly $122 million – an increase of more than $8 million over 2019.

"The University of Arizona takes immense pride in its continued ability to develop incredible cutting-edge research initiatives," said UA President Robert C. Robbins. "From exploring the outermost edges of our solar system to creating numerous life-saving technologies amid the COVID-19 pandemic, University of Arizona researchers consistently lead the way in fundamental discovery and generate innovative solutions to our world's most significant challenges."

The higher education survey also ranked UA second among schools with high Hispanic enrollment. In 2018, the university earned the designation of Hispanic-Serving Institution from the U.S. Department of Education for its success in the enrollment of Hispanic students.

The University of Arizona ranked fifth in both the physical sciences and NASA-funded activity. UA led the design and development of the Near-Infrared Camera onboard the James Webb Space Telescope, which was successfully launched Dec. 25.

In the engineering category, UA advanced from No. 51 in 2019 to No. 47 in FY 2020. In the health sciences, total and federally funded awards increased from $249 million in 2019 to $264 million in 2020, though expenditures dropped due to COVID-19 restrictions.

"The latest HERD data demonstrate the robustness and continual growth of our research enterprise, despite challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic that took hold in early 2020," said Elizabeth "Betsy" Cantwell, senior vice president for research and innovation. "At the heart of this success are our faculty and researchers, whose creativity and determination drive discovery and innovation, creating positive real-world impacts and knowledge for a more resilient future."

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The UA's highest rankings came in the following categories:

No. 1: Astronomy and astrophysics
No. 2: High Hispanic enrollment
No. 5: Physical sciences
No. 5: NASA-funded activity
No. 20: All public universities
No. 35: All universities.

Some examples of UA research that made headlines and had significant impact in 2020 include:

  • The UA's tracking coronavirus through wastewater across the U.S.
  • Campus researchers running OSIRIS-REx mission team evaluated data from four candidate sites in order and identified the best option for the sample collection. 
  • A $2.7 million federal grant to study indoor leafy green production to help improve the quality, quantity, efficiency and cost-effectiveness of indoor vertical farming production.
  • With $6.9 million from the National Cancer Institute, a team of researchers at the UA Cancer Center is seeking effective preventive and therapeutic strategies to reduce the risk of non-melanoma skin cancers such as squamous cell carcinoma of the skin.
  • UA researchers are using quantum entanglement — subatomic particles affecting each other over distances — to detect radio frequencies with more sensitivity and accuracy than ever.
  • And a UA researcher led a team that identified more than 550 individual point sources emitting plumes of highly concentrated methane.
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Rosemary Brandt/UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Murat Kacira, professor of biosystems engineering, working in 2020 at the UA's Controlled Environment Agriculture Center studying leafy greens for indoor farming techniques.