UM Earns Two Research Awards in State’s First Large-Scale Research Initiative

August 18, 2015

MISSOULA – Gov. Steve Bullock, together with University of Montana President Royce Engstrom and Montana University System Commissioner of Higher Education Clay Christian, gathered at UM’s Skaggs Building Aug. 18 to announce UM as the recipient of nearly $4 million in the state’s first large-scale research initiative.

“The time to invest in the research of tomorrow is now,” Bullock said. “We know there are going to be made-in-Montana solutions that will not only address some of the challenges in our state but indeed challenges across the country, and I dare say even the world. It will not only produce incredible breakthroughs, it will create incredible Montana jobs.”

Bullock proposed the $15 million research initiative in his state budget in the fall of 2014. The 2015 Montana Legislature subsequently passed the initiative with bipartisan support. It is the first state-funded research initiative of its depth and scope, encompassing areas that include agriculture, natural resources and energy, materials and manufacturing, health and biomedical sciences, and technology and computer science.

The winners were selected from more than 200 proposals statewide. Two UM projects were selected for funding through a competitive process by an advisory panel composed of state legislators and industry and university-system representatives. Funding for the two UM projects will forward traumatic brain injury research and water quality monitoring.

“Today represents a transformative day for the Montana University System as it embarks upon a systematic strengthening of research,” Engstrom said. “Research has never been more vibrant at the University of Montana than it is right now. Our faculty members and our researchers who are teacher-scholars deserve the credit for making it as prevalent as it is.”

The first project was awarded $2,234,834. It is led by UM Assistant Research Professor Sarj Patel and addresses traumatic brain injury, a complex health care issue that affects 13 percent of Montana’s adult population. Montana ranks second in the nation per capita for TBI. Currently there are no available diagnostic tests to assess recovery and no proven treatments to reduce the cognitive and neurological damage from TBI. The purpose of this research is twofold: Bring together TBI researchers and private companies to create diagnostic tools to directly benefit TBI survivors; and expand clinical services for TBI survivors and veterans at UM’s Neural Injury Center by initiating clinical trials based on the technology developed by the research team.

 The second project was awarded $1,292,398. It’s led by chemistry Professor Chris Palmer and addresses Montana’s water quality monitoring. Montana’s economy thrives because of its abundant surface water and groundwater resources. Agriculture, tourism and other mainstays of the economy depend on sustaining these water resources and also remediating those that have been adversely impacted by human activities. The research award will advance new technology to allow continuous monitoring in Montana. The sensors will be capable of detecting aquatic invasive species, organic pollutant and arsenate – a salt of arsenic acid, and will measure the pH and alkalinity of water.

Industry representatives on the advisory panel included Lola Raska, executive director of the Montana Grain Growers Association; Larry Simkins, president and CEO of Washington Companies; and Ron Zook, president and CEO of Swan Valley Medical. 

Legislative representatives included Sen. Llew Jones, R-Conrad, and Rep. Ryan Lynch, D-Butte. Engstrom and Montana State University President Waded Cruzado rounded out the advisory panel, which made its recommendations to Christian.

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Contact: Peggy Kuhr, UM vice president for integrated communications, 406-243-2311, peggy.kuhr@umontana.edu.