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The University at Buffalo is one of the state's biggest recipients of federal research funding, coming in at 9th place on a list that includes some national research powerhouses, according to a survey by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Science and engineering research at UB garnered $36.7 million in fiscal 1999 from federal agencies, which are by far the largest source of research money. The amount rose from $35 million the year before, the survey said.

Being a research center provides the potential for spin-off companies to take root in the local economy. It's also important for attracting top minds to the university.

Researchers themselves apply for the funds in a competitive environment, so the degree of federal support measures the amount of ground-breaking work being done at an institution.

"Someone has a bright idea -- it really starts from there," said Jaylan S. Turkkan, UB vice president for research. "Then they get together with their pals and say 'let's write a grant.' "

The amount spent at UB is a fraction of that collected by such top research centers as Columbia, $286 million, and Cornell, with $233 million. Nationally, UB was 112th of over 1,000 universities included on the list.

But UB's share is on track to grow significantly in the current fiscal year as it puts together "dream teams" of researchers to tackle large projects with federal priority, Turkkan said.

For example, the new earthquake research laboratory approved recently for UB includes $10.5 million from the National Science Foundation. The amount will construct room-sized "shake tables" able to test how structures up to 120 feet long survive a violent temblor.

"We've got to get investigators here more savvy" about how funding agencies work, she said, drawing on her experience as an administrator at the National Institutes of Health. "You can't just toss an application into a black box and that's it -- you have to work the agency."

Other federally supported projects have applications that touch everyday life, Turkkan said. Under a grant from the Postal Service, for example, researchers developed a handwriting recognition system that speeds letters on their way.

The funding included in the NSF survey is a fraction of the total of $92.2 million in federal support for research centers aligned with the university, Turkkan said. For example, UB researchers work on federally funded projects at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Childrens Hospital and other off-campus sites. Funding from the state, private industry and other sources contributed another $50 million for research.

Statewide, federal research funding reached a record of $1.4 billion in fiscal 1999, up from $1.28 billion, the survey said. New York was second to California, the top magnet for research funds with $2.5 billion.

"We are not surprised to see the rise in federal support," said a statement by Dr. Russell W. Bessette, executive director of the New York Office of Science, Technology and Academic Research. "The federal government is giving its stamp of approval on the types of research being done by our scientific and engineering community."

Nationally, federal research funds totaled $18 billion in fiscal 1999.

Other Western New York institutions listed in the NSF survey were Buffalo State College, recipient of $3.3 million; Alfred University, $1.5 million and St. Bonaventure $477,000.

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