The University of Nebraska system has won its biggest research grant in history, a $92 million, five-year contract with the military.
The new contract is an extension of the previous biggest grant, an $84 million military contract that NU won in 2012.
NU officials and faculty members beamed Wednesday during an announcement at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. The contract, they said, is good for the NU system’s reputation, name recognition and competitiveness, and it helps NU recruit and retain excellent professors and students.
Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Bob Hinson, founding executive director of NU’s National Strategic Research Institute, said the new contract is recognition from the highest levels of military and government that NU’s work is valued and trusted.
The NU system has two institutions in Omaha, one in Lincoln and one in Kearney. Hinson said roughly 250 faculty members, researchers and students have worked on 84 of these projects so far.
There is a caveat to the $92 million. That’s a maximum amount, and NU probably won’t spend all of it. It depends on the amount of work NU performs and the projects it takes on.
Hinson said after the session that NU has spent about $61.5 million of the $84 million contract, although more will be expended as projects continue.
And this isn’t a typical research grant, but more of a contract, NU spokeswoman Melissa Lee said.
Some of the NU system’s biggest research contracts included $25 million to study E. coli and $20 million to study crop productivity, both at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. UNMC won a $20 million grant to develop young researchers in the region into independent scientists.
NU’s National Strategic Research Institute is one of 13 University Affiliated Research Centers in the country. NU will work with the U.S. Strategic Command and the Department of Defense.
To date, the National Strategic Research Institute has worked on such projects as improving a vaccine for the poison ricin; developing vaccines for anthrax and other diseases; finding a life-saving technique for victims of traumatic lung injury; improving metals on military vehicles to withstand extreme conditions; understanding the psychology of terrorist groups; and using laser technology to detect hidden explosives.
Kenneth Bayles, associate vice chancellor for basic science research at UNMC, said pharmaceutical companies are getting out of the business of finding new antibiotics. But these NU initiatives can help fill that void. “The bacteria aren’t getting out of the business,” Bayles said.
Gina Ligon, UNO College of Business director of radicalization and violent extremism, said being in the NU group has enabled her to participate in sessions with the Department of Homeland Security and members of the National Security Council. Ligon is an organizational psychologist who strives to understand how terrorists lead, influence and motivate from afar.
NU President Hank Bounds said the NU institute is geared up for more projects. “There is obviously more work to do,” Bounds said. “It is both an honor and a responsibility for us to be able to do this work.”