University of Pittsburgh

University Research Council

2008-2009 Activities Report


THE PROVOST’S CHARGE

James V. Maher, the University’s Provost, delivered the Council’s charge on October 16.  He asked Council members to continue to sponsor the Multidisciplinary Small Grant Program and the Central Research Development Fund.  These programs enable faculty members to transform promising ideas into nascent research programs, which then can form the bases of proposals for external funding.  He also asked the Council to maintain its support for the annual Federal Agencies Trip.  This program provides an opportunity for the University’s faculty members to interact with project managers from various federal agencies.

NEXT YEAR’S AGENDA

Members of the Council met on May 21st to create an agenda for the upcoming academic year.  Areas of interest included:

  • Funding Programs – the Council should continue to support the Central Research Development Fund and the Multidisciplinary Small Grants Program.
  • Funding Agency Trips – the Federal Agencies Trip, and possibly, the Washington, D.C., Embassy Trip, should be sponsored again next near.
  • Office of Research Reports – The Office of Research should continue to provide updates at each meeting.
  • Research-Related Reports – Representatives of other University units can be invited to discuss their activities at Council meetings.
  • Grant-Preparation Workshops – The Council can sponsor a workshop that focuses on all aspects of grant preparation, including writing.
  • Corporate Scholar Program – Participants in the Corporate Scholars Program can discuss their research interests with Council members.

FACULTY RESEARCH ASSISTANCE

Central Research Development Fund

Fifty-two faculty members submitted proposals to the Central Research Development Fund.  Applications were evaluated by one of three Council subcommittees, whose members specialize in the health sciences, the sciences and engineering, and the humanities and the social sciences.  Nine of 22 proposals from health science disciplines were funded, ten of 14 proposals from engineering and science disciplines were funded, and twelve of 16 proposals from humanities and social science disciplines were funded.

Multidisciplinary Small Grant Program

The Council sponsored the fifth annual Multidisciplinary Small Grant Program.  The program is designed to enhance opportunities for the University’s faculty to engage in multidisciplinary research, scholarship, and creative endeavors.  The program encourages faculty members with different skills and training to address complex problems that span the humanities, social sciences, engineering, physical sciences, and/or the biological and health sciences.  The Council funded one of the 14 proposals.  Caterina Rosano, a Professor in the Department of Epidemiology, will be the principal investigator on the project, which is entitled A Program on Geriatric Research in Ambulatory and Cognitive Excellence (GRACE).

Federal Agency Briefing Trip

On Monday, March 23rd, the Office of the Provost sponsored a series of briefing sessions during which representatives of federal agencies and academic organizations discussed opportunities for research funding.  Twenty-one members of the University of Pittsburgh’s and nine members of Duquesne University’s education and social sciences faculty, as well as four grant administration and other staff, attended.  Representatives of NSF directorates and divisions, the NIH and other Health and Human Services agencies, and other organizations spoke.  The speakers provided information on discipline-specific research programs, agency contacts, and proposal review criteria.  They also discussed undergraduate research programs and joint research and educational programs.

Washington, D.C., Embassy Trip

On Monday, April 20th, the Office of the Provost sponsored a series of briefing sessions with representatives of European embassies and organizations.  Thirty-five, University-affiliated faculty members and staff attended.  Representatives of the European Union, France, Italy, Spain, and the UK spoke.  The speakers focused upon educational and scholarly exchange programs and scientific and other academic funding programs.  These opportunities span all academic disciplines.

MULTIDISCIPLINARY SMALL GRANT PROGRAM REPORTS

Multidisciplinary Approaches to the Study of Suffering

Richard Schulz, Director of the University Center for Social and Urban Research, is the lead investigator on a multidisciplinary grant project on suffering.  Individuals from six departments and several interdisciplinary centers participate in the project.  Dr. Schulz is addressing problems related to defining, conceptualizing, and measuring suffering.  He and his team developed a comprehensive measure of suffering that they are using in preliminary studies.  Dr. Schulz recruited Joan Monin to be a postdoctoral fellow on the project.  Dr. Monin is studying the manifestation of suffering in older individuals with musculoskeletal conditions.  She studies spouses of individuals who habitually experience pain.  Dr. Monin tests whether the caregiver in the relationship experiences excessive emotional distress when the spouse performs a potentially painful task.

The Business of Humanity

John Camillus, Professor in the Katz Graduate School of Business, is the lead investigator on a multidisciplinary grant project that examines the dominant economic paradigm.  Faculty members from Katz and the School of Engineering participate in the project, which is entitled The Business of Humanity.  Dr. Camillus and his team wish to redefine the traditional economic model, which focuses almost exclusively on accounting profits, to include quality, safety, environmental sustainability, diversity, and integrity.  The team is conducting case studies of companies in the Czech Republic, China, Russia, and Brazil.  They will convene a conference devoted to their research and wish to use this information to implement changes in graduate business programs.

Development of New Pallet Arrays for High-Throughput Screening of Nanoparticle Cytotoxicity

Valerian Kagan, Professor in the Graduate School of Public Health, is an investigator on a multidisciplinary small grant program project that deals with the health effects of nanoparticles (specifically carbon nanotubes).  Faculty members from GSPH, the School of Engineering, and the School of Arts and Sciences participate in the project.  Carbon nanotubes are one-atom-thick rolls of graphite, which are 100,000 times smaller than a human hair.  They are stronger than steel and excellent conductors of electricity and heat. They reinforce plastics, ceramics, or concrete; conduct electricity in electronics or energy-conversion devices; and are sensitive chemical sensors.  Dr. Kagan and his team developed the first natural, nontoxic method for biodegrading carbon nanotubes, a finding that could help diminish the environmental and health concerns that mar the otherwise bright prospects of the super-strong materials.

OFFICE OF RESEARCH

Allen DiPalma, Director of the Office of Research, frequently reported on the activities of the Office.  Milestones and achievements often were announced.  The following is a breakdown by area:

Operations

The Office’s operational volume continues to increase.  The Office of Research processed 20-to-30 percent more grant proposals from July to December of 2008 compared to the same period in 2007.  The Office also processed 1000 material transfer agreements in FY 2008.

Stimulus-related deadlines stretched the Office’s resources.  The Office of Research processed 572 stimulus-related proposals, more than half of which were NIH RC1 Challenge Grants.  The staff encountered no problems submitting the proposals via Grants.gov.

The Office continues to sponsor the Research Administrators’ forum.  Mr. DiPalma uses these meetings to inform departmental research staff about an array of research-related issues.  Forums have addressed InfoEd, material transfer agreements, and Grants.gov.

Electronic Research Administration

The Office of Research continues to implement InfoEd’s electronic research administration software.  The proposal module is already in place.  It permits researchers to view the history of a project, from initial submission to closeout.  Eventually, the module will link to other University databases, allowing for greatly enhanced reporting and administration.  The proposal development module is now offered to select departments.  This module enables investigators to route a proposal through the internal signature process and permits researchers to submit the proposal electronically to the sponsoring agency.  The Office of Research recently purchased InfoEd’s technology transfer suite.  The suite helps reduce the time required to process material transfer agreements. 

Miscellaneous

Issues related to restrictions on research funding arose several times:

  • AAU universities and violations of the False Claims Act
  • The NIH’s conflict of interest reporting requirements

The American Heart Association changed several items related to proposal submissions:

  • It now requires institutional approval of proposals
  • It is developing an electronic proposal-submission process

Mr. DiPalma discussed several additional items:

  • The federal government’s continuing budget resolution
  • Proposal resubmissions to the NIH
  • The University’s master agreement with the state
  • Conflict of interest and disclosure of financial interests
  • Intellectual property and consulting
  • The Office of Research’s move to the University Club

RESEARCH-RELATED ISSUES

Members of the Council discussed several recurring issues during the academic year.  These issues included:

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

The Council devoted the March 26 meeting to the federal government’s stimulus package (formally known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act).  George Klinzing, from the Office of the Provost, and Jeremy Somers, from the Office of Research – Health Sciences, led a discussion on stimulus-related research funding.  They focused primarily upon the NIH, but also mentioned the NSF, the Department of Education, and the Department of Energy.

Corporate Scholars Program

The Corporate Scholars Program is designed to enhance collaboration between the University and industry.  An individual faculty member will form a collaborative research relationship with a company, which will sponsor the work of one of its researchers in the faculty member’s lab.  The University will develop a customized program for each team. Each relationship will last for approximately six months.

Pre-Submission Proposal Review

Council members discussed whether individuals who have served on external review panels or study sections can mentor junior faculty on issues related to grant proposals.  The Department of Psychiatry has developed an excellent model.  Faculty members in the department submit their proposals to an internal review board before the proposal is delivered to an external agency.

Multidisciplinary Programs

The Provost’s Office is working with University researchers to develop a multidisciplinary program on traumatic brain injury.  Problems associated with these injuries have been highlighted by events in Iraq.  Faculty members in the Departments of Bioengineering, Biology, Critical Care Medicine, Emergency Medicine, and Physics are participating in the project.

Simulation and Modeling Center

The Center for Simulation and Modeling supports computational research and education across the university.  It draws faculty members and students from a wide range of disciplines, including astronomy, biology, chemistry, economics, engineering, and medicine.  The Center, which is directed by Professors Karl Johnson and Ken Jordan, is located in Bellefield Hall.

MISCELLANEOUS

Council members discussed several other issues during the academic year.  They include:

  • Science 2008
  • The Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society
  • NIH transformative research
  • University membership organizations, such as the AAU, COGR, and NASALGC
  • The NIH and conflict of interest issues
  • Multidisciplinary research programs at the University of Chicago
  • Increasing industry visits to the University
  • Foundation research funding and the recession
  • The Conflict of Interest Superform

MEMBERS

Chair

George E. Klinzing, Vice Provost for Research

 

 

Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Jeffrey Brodsky

 

Kay Brummond

 

Jeffrey Cohn

Graduate School of Public and International Affairs

Louise Comfort

Graduate School of Public Health

Stephen Wisniewski

Office of the Provost

Nicole Constable, FAS

 

Ravi Madhavan, KGSB

 

Hidenori Yamatani, Social Work

School of Dental Medicine

Mary Marazita

School of Engineering

Mark Redfern

 

Jeff Vipperman

School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences

Katherine Verdolini

School of Information Sciences

Ellen Detlefsen

School of Law

David Harris

School of Medicine

Brian Davis

 

Anuradha Ray

 

Chuanyue (Cary) Wu

School of Nursing

Janice S. Dorman

School of Pharmacy

Dexi Liu

University of Pittsburgh at Bradford

Gregory L. Page

University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown

Steven Stern

University Senate

Juan Manfredi, FAS

 

Carol Redmond, GSPH