The hiring of top-flight talent and cutting-edge research gleaned UC Irvine a record amount of research money in the past academic year, an accomplishment UCI officials heralded as a sign that their drive for excellence and recognition is literally paying off.
Both the number of new grants and the increase in total research money were greater than most U.S. universities and colleges can expect as research proposals continue to grow exponentially while federal dollars just barely keep ahead of inflation.
The National Science Foundation has estimated that most universities could expect to see no more than a 10% increase in federal research funds. UCI captured nearly 17% more federal grants and saw total research jump 13% to $78 million.
"It sounds like they're definitely doing better than the general trend," said Samuel Joseloff, head of grant inquiries for the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., which funds nearly half of all federally supported basic research at the nation's universities and colleges.
Said Paul Sypherd, UCI's vice chancellor for research: "The thing that's all the more remarkable in these figures is that we are a young campus and we tend to have a lot of young faculty . . . competing with more established scientists. . . .
"Our research in areas like brain aging, Alzheimer's (disease), schizophrenia, in cardiology and molecular genetics is really at the edge of what the NIH is funding."
Federal health and medical research grants alone were up more than 20%, and the bulk of the $33.4 million came from the NIH, the university reported. By contrast, Joseloff said the total number of NIH grants has been dropping since 1987 even as the number of proposals has skyrocketed.
UCI "should be pleased. They're holding up very well in an increasingly competitive situation," he said.
Sypherd said he does not expect these numbers to vault the university into the top 50 federally funded research universities and colleges. (The university ranked 58th in 1988, up from 67th in 1987, when it reported $49 million in research funds, according to the National Science Foundation. Figures for 1989 have yet to be released.)
But UCI's grants and contracts reflect the reality that it is one of the fastest growing graduate universities in California.
It further demonstrates that recent hires not only contribute to the campus' growing prestige, but they also bring significant research dollars with them.
Chemistry professor Peter Rentzepis, who joined UCI in 1985, over the last year has brought in five grants totaling nearly $1.6 million, including $1.15 million for a U.S. Air Force-sponsored research project.
A team led by Dr. K. George Chandy, a medical researcher who joined UCI's department of physiology and biophysics this year, scored a $1.5-million grant from the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. to develop a drug that could treat diseases such as juvenile diabetes, lupus multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Duncan R. Luce, recently hired as a distinguished professor of cognitive science, is largely credited with the huge increase in grant funding, from $17,000 in 1988-89 to $747,710 in 1989-90, in the field of mathematical behavioral science.
UCI's established scientists continue to hold their own in the high-stakes competition for research dollars.
The biggest single chunk, nearly $2.7 million from the U.S. Department of Energy, went to a team led by physics professor emeritus Frederick Reines, a founding UCI faculty member who gained fame in 1956 as co-discoverer of elusive subatomic particles called neutrinos.
"What we are interested in are the ultimate building blocks of nature," said Reines, 72, whose research group includes such respected scientists as UCI physicist Michael Moe. "In ancient days, the Greeks said air, earth, fire and water were the building blocks. . . . Today, instead we call them quarks, gluons and neutrinos."
For some UCI professors, however, the picture is not so rosy.
Geneticist G. Wesley Hatfield learned only a few weeks ago that the NIH would not renew the grant he has had continuously since he arrived at UCI in 1970. Had he not recently gotten private funding from two pharmaceutical companies, Hatfield said, he might not have been able to keep paying the salaries of his five postdoctoral fellows and graduate students.
Hatfield said that he was advised that his project was highly rated but that there were only funds enough to award grants to six of 76 applications in his research area.
Scientists worry that such competition is making it virtually impossible for promising young researchers with the freshest ideas to launch successful careers.
The National Academy of Sciences convened a special symposium June 27 in the nation's capital to explore the problem, academy officials said.
By one estimate, only one in 10 new assistant professors was successful in getting funds for grant proposals, an academy official said.
"The sharp drop-off meant that the seed corn, the young people who are perhaps going to have the most innovative ideas, couldn't get (grants) at the same rate as they once did," he said.
Fear that these promising young scientists will then abandon research careers is of "great concern to senior scientists," the academy spokesman said.
Despite the overall increase at UCI, Sypherd said, a closer look reveals "there is angst and there are problems."
"The news these days is someone who does get (their research funding) renewed," said UCI geneticist Hatfield, who plans to resubmit his proposal to the NIH in the coming year.
"It's especially hard on young people coming into the business," Hatfield said. "When people just starting their jobs now come up for tenure in four or five years, if they haven't had any funding, they can't do research. And if they can't do research, they won't get tenure. They'll be dismissed."
One reason for the problem is that the NIH began awarding longer-term grants so researchers would not have to spend so much time writing grant proposals, NIH's Joseloff said.
The average grant used to run for about 3 1/2 years. The average is now closer to 4 1/2 years, with many grants running five and 10 years.
"This of course means more funds are already committed and less funds are available for new people," Joseloff said. "There are people who got good scores, who we'd like to fund, but we just don't have the money."
Heavy funding for AIDS research and a massive federal study to map human genes are often blamed for draining research dollars.
Out of NIH's $5.6 billion for the fiscal year to end Sept. 30, $602 million was allocated for AIDS research, Joseloff said. Congress is proposing $743 million for fiscal 1990.
"Certainly the AIDS program is cutting into the funds for other projects," Joseloff said.
But no one at the National Academy of Sciences is calling for either the human genome project or AIDS research to be cut back. Instead, academy officials advocate a renegotiation of some long-term grants and bypassing researchers who already have several funded projects or a very large one.
But even with those changes, the reality is that there are "more good ideas than there are dollars available," an academy spokesman said.
Another factor cited by National Science Foundation officials is a redirection of more grant dollars into education, especially the training of elementary school teachers who give youngsters their earliest exposure to science and mathematics.
The NSF also is working to help reverse the trend of fewer U.S. students seeking advanced degrees in science and engineering. Education and recruitment programs, particularly of women and minorities who will make up the majority in the U.S. population in the coming century, are being given increased emphasis.
While Congress has increased NSF's budget for basic research funding by about 8%, the education and human resources account has been growing about 20% a year, according to Thomas N. Cooley, head of program analysis for NSF's budget office.
Beyond all that, federal officials say it is a fact of life that the cost of doing research has grown faster than consumer prices or the gross national product.
"It's complicated and interconnected, but researchers are caught between the higher cost of doing research, the fact that more people are applying and that more longer-term (grant) awards are being given," Joseloff said.
Still, UCI's showing is encouraging, said Sypherd, whose immediate goal is to break into the top 50 of U.S. research universities. "We're doing well; we're doing as well as we've ever done, and we're competing well nationally," he said.
Related STORIES: A16, A17
TOP 10 GRANT RECIPIENTS AT UC IRVINE, FISCAL YEAR 1989-90 Recipients listed in order of total dollar amounts received for grants Principal Investigator Frederick Reines School Physical Sciences Total Dollar Amount of Grants $2,686,000 Number of Awards 1Project Title and Dollar Amount of the Top Grant "A Research Program in Neutrino Physics, Cosmic Rays and Elementary Particles," $2,686,000 Principal Investigator Carl Cotman School Biological Sciences Total Dollar Amount of Grants $2,440,769 Number of Awards 8Project Title and Dollar Amount of the Top Grant "Behavioral and Neural Plasticity in the Aged Rat,"$701,037 Principal Investigator Monte Buchsbaum School College of Medicine Total Dollar Amount of Grants $1,788,894 Number of Awards 11 Project Title and Dollar Amount of the Top Grant "PET Studies of Sleep in Affective Disorders," $349,071 Principal Investigator Julius Gardin School College of Medicine Total Dollar Amount of Grants $1,634,300 Number of Awards 3Project Title and Dollar Amount of the Top Grant "Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (Cardia) Echocardiography Reading Center," $1,610,800 Principal Investigator George Chandy School College of Medicine Total Dollar Amount of Grants $1,609,741 Number of Awards 2Project Title and Dollar Amount of the Top Grant "Ion Channels in T Cells: A Target for Novel Immunotherapeutic Drugs for Autoimmune Diseases," $1,482,356 Principal Investigator G.S. Samuelson School Engineering Total Dollar Amount of Grants $1,600,076 Number of Awards 13 Project Title and Dollar Amount of the Top Grant "Formation and Emission of Nitrogen Oxides in Gas Turbine Engines," $593,220 Principal Investigator Peter Rentzepis School Physical Sciences Total Dollar Amount of Grants $1,578,466 Number of Awards 5Project Title and Dollar Amount of the Top Grant "Time Resolved Picosecond Detector," $1,150,000 Principal Investigator Eloy Rodriguez School Biological Sciences Total Dollar Amount of Grants $1,362,516 Number of Awards 2Project Title and Dollar Amount of the Top Grant "Undergraduate Biological Sciences Minorities Advances Research and Training Program,"$1,200,000 Principal Investigator Kevin Tremper School College of Medicine Total Dollar Amount of Grants $1,253,909 Number of Awards 4Project Title and Dollar Amount of the Top Grant "Scarce Medical Specialist Services," $1,049,234 Principal Investigator Michael Berns School College of Medicine Total Dollar Amount of Grants $968,042 Number of Awards 5Project Title and Dollar Amount of the Top Grant "A Laser Microbeam Biotechnology Resource," $351,582 Principal Investigator F.S. Rowland School Physical Sciences Total Dollar Amount of Grants $898,089 Number of Awards 5Project Title and Dollar Amount of the Top Grant "Latitudinal Distribution of Tropospheric Concentrations of Selected Halocarbons and Hydrocarbons," $318,000 Source: UC Irvine