AUSTIN, Texas — The University of Texas at Austin is ranked No. 1 among U.S. universities in research financed by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in fiscal year 2020, according to the annual Higher Education Research and Development (HERD) Survey. The university had NSF research expenditures totaling more than $144 million, topping other institutions such as the University of Washington, Texas A&M University and the University of Michigan.
“The NSF funds bold ideas across multiple disciplines, laying the foundation for future breakthroughs that will impact society. Producing that kind of impact is what inspires and motivates everything we do,” said UT Austin President Jay Hartzell. “I’m especially proud of our research teams and research support staff whose incredible work enable us to leverage NSF funds so effectively.”
Examples of NSF funding abound on the UT Austin campus. The NSF designated UT Austin as a National Artificial Intelligence Institute in fiscal 2020, competitively awarding professors Adam Klivans, Alex Dimakis and their colleagues in computer science and computer engineering a cooperative agreement to establish the Institute for Foundations of Machine Learning. Now a hub for interdisciplinary research, the institute brings together mathematicians, roboticists, data scientists and ethicists to create new classes of algorithms that can lead to more sophisticated and beneficial AI technologies.
In the Jackson School of Geosciences, Assistant Professor Ashley Matheny won an NSF CAREER grant to support her work studying the lateral transport of water within trees — something that, to date, has been poorly understood. To do this, she’s designing sensors that can measure water content at different depths when inserted directly into trees. This information will give scientists a more complete picture of how plants use water, which, in turn, could improve drought and forest fire predictions.
Moody College of Communication graduate student Anastazja Harris received a doctoral dissertation grant from the NSF to study the role that AI literacy plays in hiring managers’ acceptance of artificial intelligence-based screening and interview recommendations. Specifically, she wants to know whether a person’s AI understanding — or lack thereof — affects whether that person follows the technology’s suggestions or dismisses them. “It’s an important distinction,” Harris said.
And NSF awards have also enabled scientists at UT’s Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) to deploy Frontera, the fastest supercomputer at any university in the world. Each year, thousands of researchers and students from across the country use TACC’s systems to power data-heavy projects in everything from astronomy and engineering to medicine and manufacturing. Recently, Frontera has made possible leading epidemiological and molecular COVID-19 models in addition to producing real-time emergency storm surge forecasts along the Gulf Coast.
“Our leading position in expenditures of NSF funds allows our tremendously accomplished and broad-based cadre of investigators to make major contributions to basic and applied science,” said Daniel Jaffe, UT’s vice president for research. “These funds, distributed among nearly 600 project teams and campus facilities, enable curiosity-driven, groundbreaking research — the benefits of which will continue to be realized far beyond our lifetimes.”
UT Austin also ranked No. 5 in the country in research financed by the Department of Defense and No. 8 in research financed by the Department of Energy.
The HERD Survey is the primary source of information on research and development expenditures at U.S. colleges and universities and is administered by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics.