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NSF Data Show Academic R&D Spending At Start Of Stimulus

Chemistry research spending grew 6.6% in 2009, compared with 5.8% growth for science and engineering

by Carmen Drahl , Sophie L. Rovner
November 14, 2011 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 89, Issue 46

Credit: Lynn Spinnato
At SUNY Stony Brook, one of 2009’s top investors in chemical R&D, chemistry chair Benjamin S. Hsiao (center) stands with graduate students Alexandra Reinert (left) and Kanishk Kapilashrami in front of a rendering of anticancer drug Taxol binding to its target protein.
At SUNY Stony Brook, one of 2009’s top investors in chemical R&D, chemistry chair Benjamin S. Hsiao (center) stands with graduate students Alexandra Reinert (left) and Kanishk Kapilashrami in front of a rendering of anticancer drug Taxol binding to its target protein.
Credit: Lynn Spinnato
At SUNY Stony Brook, one of 2009’s top investors in chemical R&D, chemistry chair Benjamin S. Hsiao (center) stands with graduate students Alexandra Reinert (left) and Kanishk Kapilashrami in front of a rendering of anticancer drug Taxol binding to its target protein.

Download this article complete with online only tables here.

Today’s academic chemists are living in a time of austerity, as major funding agencies are set to receive essentially flat dollar amounts in 2012. But in 2009, the most recent year for which data are available from the , academic chemists saw a funding boost. In February of that year, Congress passed the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA), known as the economic stimulus package. The NSF data are based on university expenditures reported for the period July 1, 2008, through June 30, 2009. Given that range, the 2009 data are not likely to reflect the full impact of the stimulus package’s temporary shot in the arm.

In 2009, spending on science and engineering R&D grew at a greater rate than in the prior year. This continues the reversal of a slip in spending rate that occurred continuously from 2003 to 2007, when academic spending growth bottomed out at 3.6%. In 2009, academic R&D spending rose 5.8% to $54.9 billion. That growth still doesn’t compare with the heady days of 2002, when annual spending growth hit 10.9%.

When inflation is taken into account, R&D spending rose just 4.4% in terms of constant dollars between 2008 and 2009. Over the 10 years ending in 2009, spending grew a total of 57.4% in constant dollars, compared with 99.4% in current dollars.

As usual, the largest chunk of R&D change went toward basic research, representing three-quarters of the total. The sector grew 3.9% in current dollars to $41.0 billion. Applied R&D fared better in terms of growth, with an 11.6% increase since 2008 to $14.0 billion, outpacing the average annual increase of 7.0% between 1999 and 2009.

The federal government, as is typical, contributed the largest portion of funds used in academe for R&D. In 2009, the government boosted its R&D contribution 4.2% to $32.6 billion, accounting for 59.3% of the total. Institutions chipped in $11.2 billion, and state and local governments contributed $3.6 billion. Notably, industry provided $3.2 billion, an 11.6% increase over the prior year and an increase more than double the annual average of 4.6% from 1999 to 2009.

In 2009, the relative share of the budget spent on each sector of science and engineering held steady. Science soaked up 84.3% of total academic R&D spending in 2009. That outlay represented an increase of 5.3% over the prior year to $46.3 billion. Life sciences again dominated science spending, with a 5.1% increase to $32.8 billion, or 59.7% of the total R&D budget.

Compared with the life sciences, the physical sciences of astronomy, chemistry, and physics enjoyed a greater increase in outlays in 2009. The boost was a hefty 9.0% to $4.3 billion in 2009, for a 7.8% share of the total. However, physics contributed the lion’s share of that growth. Chemistry spending went up 6.6% to $1.6 billion. Still, chemistry’s hike was higher than the 5.6% average annual increase between 1999 and 2009, and gave chemistry a 2.9% share of the total R&D budget.

Removing the effect of inflation, chemistry spending grew 5.2% from 2008 to 2009. For the decade ending in 2009, chemical R&D spending rose 36.3% in constant dollars versus 72.7% in current dollars.

In current dollars, spending in engineering went up 8.7% to $8.7 billion, or 15.7% of total R&D expenditures. Chemical engineers got a 5.9% rise in funding to $695 million, a lower percentage than their brethren in chemistry. Chemical engineers’ share of total spending held steady at 1.3%. Materials engineers did slightly better, with a 6.5% hike to $689 million—also a 1.3% piece of the pie.

As was true in 2008, federal support for engineering R&D grew more than that for science. The boost for science in 2009 was 3.7%, hitting $27.6 billion, whereas engineering as a whole saw a federally financed spending hike of 6.6% to $5.0 billion.

Chemistry spending grew 4.5% to top $1.0 billion. That growth level was still shy of the 5.3% annual average for the prior decade. Federal support for chemical engineering increased at a slower rate this year, 5.6% to $360 million, compared with a 7.2% annual average for the prior decade.

Reclaiming its spot as the top chemical R&D spender from all sources combined was California Institute of Technology. In 2008, the school had dropped to third place after three years at No. 1. In 2009, Caltech increased spending 29.5% to $34.6 million to top the list. Rocketing to second place was Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, with a whopping 48.8% increase in spending to $31.6 million. Massachusetts Institute of Technology landed in third place after a 25.8% boost in spending to $30.3 million.

Other big movers among the top 10 chemical R&D spenders were sixth-place finisher Northwestern University, which placed 21st in 2008; ninth-place finisher State University of New York, Stony Brook, which held the 24th spot in 2008; and the University of California, San Diego, rising to No. 10 from a prior ranking of 15.

In 2009, Georgia Institute of Technology moved into the top slot in terms of school spending on chemical engineering R&D. Its spending increased 27.3% to $25.1 million. The No. 1 school in 2008, Ohio State University, spent 17.2% less in 2009, slipping to fifth place with $19.5 million. Filling out the top five were North Carolina State University; MIT; and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

The biggest federal allotment of funding for chemical R&D in 2009 went to MIT. Its $27.4 million allocation was a 27.1% jump over the prior year and was more than four times the average annual change of 6.0% between 1999 and 2009. Caltech fell from the top spot to No. 2 despite a 17.0% increase to $26.1 million. Other schools in the top five were Rutgers; the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC); and Harvard University.

Tops in federal support for chemical engineering R&D was Johns Hopkins University, with an 18.2% boost to $14.1 million. MIT lost its No. 1 spot, placing second after a 12.1% decrease in outlays to $12.7 million. UMass Amherst, Georgia Tech, and Pennsylvania State University rounded out the top five.

Collectively, colleges and universities shelled out $135.1 million for chemical research equipment in 2009, up 18.5% over the prior year. First on the list was Indiana University, with a $4.8 million outlay, followed by Louisiana State University, Cornell University, Emory University, and the University of Akron.

After a three-year slide, federal support for chemical research equipment went up 14.5% to $81.8 million in 2009. The biggest pieces of the federal pie went to Cornell, UC San Diego, UIUC, Washington University in St. Louis, and MIT.

The number of students seeking master’s and Ph.D. degrees in chemistry inched upward in 2009, growing 2.4% to 22,094. The number of chemical engineering grad students increased 3.8% to 8,188. As usual, about half the chemical engineering students and more than one-third of the chemists were from outside the U.S. Notably, the total number of life sciences graduate students decreased by 7.4% in 2009.

Postdoctoral appointments for chemists increased 7.0% to 4,219, the highest number since 2005. Ranks of chemical engineering postdocs surged 23.2% to 1,084.

Data for this article were drawn primarily from NSF’s database of academic science and engineering statistics, which can be accessed online at Further information came from NSF’s annual “Academic Research & Development Expenditures” report, which can be viewed at .

Note that numbers from different tables may not match because of rounding.


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