Amid all the bad economic news in recent months, Princeton is counting on one hopeful sign — an increase in federal research funding.
Denise Applewhite/Office of Communications

“The presidential stimulus package offers significantly more money for sponsored research,” said Provost Christopher Eisgruber ’83. “We think that’s a bright spot.”

The $787 billion legislation, signed Feb. 17 by President Barack Obama, includes $10.4 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), $3 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF), and $1.6 billion for science and research at the federal Department of Energy. The funds are designed to create or preserve jobs while advancing research in the next two years.

“Under these economic conditions, this is as good as one could possibly expect for ’09,” said Princeton’s dean for research, A.J. Stewart Smith *66. “This could help enormously in the short term.”

Smith said that federal research funding has been flat for the past four years, resulting in a loss of about 4 percent each year because of inflation.

“The rescue came just in time,” he said. “If something didn’t happen, we would not be hiring postdocs, we would have fewer graduate students,” he said. “By designing new experiments, we can hire and retain technicians.”

In the year that ended June 30, the University received $131 million in government research funding, with another $11 million from foundations, $6 million from private industry, and $3 million from other outside sources. The Princeton Plasma Physics Lab received another $74 million, virtually all of it from the Energy Department. Those numbers — totaling about 18 percent of the University’s budget — were expected to remain about the same for the current year, according to Jeffrey Friedland, director of the University’s Office of Research and Project Administration.  

The University should learn which of its proposals have received funding between May and September, Friedland said. The NSF is working with proposals submitted prior to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s passage and thus is likely to have “the fastest turnaround,” he said.

The NIH had not yet announced details of its funding programs by the end of March, and University departments still were working on proposals to be submitted.  

The molecular biology department received $15.6 million in NIH funding in 2007–08. Lynn Enquist, department chairman, said the NIH budget has been flat to decreasing for the past five years, while the competition for grants “has been particularly intense.” He said some newly submitted proposals by molecular biology faculty are for expensive equipment and to support the development of new technology, but in general they would allow the hiring of new postdocs or technicians.  

Enquist said the new funding is structured so that it would not require increased spending by Princeton in the future, and noted that grant money cannot be used to make up for cutbacks announced by the University in operating and endowment funds.  

The NIH funding includes $1 billion for construction or renovation of facilities for biomedical or behavioral research, and Princeton was preparing in early April to apply for funding under the program, according to vice provost Paul LaMarche. Individual grants range up to $15 million; Prince-­ton was considering submitting its proposed neuroscience and psychology buildings. The University may also apply for a grant under a $400 million research construction program of the NSF to support the construction of a new data center on the Forrestal campus.