(TNS) -- They’ve deepened our knowledge of the great white shark, mapped a century of water courses across Southern California, brightened the outlook for breast cancer, launched the nation’s first “battery university” and charted the cultural impact of the graphic novel.
Faculty and student researchers at the state’s 23 California State University campuses have for decades broken ground in basic and applied science to provide fingertip experience for future fields. Such research not only has enabled each campus to draw top-tier scholars to spur innovation and economic growth, university officials say, it also prepares students — including many minorities — for good jobs or advanced degrees.
Now the nation’s largest four-year university system tasked with educating the state’s future workforce is ramping up to expand its research.
“I think that this is an exciting time for CSU, as research projects are growing and bringing in students from diverse backgrounds,” said Jeffrey Thompson, associate provost for research, dean of graduate studies and a professor of biology at Cal State San Bernardino who also serves as chair of the CSU Council of Research Officers. “This will impact student success, graduation rates and student expertise as they enter the workforce.”
For decades, Cal State researchers from the CSU Desert Studies Center in the Mojave to the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories on the Central Coast and beyond have made breakthroughs in the shadow of the University of California, a research and patent powerhouse and one of the top university systems in the world.
While the UC has been widely known to produce Ph.Ds, CSU has been better known to turn out professionals. But as funding for state universities becomes more diversified, the Cal State schools now vie for more of the research pie.
In the 2013-14 academic year, the CSU took in $539 million in research funds used by more than 9,000 Cal State faculty, with an eye to solving local, state and national problems. Their research resulted in 15,300 publications and 51,500 research journal citations.
Now the CSU is creating an infrastructure to support more research grants and contracts, officials say. It will also be designed to support a younger faculty with both research backgrounds and a keen interest in conducting research with students.
“Every campus is continuing to grow their research programs,” Thompson said. “We expect from 10 percent to 50 percent growth at various campuses within five to 10 years.”
One such campus will likely be Cal State Northridge, the largest in the state. Last year, the San Fernando Valley university saw a 4.5 percent increase in research and sponsored projects -- its $32 million in grants nearly double the awards of five years earlier.
That included a record $22 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to provide research opportunities to traditionally underrepresented students.
“This grant not only advanced our goal to expand research,” said CSUN President Dianne F. Harrison during a fall convocation address. “It also supports the priority for student success, our commitment to social justice, and to inclusion.”
The Northridge campus has ample research momentum.
Among its many research projects:
The Center for Urban Water Resilience, launched this year, is the first in the nation to focus on big cities and drought.
The System Engineering Research Lab has been at the forefront of air transportation systems, developing software for NASA and FAA air traffic controllers.
People ask me what I do,” lab director Nhut Tan Ho, a professor of mechanical engineering founding Director of the Ernie Schaeffer Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, a winner of a Fulbright scholarship, told the Daily News a few years ago. “I tell my students I’m a scholar — I do research and write papers. I’m a teacher.
“But I’m also a salesman, because I must sell my ideas.”
Last month, a CSUN biochemist published a paper along with nine undergraduate and grad students that broke the code on what causes breast cancer to spread. The results were noticed by oncologists nationwide.
The professor, Jonathan Kelber, became fired up about research while studying a cure for HIV/AIDS as a student at Cal Poly Pomona and then went on to conduct cancer research at UC San Diego and the Salk Institute. At his Developmental Oncogene Laboratory at CSUN, he says undergrads get to perform graduate-level work.
“I think it’s a very exciting time to be here as a faculty member,” Kelber said. “The quality of the opportunities for research here is irreplaceable. If you’re an undergrad at UCLA — where the research is outstanding — there are fewer opportunities for undergrads.
“Here it’s different: the undergrads get to do more of the hands-on hypothesis-based research, which I think is very motivating, fulfilling and productive. The work that we’re doing here is on a par with larger research institutions.”
The research arm of Cal State University ranges from such biology labs to intensive work on stem cells to water conservation, from the environment to wildfires and to criminal forensics. Drones factor into the research equation, as do new anti-hacker programs across the state. And so does creative research into arts and letters.
At Cal State San Bernardino, artists founded an Arts Corrections Program to teach inmates at local prisons. “It allows them to see a different side of themselves, and allows them to see where the future might lead them,” Thompson said.
The university’s Water Resources Institute was formed to meet one of the greatest challenges in a drought-ridden state: managing a limited water supply critical to the region’s growth and economic development.
Its researchers have gathered tens of thousands of historical, legal, political and scientific documents related to the Santa Ana Watershed, the largest trove of water data in Southern California.
The water-related collection, dating back a century, integrates information from nine water agencies. It charts aquifers, rivers, reservoirs, canals and creeks from the San Bernardino Mountains to the Salton Sea, employing some 70,000 aerial photographs expected to be digitized within the next year.
San Jose State has partnered with the battery industry to launch its “battery university” looking to supply more than 40 state battery companies, struggling with a shortage of engineers, to supply power sources for electric cars and other renewable technologies.
At Cal State Los Angeles, students of its School of Criminal Justice & Criminalistics research issues related to crime, forensic science and the criminal justice system in a state-of-the-art facility shared with operating crime labs for local law enforcement agencies.
At Cal Poly Pomona, an Innovation Village tech park shares space with such agencies as the American Red Cross Biomedical Services, which does blood testing, and a Southern California Edison transmission and distribution business unit, allowing collaboration with faculty and students.
At Cal State Long Beach, a Shark Lab has for nearly a half century conducted groundbreaking research into the physiological and behavioral ecology of sharks, rays and economically important gamefish, boasting one of the largest acoustic telemetry labs on the West Coast.
“It’s really cutting-edge science here,” its director, Christopher Lowe, who has appeared on numerous Discovery Channel, National Geographic and BBC/NOVA shows about sharks, told the Long Beach Press-Telegram. “It’s exported to the world.”
Lowe, known for mentoring young researchers, organized a student-run research program in partnership with the Monterey Bay Aquarium that discovered that 93 percent of young great white sharks caught in commercial fishing gill nets survive.
Meanwhile, Cal State Long Beach marine biologists have teamed up with the UC’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to employ coastal kelp beds as detectors of radioactive seawater potentially resulting from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster. Its Kelp Watch 2015 reported no local radiation from Japan.
One of the strengths of the CSU system is its collaborative research within its nearly two dozen campuses.
A Water Resources and Policy Initiatives program has gathered 250 CSU researchers from across the state to help disadvantaged communities improve their water resources.
A CSU Program for Education and Research in Biotechnology (CSUPERB) was organized by faculty across the CSU to develop a profession biotech workforce by supporting collaborative faculty and student research.
A consortium of CSU campuses in Fresno, Chico and Sacramento has launched an agricultural program to better incubate chicken eggs during drought.
The Moss Landing Marine Labs at Moss Landing, a multi-campus marine research consortium administered by San Jose State, performs hands-on research of marine ecology, birds and fishes.
The CSU Desert Studies Center in Zzyzx, which motorists breeze by between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, was once a Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa run by self-proclaimed minister Curtis Howe Springer. Now one of the world’s few desert research facilities, it’s run by a consortium of seven Southern California CSU campuses led by Cal State Fullerton.
“We see research here as an important part of a student’s education — connecting classroom knowledge with real world experiences,” Thompson said. “They learn critical thinking skills and the ability to communicate that information to others.
“Because of this, our students as they graduate can compete with other students around the country, whether its (for) graduate school, professional schools, or jobs.”
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