Indiana University launches transformational Grand Challenges research program

  • Sept. 9, 2015


BLOOMINGTON, IND. -- In an effort to address some of the most urgent challenges facing Indiana and the world, Indiana University has launched the most ambitious research program in the university’s history.

Indiana University will invest at least $300 million over the next five years in a Grand Challenges research program to develop transformative solutions for some of the planet’s most pressing problems. Up to five large-scale research projects will be selected through a competitive review process designed to maximize impact on the state, its economy and the quality of life of Hoosiers.

These projects will address challenges that are too big to ignore -- such as global water supplies; the availability of energy; infectious diseases; harnessing the power of, and protecting, big data; and climate change -- by catalyzing collaborative and interdisciplinary research, as well as new partnerships with community organizations, industry and government.

As the first major step in the program, the university announced this week that it has requested preliminary proposals from faculty teams for the first two Grand Challenge grants, which are expected to be funded starting in the fall of 2016. The university plans to fund three to five projects between now and its bicentennial in 2020.

“As one of the nation’s leading research universities, Indiana University has a special opportunity -- and responsibility -- to drive large-scale research, discovery and innovation to help address some of the most pressing challenges facing our state, nation and world today,” said Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie. “Grand Challenges initiatives will be few, large, focused and measured by their impact. They will allow us to work in new and creative ways at the scale necessary to make a real difference on such global issues.”

The Grand Challenges program, which is part of IU’s Bicentennial Strategic Plan, reflects the significant commitment to life-changing research on the part of the IU Board of Trustees and the university administration.

While the university hopes to attract research funding from a variety of sources, much of the financial support for the program is expected to come from careful stewardship of existing funds and reprioritizing of planned expenditures, along with a partnership with the IU Foundation to raise new monies.

McRobbie’s office, IU Bloomington, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and the IU School of Medicine have all committed substantial funds to the Grand Challenges program. Faculty members will be encouraged to work with their colleagues across disciplinary lines, across campus borders and with researchers at Purdue so their work achieves the greatest impact possible.

With the Grand Challenges program, IU joins a small number of U.S. universities in recent years, such as Princeton, UCLA and New York University, that have committed significant funding to tackling the most pressing challenges facing the world today and in the future. The program is expected to transform the research enterprise at Indiana University through strategic hires and by substantially enhancing the volume, quality and impact of research at IU. Each Grand Challenges initiative will include up to 30 new faculty positions, as well as support for faculty startup needs, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, equipment and facilities.

Vice President for Research Fred H. Cate, whose office will manage the program, said he expects to see a diverse array of proposals by the preliminary proposal deadline of Nov. 9. About five teams will be notified no later than Jan. 8, 2016, that they have been invited to submit full proposals by April 17, 2016, for final consideration. Specific requirements for proposals can be found in the formal request for proposals.

“The IU Grand Challenges program will invest in research that will substantially and tangibly impact local communities, the state, the nation and the world,” Cate said. “Grand Challenges initiatives will draw strategically on IU’s existing strengths and have an impact on both the state and the university for decades to come.”

McRobbie has named a steering committee made up of Cate and seven other IU leaders: Executive Vice President for University Academic Affairs John Applegate; Vice President for University Clinical Affairs Jay Hess; Executive Vice President and IUPUI Chancellor Nasser Paydar; Executive Vice President and IU Bloomington Provost Lauren Robel; IU Foundation President and CEO Daniel C. Smith; Vice President for Engagement William B. Stephan; and Vice President for Information Technology and CIO Brad Wheeler.

Proposals will be reviewed and recommended by a nine-member Grand Challenges Review Committee. An External Advisory Board of business, nonprofit, and community leaders from around the state will provide guidance for the Grand Challenges program and the selection, implementation and review of specific initiatives.

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IU President Michael A. McRobbie

IU President Michael A. McRobbie

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IU Vice President for Research Fred H. Cate

IU Vice President for Research Fred H. Cate

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Mark Land

Associate vice president, IU Communications

Stephen Chaplin

Manager of Research Communications