Sunday, September 20, 2009
Virginia Tech's not-so-stimulating research
- A great community needs great leaders
- A fresh vision for downtown Christiansburg
- The Black House will be an eyesore no more
- Del. Yost wants to clean up Virginia's laws
From the RoundTable blog
Whatever one thinks of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- better known as the federal economic stimulus package -- there is no denying that it has been good to Southwest Virginia, especially Virginia Tech. Good, that is, as long as one does not mind money spent on some less-than-stimulating projects.
First, a disclaimer. Though I will question whether some specific research at Tech deserved stimulus funding, that is not to question whether the research itself is valuable. I think most of the projects are interesting and deserve funding from some appropriate source, just not from the federal stimulus package.
The idea of federal stimulus brings to mind the great programs of the New Deal. The Works Progress Administration, the Civil Works Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps put Americans straight to work on concrete projects.
They gave the nation the Blue Ridge Parkway, Timberline Lodge, and uncounted miles of roads and other infrastructure throughout the country.
Stimulus in 2009 has some of that plus research investment that will lead to future jobs. That is where Tech enters the picture. The school so far has raked in more than $20 million for dozens of research projects.
Some of them look very promising.
A three-year, $1,421,725 grant "to develop GenoCAD, a web-based computer assisted design environment for synthetic biology" could pay off big. As bioengineering advances, it offers the promise of whole new industries, and the work at Tech will help its maturation.
Another $330,000 over three years will fund "experimental and theoretical studies of advanced inorganic membranes for CO2 separation." Researchers on that project are trying to create materials to separate carbon dioxide from methane, which will allow cleaner natural gas production. If it pans out, it would reduce greenhouse gases and create jobs.
Other projects, from a stimulus perspective, are just strange.
For example, $755,207 over five years for research on "deformation and magmatic modification of a steep continental margin (between) western Idaho and eastern Oregon" is somehow supposed to stimulate the economy. From an academic standpoint, understanding the tectonic history of North America is great, but where are the jobs for today or tomorrow?
Then there is the $227,555 for studying "geological and paleontological data from the Po Plain Delta, Italy." Are fossils going to generate jobs? It sounds more like an excuse for an Italian holiday. Let the Smithsonian pay for it.
Sure, these and other projects will keep a few professors busy, pay stipends for a few graduate students, maybe even hire a few part-time undergraduates, but they aren't what most people would call stimulus. Give Americans highways, not "Attention and Memory: Mother-Child Psychophysiology and Behavior" for their stimulus dollars.
Then again, someday those children will be paying off the debt that is funding all these projects. Maybe they deserve the $145,826 spent on that Tech study.