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Research funding tops $1 billion for first time

Northwestern hits historic milestone on strength of continued growth, ecosystem excellence
Driving this year’s growth surge were funding increases across Northwestern schools, notably from the Feinberg School of Medicine, the McCormick School of Engineering and the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. The 35 University-wide research institutes and centers also attracted a significant increase in funding over fiscal year 2022.

Northwestern University continued its multiyear ascent as a research powerhouse, once again demonstrating exceptional growth in fiscal year 2023. For the first time, the University joins a highly exclusive group of peers whose annual research funding is $1 billion or more.

This achievement extends a decade-long growth trajectory for Northwestern’s research enterprise. At the close of the fiscal year on Aug. 31, the University exceeded $1 billion in annual research funding for the first time, the results fueled by an 9% year-over-year increase in funding from various sources, including federal agencies, foundations and corporate entities. The number of awards received for FY23 totaled 3,882, an increase of 293 (8.2%) from the previous year. Overall research funding for Northwestern has grown 83% since 2013. This year’s total ($1.007 billion) is currently being audited, but the figure typically increases slightly after review.

“Northwestern’s phenomenal strengths as a research leader are evidenced by the high-impact work our scientists and scholars produce year-round,” said Vice President for Research Milan Mrksich. “That impact is our primary focus. Still, reaching this new level of funding is significant, as doing so is a powerful sign of our continued success in producing knowledge and innovation that makes the world a better place.”

Mrksich noted that managing and sustaining Northwestern’s impressive research growth has required contributions from many University stakeholders — faculty and students, as well as administrative teams that facilitate research excellence. “I am extremely proud of our research community, including the staff across the Office for Research whose efforts have played a key part in helping our faculty succeed,” Mrksich said.

Overall research funding for Northwestern has grown 83% since 2013.

Driving the growth surge this year were funding increases across Northwestern schools, notably from the Feinberg School of Medicine (8.2% increase year over year, tallying $704.6 million); the McCormick School of Engineering (12.4% increase, $142.4 million); and the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences (5.8% increase, $101.9 million). The 35 University-wide research institutes and centers, important catalysts for interdisciplinary research and translation that attract cross-school talent, attracted $86.7 million in funding, an increase of 16.7% over FY22.

“Northwestern enjoys an incredibly vibrant research ecosystem, with broad excellence within and across disciplines,” President Michael Schill said. “Our collaborative strengths allow us to bring together diverse talent to pursue breakthrough discoveries at the intersection of fields, yielding exciting and important results. Achieving $1 billion in funding is impressive, and we can all feel proud of this milestone. But I am most proud of the transformative impact of our research and teaching.”

Northwestern researchers across the University made important contributions to their fields over the past year. Examples include a pioneering study revealing the potential for bacteria to be harnessed as part of a biotechnology platform that one day could help recycle plastics and other materials; a breakthrough development of a flexible bandage that accelerates healing by 30%; a pathbreaking study into how climate change is impacting urban infrastructure; and an examination into the pervasive and enduring challenge of discrimination in the workplace. Other research includes why some cells become resistant to cancer therapies; how mitochondria regulate cellular signaling for proper lung development; a study focused on the molecular underpinnings of inflammation; and the investigation of targeted cancer treatments.

A significant grant from the National Institutes of Health is funding NURTURE: Northwestern University Recruitment to Transform Under Representation and achieve Equity, an initiative to build an exceptional community of biomedical faculty committed to inclusive excellence. Northwestern researchers are also being funded for their cutting-edge curriculum development in the sciences.

A majority of this year’s research funding came from the National Institutes of Health ($539.3 million, +5% over FY22), with additional significant funding sponsored by the National Science Foundation ($76.3 million, +3%) and the Department of Defense ($66.9 million, +13%). School-level funding was led by the Feinberg School of Medicine ($704.6 million); the McCormick School of Engineering ($142.4 million); and the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences ($101.9 million). In addition, funding from the Department of Energy was up 30% year over year, to $41.2 million.

“Northwestern’s research community is superb, and its leadership in an array of fields — and across fields — continues to attract strong support,” said Provost Kathleen Hagerty. “In turn, this support enables us to create transformative knowledge and innovation with real impact for society.”

Matt Golosinski is director of communications in the Office for Research.