The online magazine of the University of Texas System
The University of Texas Systemís Science and Technology Acquisition and Retention program (STARs) was created to help UT institutions attract the nationís strongest researchers in health, mathematics, computer sciences, biological sciences, physical sciences, engineering and technology. So far, all indications are that itís doing just that.
STARs was formed in August 2004, when the UT System Board of Regents allocated $60 million in Library, Equipment, Repair and Renovation (LERR) funds to help induce faculty members to stay at or come to the UT System to do their research. Since LERR funds can only be applied toward capital expenditures, this money is used to help purchase state-of-the-art research equipment and to make necessary laboratory renovations. Of the $60 million, $32.45 million went to the Office of Academic Affairs to be awarded to UT academic institutions on both a competitive and non-competitive basis; the balance went to UT medical institutions.
"We're competing nationally with other outstanding universities when we recruit, but STARs is proving to be a highly successful enterprise," says UT System Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs David B. Prior. "With the competitive STARS funding available to academic institutions, we recruit first-class people who want access to first-class labs and the like, and they bring a tremendous return on the investment."
Recognized nationally and internationally for their scholarly achievements, STARs recipients do represent an academic elite. Dr. Russell Hulse, regental professor and associate vice president for strategic initiatives at The University of Texas at Dallas, was co-winner of the Nobel Prize in physics in 1993. He came to Texas from Princetonís Plasma Physics Laboratory in 2004 and is now involved with several programs that either advance science education at KĖ12 public schools or help elevate UT Dallasí stature as a premier research university.
Dr. Richard Aldrich left Stanford for The University of Texas at Austin, where heís a professor and chair of the section of neurobiology and holds the Karl Folkers Chair in interdisciplinary biomedical research. The Aldrich Laboratoryís research into ion channels — which employs a combination of molecular biology, electrophysiology, biophysics, cellular and systems physiology and computational biology — led to his election to the National Academy of Sciences in 2008.
Dr. Daniel W. Armstrong came to The University of Texas at Arlingtonís Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry from Iowa State. His research on molecular recognition and the purification of drug molecules led to new regulations by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that changed the way the pharmaceutical industry developed new drugs. His latest work in this area may lead to the formation of a new company that would manufacture purification columns for pharmaceutical companies that can eliminate serious side effects in some medicines.
"We donít recruit B+ people; we recruit stars," says Dr. Pedro Reyes, associate vice chancellor for academic planning and assessment at the UT System and manager of the program. "By that I mean members of the national academies or those who have the potential to become members."
A 2007 study by the UT System Office of Academic Affairs showed that faculty members hired or retained with the help of STARs funds had brought $167 million in research grants and private gifts into the UT System, for a net return of $143 million.
In that same time, STARs faculty members were responsible for 88 new patents, authored or refereed nearly 700 publications, won 23 national awards and received appointments to three national scholarly boards and one national academy.
Such accomplishments speak to the programís widespread success at developing and strengthening the research capacity across the UT System. "These STARs scholars not only produce valuable research," says Dr. Prior, "but they strengthen our institutions' faculties and help attract some of the brightest minds in their respective fields. Programs like STARs help keep the UT System at the forefront of discovery and move Texas forward in an increasingly competitive global marketplace."
Investing in state-of-the-art research facilities enables the UT System to bring the nationís best minds to Texas and keep our next generation of stars at home. With world-class research opportunities across the state, Texas high school students are more likely to enroll in Texas universities, and to build their careers in Texas after graduating. Research also focuses an international spotlight on an institution, adding to its prestige in the public eye.
But advancing research opportunities also provides an economic stimulus to the entire state, not just universities. According to The Legislative Study Group, a Texas public policy caucus, investment in research and development yields a 20 to 30 percent rate of return to the state in terms of jobs and additional state revenues.* As university research often attracts new companies and industries to an area, exceptional faculty and research staff can play a critical role in generating new ideas and harnessing them to create new companies and products that increase Texasí success in the world economy.
"Iím not aware of any other place doing a program like this, at least not at the System level," says Dr. Reyes. "Every university has start-up funds but thereís never enough money to renovate labs and things like that. STARs has helped tremendously to attract high-caliber people and to increase the research capacity of the UT System. We hope the program continues even in these difficult economic times."
*The Legislative Study Group, State of Higher Education in Texas, May 19, 2008.
— John Morthland
Dr. Russell Hulse
Regental Professor and Associate Vice President for Strategic Initiatives
The University of Texas at Dallas
"My career in science began as a youngster who was captivated by how science opened his eyes to the fascinating world around him. That fascination eventually led to an exciting scientific adventure as a graduate student and a discovery for which I was awarded a Nobel Prize. The experience of receiving the Nobel led me to a new focus on bringing the excitement and adventure of science to a new generation of kids and adults through community-based science education."
Dr. Richard Aldrich
Karl Folkers Chair in Interdisciplinary Biomedical Research II
Section of Neurobiology, College of Natural Sciences
The University of Texas at Austin
"Thereís nothing better in this business than to find a student who gets excited about what youíre teaching and you see has so much potential to do great things. Itís rewarding to know that you had an effect on someone and get to watch them form a connection with the material."
Dr. Daniel W. Armstrong
Robert A. Welch Chair in Chemistry
The University of Texas at Arlington
"We want to do things that havenít been done before, or were thought to be impossible to do before. We want to provide people with the means to do it. We like to explain things that were not understood before, and by being able to explain them, you can enhance them, make them better, faster, more accurate."
Copyright © 2009 The University of Texas System. All rights reserved.