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Anna Robuccio, a junior at Penn State studying neurobiology, examined brain samples from cerebral malaria on a computational microscopy screen while post doctorate scholar Paddy Ssentongo adjusted the sample under the microscope. They are collaborating on a project at the Center for Neural Engineering, located at Penn State's Millennium Science Complex to help better understand how to prevent children in Africa from developing epilepsy following severe malaria infections. Image: Patrick Mansell

Penn State tops NSF rankings for breadth of research expertise

Posted on February 24, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The breadth of Penn State’s research expertise surpasses that of any university in the country, according to the latest National Science Foundation rankings of Higher Education Research and Development (HERD) research expenditures by key fields and subfields, released in November 2019.

The rankings, for fiscal year 2018, show Penn State ranking in the top 10 in expenditures in 18 research fields. Johns Hopkins University was second with 16 top-10 finishes, followed by Michigan with 15, MIT with 13, and the University of California at San Diego with 10. 

“Penn State has an exceptional culture of innovation that is embraced by our faculty and investigators and fostered across our colleges and interdisciplinary research institutes,” said Lora Weiss, senior vice president for research. “This differentiates us from other universities.”

According to the NSF report, Penn State ranked first in materials science; second in mechanical engineering and materials engineering; third in psychology; fourth in electrical engineering, total engineering, and sociology; and fifth in industrial and manufacturing engineering and mathematical sciences.

Penn State also ranked seventh in geological/earth sciences; eighth in chemical engineering, computer science, and agricultural sciences; ninth in total physical sciences; and 10th in astronomy, atmospheric sciences/meteorology, and anthropology. 

Penn State’s 18 top-10 fields are its highest-ever total, up from 15 in fiscal year 2017. In terms of total research expenditures, the University rose from 23rd nationally in fiscal year 2017 to 21st in fiscal year 2018, with record expenditures of $968 million.

“We invest in our faculty by providing seed-grant funding to support high-risk/high-payoff collaborations, which allows them to make bold forays into new research directions and create new partnerships. These collaborations have clearly made an impact in our research advances and are acutely recognized by our sponsors,” said Weiss.


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