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OSU Invests $100 Million in High-Impact Areas

Last month, Ohio State University announced a plan that would invest $100 million in programs with the greatest potential for impact in their fields. The goal is to help increase OSU's visibility as a research institution. The initiative tries to attack some of the world's most pressing problems and questions, from climate change to the fundamental nature of the universe.

Called Targeted Investment in Excellence, the initiative selected 10 programs that already have excellent reputations. The hope is that focused investment will allow the selected programs to compete with the top universities in the country

Many of the programs seek to establish collaborative efforts across multiple disciplines. The top-ranked program is a plan to study climate change, availability of fresh water, and the effect of fossil fuel burning on the atmosphere. Two other plans involve public health preparedness and clean, sustainable energy.

Central funds will provide $50 million and individual colleges will provide the rest for a total of $100 million. One of the top-ranked programs is the Center for Cosmology and Astro-Particle Physics, which is due to receive around $5.7 million over the next five years.

Physicists and astronomers affiliated with the Center try to tackle some of the most fundamental and profound questions in science. One major question is this: what's the Universe made of? Scientists say nearly 25% of the Universe is made of mysterious matter called Dark Matter. And about 70% of the Universe is made of Dark Energy, which manifests itself by accelerating the expansion of the Universe. No one knows what Dark Matter or Dark Energy might be.

Director of the Center Terry Walker says OSU's Astronomy and Physics Departments are well-suited to work together and tackle these questions. He says his program is exactly the type that would benefit from targeted investment. Walker says external reviews by other scientists have lauded OSU's strengths in this field. But, there needs to be stronger connections between Astronomy and Physics Departments.

"And people came in from the outside and said you guys are good, but if you want to be much better, you should take advantage of this and coalesce these two departments," says Walker.

Walker says money will be used to attract the best post-doctoral researchers, establish workshops for visiting scientists, and to invest in larger projects at facilities like the Large Binocular Telescope in Arizona and Fermilab in Chicago.

Walker says OSU occupies about the 8th spot in the U.S. News and World Report rankings of cosmology programs. OSU is just behind notable names like Berkeley, Caltech, University of Chicago, and Harvard.

"Our goal is to pull into direct competition with the people right above us, which is not a trivial exercise," he says.

But not all of the Targeted Investment funds are aimed at scientific research. The School of Music is set to receive $300,000 to establish a Music Industry curriculum. Director of the Music Department, Mellasenah Morris says OSU will be able to offer students a unique educational experience.

"We will have something unique. While there are many schools that have a music business program, that will have a recording arts program, this is going to have multiple interdisciplinary opportunities," says Morris.

Interdisciplinary opportunities include business-oriented courses that teach students how to deal with contracts and engineering courses in instrument design. Morris says U.S. News and World Report ranked OSU's music department 24th overall, and 11th for state universities. She says the addition of the Music Industry curriculum can propel OSU into the top ten.

"I think as an outgrowth of this, the Ohio State University will be on the cutting edge of interdisciplinary work with the arts," she says.

TheCenter is a research group at the University of Florida that publishes a report on the top American research universities. It puts OSU in the middle of the top 25 among public institutions. Among all research institutions, OSU just misses the top 25 cut-off, right behind schools like Caltech and Princeton. Unlike the oft-cited U.S. News and World Report college rankings, TheCenter uses nine objective measurements, such as total research dollars, endowment assets, and SAT and ACT test scores. U.S. News and World Report relies heavily on faculty surveys about university reputations, which critics say are sometimes skewed towards famous names, instead of actual strength in research.