University’s Seed Grant Initiative Helps Researchers’ Pursuits Blossom
Grants Invest in Interdisciplinary Work That May Produce Bigger, Federally Funded Projects

Dr. Roderick Heelis (left), Distinguished Chair in Natural Sciences and Mathematics and director of the William B. Hanson Center for Space Sciences, discusses test results with technical associate Keith Swaim. Heelis’ technology measures gas speed and direction in the local environment of an orbiting satellite. Heelis received a $200,000 Major Extramural Grant Award as part of the seed grant initiative. 

The first year of The University of Texas at Dallas’ seed grant initiative has provided $2.2 million to a diverse range of research and scholarly projects with the aim of providing faculty a springboard to earning larger, highly competitive grants.

The Office of Research program, announced last fall, was conceived by Dr. Joseph Pancrazio, vice president for research, who described it as among the largest such programs in the state.

“Research, scholarship and creativity play a key role in our growth as an institution,” said Pancrazio, who is also a professor of bioengineering in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science. “These programs build upon the interdisciplinary work that is a hallmark of the UT Dallas experience for our faculty and students. The hope is that this seed funding leads to new ideas that then become the source for new grant proposals and projects.”

Distributions to UT Dallas from the National Research University Fund (NRUF), a source of state research funding that the University first qualified for in 2018, freed up resources to create the seed grants.

“By investing in our faculty while incentivizing collaboration, we are reinforcing a research culture that will encourage prospective investigators to join our academic community as well as earn a return-on-investment relative to federally sponsored research,” Pancrazio said.

The seed grants fall into seven categories and will fund work in seven of the University’s schools.

The program is overseen by Dr. Nicole Leeper Piquero, Robert E. Holmes Jr. Professor of Criminology, who said the program is an exciting way to invest in faculty and encourage interdisciplinary collaboration.

“We offer 10 different ways to support researchers from all across our campus, including opportunities for them to showcase their work with workshops both here at UT Dallas as well as in Washington, D.C.,” said Piquero, who is also associate vice president for research development.

Collaborations with UT Southwestern

Among the seven programs is the Collaborative Biomedical Research Award (CoBRA), which was specifically designed to stimulate interdisciplinary research between faculty at UT Dallas and UT Southwestern Medical Center. Three projects led by Dr. Danieli Rodrigues, associate professor of bioengineering; Dr. Lloyd Lumata, assistant professor of physics; and Dr. Lawrence Reitzer, professor of biological sciences, each received $250,000.

Dr. Danieli Rodrigues

Lumata’s grant supports research to develop biomedical imaging techniques, and Reitzer’s work focuses on combating urinary tract infections.

Rodrigues said the CoBRA award will enable her team to expand the application of an immune-interactive coating she is developing for titanium orthopedic implants that may reduce the implantation failure rate for diabetic patients.

“This initiative will give us the opportunity to generate data that will support development and feasibility demonstrations, helping our team to pursue larger grant opportunities in the future,” Rodrigues said. “It will also promote interdisciplinary training by enabling UTD graduate students and residents from UT Southwestern to work together on new ways to boost implant healing in immune-compromised cases.”

Major Grants for Major Projects

Another program, called the Major Extramural Grant Award (MEGA), assists researchers who are gathering preliminary data to support their pursuit of individual external grant opportunities of at least $6 million. The two MEGA recipients, Dr. Roderick Heelis, director of the William B. Hanson Center for Space Sciences, and Dr. Bart Rypma, the Meadows Foundation Chair in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, each received $200,000 for their proposals.

Proposer’s Day

The Office of Research invites potential applicants to Proposer’s Day on Friday, Nov. 22, to learn more about the internal funding opportunities available in the next cycle of seed grant initiatives. Registration is required.

Rypma is investigating brain-imaging techniques, while Heelis’ work aims to better understand Earth’s space environment and how it affects areas such as communication, navigation and the reentry of space vehicles. His MEGA project seeks to develop innovative techniques to measure the dynamics of particles and gases in the environment around orbiting satellites.

“The experiments we do in space are really expensive. Sponsors like NASA and the Air Force won’t give you all the money for a project just based on one proposal,” said Heelis, Distinguished Chair in Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

“Backing from the University allows us to turn our experiments and our conceptual ideas into real things: ‘Here’s the prototype device; here are the results from testing it in the lab,’” Heelis said. “And we can put those forward in our second-phase grant proposal. This gives us a much more competitive chance of winning.”


Seed Grant Programs

The Office of Research awarded seed grants in seven programs:

  • Collaborative Biomedical Research Award: Promotes interdisciplinary collaborations between UT Dallas and UT Southwestern Medical Center.
  • Humanities and Emerging Arts Grant: Enables research, outreach or creative activities in schools that are outside of STEM.
  • Major Extramural Grant Award: Supports pursuit of a single total external award of at least $6 million.
  • Seed Program for Interdisciplinary Research: Promotes interdisciplinary work with faculty from different schools or departments.
  • Social Sciences Grant: Supports preliminary data collection for pursuit of external funding, primarily for the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences and the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences.
  • Strategic Center Investment: Creates innovative centers that address significant problems, ideally via collaboration between schools.
  • Workshop Grant: Helps scientists, engineers and scholars to gather and discuss research, issues or emerging areas of science and technology, with the intention of drawing recognized leaders.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].