LSU Eclipses $400-Million Milestone in Research Activity

September 11, 2023

Powered by its Scholarship First Agenda, which drives solutions-focused research investment in agriculture, biomedicine, coast, defense and energy, LSU reports a record $428 million in total research activity in just one year with an estimated $1.2 billion in economic impact on Louisiana.

For the first time in its history, LSU has surpassed the $400-million mark in research activity. This leap, up 16 percent in one year, is a direct outcome of the university’s commitment to solve pressing problems for Louisiana and the world, from food insecurity to obesity and cancer, and challenges to our coastal communities, security and energy supply.

“It’s no surprise that our research initiatives are gaining momentum,” remarked LSU President William F. Tate IV. “Our exceptional faculty, who are leaders in their fields, have enthusiastically embraced the challenge of pursuing larger grants with the potential for more significant scientific and societal impacts. This marks an exciting moment for our university and our state. This new research benchmark sets the stage for a future filled with anticipation for new discoveries and the potential for setting new records in the years ahead.”

William F. Tate IV, LSU President

To put LSU’s new expenditure numbers into context, $428 million represents a remarkable jump not just from the year before, but when compared to the past five years. From 2018 up until 2022, the university system’s expenditures fluctuated between $350 million and $368 million.

With $428 million in new research activity, the economic impact of LSU research on Louisiana is estimated at $1.2 billion. This impact number is based on a conversion ratio established in the most recent annual report by United for Medical Research for the National Institutes of Health, where every research dollar brought to Louisiana resulted in $2.8 in economic impact on the state.

LSU’s five core research campuses—the flagship campus, the LSU AgCenter and LSU's Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, plus LSU Health New Orleans and LSU Health Shreveport—achieved a historic $428 million in research activity in fiscal year 2022, compared to $368 million the year prior. The new numbers were recently shared with the National Science Foundation, or NSF, which will issue its own report accompanied by national rankings this fall or winter.

Universities have several ways to measure their success in research. Two of the most common are to look at the amount of money universities earn in grants and contracts and the amount of money they spend on research each year. While the total dollar amount of new grants and contracts captures immediate (and perhaps once-in-a-lifetime) wins, expenditure numbers are a better reflection of long-term growth. This is because award money rarely arrives at the university in one lump sum. Instead, it gets portioned out over the duration of a research project. In the case of multi-year projects, expenditure numbers are the best measure of sustained success.

“Research expenditures represent a valuable measure of scholarship at a public research university,” said Robert Twilley, vice president of research and economic development at LSU. “They show return on investment of every dollar that promotes economic opportunity through innovations that solve regional problems of national significance.”

LSU proves the full operational capacity of its research enterprise by continuously conducting research, attracting new investment and covering its expenses.

“LSU is an important mechanism for federal investment in our state economy,” Twilley said. “Research labs at LSU are like small businesses with research associates, graduate and undergraduate students and post docs who not only contribute to our local economy but also represent a skilled workforce for industry and government.”

Among all sources of LSU research funding, federal agencies rank at the very top. Federally funded research projects that have helped drive LSU’s historic numbers include:

  • In Agriculture—

    The LSU AgCenter’s Healthy Communities  and High Obesity Program works to fight health disparities and increase access to healthy food and physical activity across Louisiana, with focus on rural residents who live in “food deserts” with limited choices and “food swamps” with many unhealthy options. The project was initially awarded $5 million in 2018 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and renewed this year, with another $4 million in CDC funding.
  • In Biomedicine—

    One of LSU’s most long-standing research partnerships provides the U.S. military with nutrition science and solutions to keep soldiers at optimal health and performance. Over more than three decades and with increased investment in recent years, LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center has conducted more than 140 mission-critical studies related to warfighter health with roughly $100 million in awards.

    LSU’s Superfund team works with Louisiana communities to track and fight pollution from waste sites. After an initial $10.8-million award from the National Institutes of Health in 2020, the team received an additional $1.4 million from the National Science Foundation for a high-frequency electron paramagnetic resonance spectrometer, which helps researchers understand how dangerous compounds form and how they can be remediated.
  • In Coastal Science and Engineering—

    Anticipating Threats to Natural Systems, or ACTIONS, works to protect land, secure military terrain and future-proof our national defense using coastal and ecological engineering. The project received $9.3 million in defense funding in collaboration with the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Environmental Laboratory. The success of ACTIONS led the Army to reinvest in LSU research for DEEDS, Developing Engineering Practices for Ecosystem Design Solutions.
  • In Defense—

    LSU’s Scholarships for Service program to grow the U.S. cybersecurity workforce is in its fourth year. Launched with a $3.4-million grant from the National Science Foundation in 2020, the effort has continued to grow under LSU’s Scholarship First Agenda and offers students free tuition and generous scholarships in return for some government service after graduation.
  • In Energy—

    For decades, Louisiana’s leading energy companies have come to LSU for talent and technology development, from fundamental research to testing and demonstration. Prior to Shell’s transformative $27.5-million investment to establish the LSU Institute for Energy Innovation and advance scientific discovery in 2022 and ExxonMobil’s $2-million investment this year, Shell and ExxonMobil collaborated with LSU on two short-term research projects to advance carbon capture and underground storage and study gas migration in wellbores, both contributing to record research expenditures at LSU.

Earlier this year, LSU celebrated $6.1 billion in total economic impact on the state—a number based on all university activities, not just research.

NSF bases its national rankings on Higher Education Research and Development, or HERD, survey data. For LSU, NSF accounts for expenditures on the Baton Rouge campuses and not the university system as a whole. For fiscal year 2022, the Baton Rouge campuses alone reported $345 million in research activity.