From the telegraph to Google, innovation has always driven the American economy and led to technological advances that have improved the lives of millions. Many breakthroughs were hatched in college research labs such as those at University of California, Davis.
Computers, rocket fuel, lasers, synthetic insulin, radar, blood thinners and MRI machines are just some of the noteworthy innovations facilitated by university research.
At UC Davis, where I am privileged to be chancellor and work with some of the most brilliant research scientists in the world, federally funded research could not be more vital.
That's why I recently joined 163 other university presidents and chancellors who sent a letter to President Barack Obama and members of Congress urging them to invest more in federally funded scientific research, not less as they have been doing.
"Our nation's role as the world's innovation leader is in serious jeopardy," our letter begins. "The combination of eroding federal investments in research and higher education, additional cuts due to sequestration, and the enormous resources other nations are pouring into these areas is creating a new kind of deficit for the United States: an innovation deficit. Closing this innovation deficit the widening gap between needed and actual investments must be a national imperative."
At UC Davis, thanks in large part to the vision of agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and others, researchers have worked on such game-changing discoveries as flood-resistant rice, less expensive and faster ways to detect the virus that causes AIDS, new ways to use stem cells and other chemicals to speed healing from serious wounds and so much more.
Elva Diaz, an assistant professor of pharmacology at the UC Davis School of Medicine, is using a $1.5 million NIH grant to work on novel therapies for childhood brain cancer.
Because of a $4.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation, members of our faculty have teamed with colleagues from UC Santa Cruz and two Danish institutions to advance renewable energy grids for local communities.
Two other UC Davis research teams received $40 million from the USDA to, among other work, develop new varieties of wheat and barley that can tolerate the impacts of climate change.
According to the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, research and development expenditures as a share of economic output have remained nearly constant in the United States over the past decade. At the same time, R&D investments have risen nearly 50 percent in South Korea and 90 percent in China.
We understand that in tough economic times like those of the past few years, there is no way to avoid hard decisions on what to fund or cut.
We've all had to make many gut-wrenching choices at our own institutions that were unpopular. We continue to look for greater efficiencies and savings. But to shrink investments in infrastructure and scientific research, the very investments needed to get us out of the economic doldrums and create a brighter future, is shortsighted.
UC Davis and other institutions that signed the letter make major contributions to their regional and state economies. UC Davis supports nearly 70,000 jobs in Northern California and generates nearly $7 billion in economic activity a year.
The answer to our economic problems must include a strategy of sustained federal and state investments in research and student financial aid. Without them, we will never close the innovation deficit. Our economy and quality of life will be outpaced by other nations who fully appreciate the link between research, education and prosperity.
I am proud to join my higher-education colleagues who urged the president and Congress to reject unsound budget cuts and reinvest in research and education. Such investments, especially in tough times, are essential to drive the innovation, economic growth and job creation needed to keep America strong.
Linda P.B. Katehi is the chancellor of the University of California, Davis.