Iowa State attracts $494.7 million in external funding, sets federal research funding record

Students set up hundreds of cameras to record time-lapse data of crop growth,.

Undergraduates set up hundreds of digital cameras to record time-lapse data of plant growth as part of the Genomes to Fields Initiative co-led by Iowa State's Patrick Schnable. Larger photo. Photo by the Iowa Economic Development Authority and courtesy of the Genomes to Fields Initiative.

AMES, Iowa – Iowa State University attracted a total of $494.7 million in external funding for the fiscal year that ended June 30, including a record amount of federal funding for research projects.

That total is an increase of $25.6 million, or 5.5%,  over the 2019 fiscal year’s $469 million. Federal support for Iowa State research hit a record $186 million, an increase of $4.9 million, or 2.7%, over the previous record of $181.1 million in fiscal year 2019.

A major contributor to that record was support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which jumped from $23.6 million in fiscal year 2019 to $47.8 million this past fiscal year. That USDA support included five awards of more than $1 million from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, including a $10 million grant to expand the Iowa State-based Consortium for Cultivating Human And Naturally reGenerative Enterprises (known as C-CHANGE) and $2.9 million to build on the Genomes to Fields Initiative that’s studying the interactions of plant genomes and crop environments.

Another major federal grant – $20 million over five years from the National Institute of Standards and Technology – will support the Center for Statistics and Applications in Forensic Evidence based at Iowa State. 

Guru Rao

Guru Rao

“I really believe the 2020 fiscal and academic year is a study in both perseverance and relevance,” said Guru Rao, Iowa State’s interim vice president for research. “Our research community as a whole, persevered through the COVID-19 pandemic – and continues to do so – to deliver relevant research that further builds on Iowa State’s legacy as a trusted and valued partner to both federal and non-federal sponsors alike.”

Iowa State attracted a total of $253 million in external research funding during the last fiscal year. That’s $7.9 million, or 3%, below the $260.9 million record set in fiscal year 2019. A portion of this funding is supporting several research projects related to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Those projects include development of a paper-strip urine test for the virus and statistical modeling and prediction of deaths caused by the disease.

In addition to grants supporting research, external funding also provides academic support, scholarships and more. The funding can include contracts, gifts and cooperative agreements from federal, state and local governments, as well as from corporations, nonprofits and other universities.

While federal research jumped to record levels this past fiscal year, non-federal research funding was nearly $67 million, down $12.9 million, or 16.1%, from fiscal year 2019’s record of $79.8 million.

“Research,” Rao said, “plays a critical role in supporting Iowa State University’s mission to create, share and apply knowledge to make Iowa and the world a better place.”


Iowa State University external research funding sources for fiscal year 2020


Department of Energy: $65.4 million

Department of Agriculture: $47.8 million

National Science Foundation: $31.7 million

Health and Human Services: $18.6 million

Department of Commerce: $5.3 million

Department of Defense: $5 million

Department of Transportation: $4.4 million

Other federal: $7.8 million

Federal subtotal: $186 million



Industry/corporate: $19.3 million

State of Iowa government: $19.3 million

Higher education: $14.4 million

Nonprofit organizations: $8 million

Commodity: $4.3 million

Other non-federal: $1.7 million

Non-federal subtotal: $67 million

Total external research funding: $253 million


Recent history of external funding totals

  • FY20, $494.7 million
  • FY19, $469 million
  • FY18, $509.2 million
  • FY17, $503.6 million
  • FY16, $425.8 million
  • FY15, $424.9 million
  • FY14, $368.4 million
  • FY13, $326.4 million
  • FY12, $360.2 million
  • FY11, $342.3 million
  • FY10, $388.2 million