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University of Delaware Researchers Make their Case in D.C.

Trip to Capitol Hill lets feds look closer at value of funding

The News Journal, Written By: Wade Malcolm, March 11, 2011:

WASHINGTON -- Alumni and congressional staffers crowded around the high-definition screen displaying the Gulf of Mexico.

During last summer's Gulf oil spill, a University of Delaware marine vehicle delivered a satellite view of the water, along with the concentrations of oil floating beneath it -- in real time. The information helped researchers and emergency responders track the flow of the underwater plume.

In a simple, visual way, the image showed the value of federal research funding, said Matt Oliver, an assistant professor of oceanography who also employs the vehicle in his research off the Delaware coast near Lewes.

Oliver and faculty from about 20 research groups from various departments within the university visited Washington Tuesday night for an event that looked like a science fair combined with a cocktail hour. The busload of university researchers traveled down I-95 to network with federal officials, setting up booths with displays highlighting some of the university's top researchers.

Like most universities, UD relies on federal grants from agencies like the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health to fuel its research. But in the face of challenging budget negotiations and calls to reduce federal spending, UD officials used the trip to Washington to promote its most promising federally funded research.

"The feds are critical to funding research now that won't bear fruit until years down the line," said Oliver, whose work is subsidized by grants from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Held in an ornate, marble-columned room inside a Senate office building on Capitol Hill, the event drew dozens of funding agency representatives, congressional staffers and UD alumni living in the D.C. area. Delaware Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons and U.S. Rep. John Carney also stopped by to express support for continued funding.

While the university's guests ate hors d'oeuvres, sipped cocktails and learned about alternative energy models, UD President Patrick T. Harker gave remarks reflecting the concerns of his faculty researchers.