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Spokane higher ed officials woo federal leaders for research funding

Doug Nadvornick/Spokane Public Radio
Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan, the director of the federal government's National Science Foundation, makes a point during a research summit in Spokane on Wednesday.

The head of the National Science Foundation came to Spokane to learn about research work done here.

Congress allocated about $250 billion last year for scientific research through the CHIPS and Science Act. One of the new law's main goals is to help American companies make more computer chips, which are important in almost all facets of our lives.

But federal officials say that’s only part of the scope of the new law. They hope it will stimulate all kinds of scientific discovery.

On Wednesday, representatives of Washington State, Eastern Washington and Gonzaga universities told Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan, the director of the National Science Foundation, that eastern Washington is deserving of some of that money. The message was delivered at a news conference before their meeting by Daryll DeWald, the chancellor of Washington State University’s Spokane campus.

“Spokane is unique in its ability to do big things in partnership across organizations, including the higher ed organizations, the business community. The way that we work together, I think you’ll be impressed by and we would like to have your investment," he said.

Dr. David Bowman, the dean of Eastern's College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, touted his university’s cybersecurity program and said federal dollars could help with its mission of training students for the industry.

“We really look forward to working with NSF to continue to push forward these efforts in cybersecurity, to build on the excellence that we need in this region to move our workforce forward," he said.

At a leadership summit at EWU's Catalyst building, Panchanathan said his agency and other federal funders must ensure money flows to scientists in places like Spokane.

"Opportunities need to be everywhere across our nation. It cannot be limited to a few locations," he said. "What happens when you energize opportunities everywhere, innovation can happen anywhere across the nation."

Panchanathan said he’s impressed by the range of research done in Spokane, from EWU's cybersecurity program to health sciences research at Washington State, to engineering at Gonzaga.

"When I look at the partnerships between Eastern Washington University, Gonzaga University, Washington State University, and yes, even the UW having a health presence here, it tells me that every university is engaged in this community. That is the engine of prosperity," he said. "It includes the community colleges, K-12 systems, industry and an enterpreneurial ecosystem all working synergistically."

"If places like Spokane are not successful, our nation will not be successful," he said.

The private sector is also looking to leverage CHIPS Act money. Jason Thackston, Avista's chief strategy and clean energy officer, said the company is working with a variety of local partners to prepare an NSF grant proposal related to improving energy efficiency.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.