The University of Montana is receiving an estimated $4 million in research funds from a new state initiative aimed at strengthening the economy.

Gov. Steve Bullock announced the awards Tuesday at a news conference in the lobby of the Skaggs Building in Missoula. All told, the Montana University System received $15 million from the state.

The governor described the research initiative as a first for Montana and said funded projects will produce strategic advancements in Montana and beyond.

"It will not only address some of the challenges that we have in our state, but indeed, challenges across the country, and I dare say even the world," Bullock said.

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UM President Royce Engstrom said research and "creative scholarship" already are a tradition on the Missoula campus. However, he said the university lately has made a concerted effort to increase the impact of its research, and to laudable results.

"Research has never been more vibrant at the University of Montana than it is right now," Engstrom said.

Professors are collaborating on significant projects across the campus, he said. The president also said faculty are making important discoveries, training the next generation of researchers, and working on important problems.

At the event, the UM researchers who received awards also discussed their projects. Some money has not yet been awarded; to date, UM has received two awards representing the $4 million.

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Traumatic brain injury is one particular problem UM is grappling with, said Sarj Patel, an assistant research professor awarded for his work. He said traumatic brain injury is a growing public health issue around the world, and Montana has the second highest per capita rate in the country.

"We're hoping that with this award, we can actually use Montana technologies, Montana ideas, to really make a big difference in the treatment, the diagnosis and social impacts," Patel said.

Chris Palmer, professor and chair in chemistry, is part of a team that's developing technology to monitor, measure and help maintain water quality.

The natural resource is not only important for recreation, it's critical for agriculture, power generation and other industrial efforts, Palmer said.

As such, his team will develop instrumentation, materials and methods to monitor water quality in remote locations.

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Commission of Higher Education Clay Christian said the money represents bipartisan support from the Montana Legislature. He also said the funds demonstrate a commitment to science, technology and the state economy through the university system.

"Our common goal has been to invest in research that will solve Montana problems, create jobs or grow the economy," Christian said.

Officials anticipate the $15 million research investment will yield a 3-to-1 direct return across the state. The indirect economic impact may be as high as 10- or 18-to-1, state officials said.

At the news conference, Gov. Bullock said the initiative builds on the state's other economic successes. He said Montana has a low unemployment rate, high wage growth, is fiscally prudent, and is No. 1 for entrepreneurship.

The research dollars will produce not only technological breakthroughs, he said, but jobs as ideas move to market.

"The time to invest in the research of tomorrow is now," Bullock said.

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