Monday, July 23 , 2018, 8:05 am | Fair 67º


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Capps Tours UCSB Labs, Talks with Faculty About Federal Funding for Research

Science leaders say that if proposed budget cuts go through, their projects, students and even private companies would suffer

While the din of debate continues over which federal budget cuts to make, Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, got a tour Monday of UCSB’s research departments that benefit from some of that same funding.

Capps toured the school’s laboratories and settled into a small conference room in the Life Sciences Building with about a dozen of the university’s science leaders.

The congresswoman began by calling Republican cuts “really irresponsible,” adding that $1.6 billion would be cut from the National Institutes of Health, $350 million from the National Science Foundation and $1 billion from the Department of Energy.

Federal research funding for UCSB totaled $222 million last year for a campus with a $750 million budget.

“I believe the work going on at UCSB is so vital to our economy,” Capps said. “This is a jobs factory.”

Dean Pierre Wiltzius said 750 people have jobs because of the funding, and that the group was all keenly aware of the budget talks taking place in Washington, D.C., not to mention the hundreds of undergraduates, graduates and doctoral students who benefit. He said sustaining an operation like that isn’t easy.

“We need a lot of help,” Wiltzius told Capps.

Last year, 6,900 students at UCSB received Pell Grants totaling $29 million.

“That is a huge appointment that will be slashed also,” Capps said. “Funding is a lifeline for a campus like this.”

Her audience, made up of department heads from the university’s various science undertakings, were all too aware of that fact.

Les Wilson, a professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, said that when funding is reduced, research is curtailed.

“It destroys laboratories,” he said. “It kills momentum.”

Monday’s conversation turned to the role of private companies, such as Pfizer and Amgen, and the research they rely on. Several speakers said the foundation of that research comes from the labs of academia, and then private industry captures and applies it. Bottom line considerations keep private corporations from pursuing some kinds of research, but when that funding is cut, everyone suffers.

“We have so many projects not getting funding,” said William Smith, professor and vice chairman of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology. He said that when a project is funded for 15 years and then stops, the experiment can be all for naught.

Capps said she hopes a more permanent solution to research and development will enter the picture so that research-based groups have at least a baseline of funding every year.

“To me, they are the best justification for the role of federal government,” she said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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