Like December 7 in an earlier generation, September 11 is a date that permanently changed the world view of most Americans. After 9/11, the notion of domestic tranquility was replaced by the jarring concept of homeland security, and priorities were reassessed from the top levels of government down to individuals and families.

Those shifting priorities have ushered in a wave of federal funding for scientific research reminiscent of the focus on the space program in the 1960s. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) alone has about $1 billion a year to invest in products and services to upgrade safety and surveillance. Agencies from the Department of Defense to the Department of Agriculture to the National Institutes of Health also have earmarked growing amounts of research funds to find better ways to protect U.S. citizens from terrorist threats.

The push for research presents NC State with opportunities to capitalize on its strengths in applied sciences, Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Studies Dr. John Gilligan says. Although 90 percent of the DHS funding is tied to systems and services that need to be purchased immediately, Gilligan says the remaining 10 percent is still a significant shift in resources for research universities.

“Very few agencies are able to release an extra $100 million within two years,” he says. “This money isn’t going to go away for awhile, either. Dealing with terrorists is a new ballgame that requires new technologies.”

DHS already has funded three Homeland Security Centers of Excellence. NC State is participating in two of these university-based multidisciplinary research partnerships. Dr. Kerry Smith, distinguished professor of agricultural and resource economics, is assisting a center studying the economic impact of potential terrorist activities, and food science associate professor Dr. Lee-Ann Jaykus is working with another center on post-harvest food security issues. Many other faculty also are conducting research designed to respond to potential security threats.

“NC State is committed to relevant, real-world solutions for societal problems. DHS’ mission of prevention, protection, response, and recovery mesh very well with our faculty research strengths,” Chancellor James L. Oblinger says. “It’s a chance for the University to apply basic science and emerging technologies in a new arena and have a positive impact on the country’s future.”