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New Legislation Promotes University Research

Wilfredo Cabrera works on research at the University of Texas at Dallas.

By Shelley Kofler, KERA News

Dallas, TX –

Wednesday, lawmakers and university presidents joined Governor Rick Perry at a North Texas research lab. The Governor was there to sign legislation considered a top priority by North Texas universities and businesses. KERA's Shelley Kofler has details.

In a research lab at the University of Texas in Dallas, Jean-Francois Veyan and other scientists are loading liquid helium and hydrogen into a cryostat, where temperatures can be reduced to frigid minus-269 degrees. Veyan says what the researchers learn about molecular behavior could affect millions of Americans who drive.

Veyan: If tomorrow you prefer to use hydrogen in your car instead of gasoline that would be the first application

The lab served as a backdrop for Governor Rick Perry's signing of legislation that provides $50 million for seven of the state's public universities on the verge of becoming major research facilities.

Perry: Out of this lab will come world-changing technology; wealth-creating technology; discoveries that will transform an industry. I'd compare what you're doing at this university on par with any school in America.

When UT- Dallas, UT-Arlington, UNT- Denton and the other emerging research schools attract grants and gifts, the new state fund will match the money.

The goal is to create additional universities known as tier-one schools. To gain that designation a university must meet national criteria which includes a certain dollar amount of research.

Right now Texas has three tier-one research schools: UT Austin; Texas A&M; and Rice. California has nine. New York has seven.

UTD President David Daniel says achieving the designation would attract the kind of researchers found at MIT and Harvard could change the region too.

Daniel: It means the very brightest people will want to come here; start their families here; build their businesses here; buy their houses here; send their children to our schools. It will just tremendously enrich the vibrancy of our community. That's what great universities do for communities

In the past legislation to fund new tier-one schools has floundered because universities competed against each other to be first in line for the money. This bill designed largely by North Texas Representative Dan Branch gives seven promising schools a chance to compete for money that will help transform today's research into tomorrow's discoveries.

The legislation includes additional money for other Texas universities. Universities doing more than $50-million dollars in research and those graduating at-risk students in math, science and engineering qualify for additional funding.

If voters approve a constitutional amendment in November, a fund with $425 million will be established for schools that qualify for national, tier-one recognition.

Email Shelley Kofler