Some people don't love a surprise.
Luckily, the first winner of our President's Frontier Award isn't one of them. On the morning of the award announcement, Provost Robert C. Lieberman and I led a phalanx of faculty and university leaders to Croft Hall on the Homewood campus. We surprised Dr. Sharon Gerecht in her regularly scheduled lab meeting to break the news that we were awarding her $250,000 to support her pioneering research at the nexus of materials science, engineering, and stem cell biology. We toasted Sharon in the presence of her jubilant lab members, who celebrated and then got back to work.
Such dedication represents precisely the restless pursuit of discovery that defines us. It's that passion and creativity that inspired Johns Hopkins trustee Lou Forster A&S '82, SAIS '83, and Kathy Pike, SAIS Bol '81 (Dipl), A&S '82, '83 (MA), to create the President's Frontier Award, which will be given each year for five years to support a Hopkins faculty member poised to make significant contributions to his or her field. In short, someone exactly like Sharon.
It's the kind of investment that is crucial right now as our faculty continue to pursue groundbreaking work against the backdrop of a steady decline in federal research funding support. The statistics paint a damning picture. Since 2003, the real value of National Institutes of Health funding has contracted by 20 percent. Humanists have fared no better: National Endowment for the Humanities discretionary funding declined by 25 percent in constant dollars over the last decade.
These declines can be particularly daunting for our young faculty members launching careers. In the sciences, the data is arresting. The number of principal investigators for R01s, the premier NIH research grant, who are 36 years old or younger has declined from 18 percent in 1983 to 3 percent in 2010. This persistent downward trend has serious implications for a generation of scientists and the future of American science.
We are responding in our usual entrepreneurial fashion. In addition to the Frontier Award, we recently announced two more programs to mitigate current funding challenges. The Johns Hopkins Catalyst and Discovery awards represent a collaborative investment on the part of our divisions of $15 million over the next three years to support the extraordinary promise of young faculty and innovative, cross-university research projects.
These efforts cannot replace robust federal support for the essential creative and investigative work of the university's scholars and researchers.
Yet looking across the room at Sharon Gerecht—and the young members of her lab who are on the journey with her—I was elated. At Johns Hopkins, we know that when it comes to sparking discovery, we just can't wait.
Ronald J. Daniels