When university officials unveiled the first phase of the Nucleus project this week, its CEO Vicky Yates Brown said she’s not worried about the 2.3 billion dollar price tag to turn the Haymarket block near Market and Preston Streets into a state of the art research complex.
“It is difficult economic times but we are moving on and moving forward in spite of those difficult economic times.”
And the threat of a reduction in state funds to attract scientists to the new facility doesn’t concern University President James Ramsey.
“It is a very difficult time. The fact that those numbers are even in the budget are positive to us. It says that even in the hardest of financial times the state understands the importance of ‘Bucks for Brains.'”
What does concern U of L Executive Vice President of Health Services Larry Cook is the fact that there may not be enough students to fill the new facilities.
“Math and science in general have not been as popular in this country as they are in China and India and Western Europe in general.”
The Nucleus project will focus on life sciences, fields like biology and pharmaceutical research. Cook says life sciences study have recently been on the decline in the U.S., but now cities such as St. Louis and Indianapolis are building their own research parks, in anticipation of aging baby boomers using the health care system.
Nucleus CEO Vicki Yates Brown says in order for Louisville to compete with other communities, the city and state will have to cultivate life science students.
“In talking with that are experts in building these research parks, their model is based upon the fact that most of this will come out of our own university and our own community. We’ll certainly have to continue to grow our research scientists.”
“Recruiting talent is a challenge when you generally underfund your public schools, which Kentucky has been doing for ten or fifteen years now…”
…says Bob Sexton, executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, a citizens’ advocacy group.
Kentucky must increase its production at the higher education levels of highly talented scientific people.
He says Kentucky elementary school children perform well in science, but are below the national average in math.
“Math is, by national standards, the subject we’re doing the most poorly in.”
As Kentucky tries to nurture future researchers and make its facilities competitive with those in other American cities, Sexton says schools in the Commonwealth are going to need more public support.
“To do that, we’re going to have to invest in our schools and we’re going to have to find ways to improve the way we teach those subjects.”
There has also been a recent decline in federal funds from the National Institute of Health. The NIH distributes grants to research institutions and U of L’s Larry Cook says most of the cuts came in the last four years.
“In the decade prior to that the NIH budget doubled and that was a time of very robust growth in health sciences research throughout the country and also at the University of Louisville.”
While future presidents and Congresses may try to restore NIH funding, Cook says the current financial situation puts more of a burden on Kentucky’s researchers.
“What that means is we have to be better than the next person at competing for that available money.”
And for the multi-billion dollar Nucleus project to be a success, the research scientists Kentucky grows will have to compete not only for international acclaim but also for local funding.