Leading World-Changing Research

We will change the world in our pursuits of transformative research.

We will work to address challenges in energy and the environment, health and wellbeing and technology and society.

9. Leverage what is uniquely possible as Texas’s flagship institution

Understanding and Preserving Unique Biodiversity

  • Researchers are seeking to create knowledge that leads to healthier lives through more sustainable and resilient sources of food, water and energy and world-changing scientific breakthroughs that promote the vibrancy of Texas and our planet.

Propelling Research Advances with the Machine Learning Lab

  • Machine learning harnesses technology-driven systems for artificial intelligence able to learn from real-world experience and make predictions in complex environments, relevant to many research areas. UT Austin is a world leader in related research and home to the National Science Foundation-funded Institute for the Foundations of Machine Learning based within the MLL. 

Exploring the Universe and its Beginnings

  • UT Austin is a founding partner in the Giant Magellan Telescope, which will be the largest land-based telescope ever created, enabling a new era of discovery. Researchers at UT Austin are likewise involved in international research consortia and efforts pertaining to gravitation and exploration of the cosmos in areas such as dark matter and dark energy, including through the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment (HET-DEX).*

Investigating Opportunities for New Materials 

  • With support from the National Science Foundation and in partnership with the Cockrell School of Engineering, chemists, physicists and molecular bioscientists are conducting cutting-edge research relevant for the development of new materials that can play a role in new technologies and the clean energy revolution ahead.

Pursuing Insights in Computational Health and Medicine

  • Big data, artificial intelligence and computational science are transforming health and medicine, changing the way diseases are understood, diagnosed and treated. Faculty in Texas computer science, statistics and data sciences and the Oden Institute partner with life sciences researchers in Dell Medical School and across Natural Sciences to develop new tools and techniques to improve health outcomes for patients and communities.

Working towards New Therapeutics and Vaccines through Texas Biologics

  • Texas Biologics builds on UT Austin’s long history of success in protein therapeutics, by bringing together researchers in the College of Natural Sciences and Cockrell School of Engineering with cross-disciplinary strengths related to the discovery, development and clinical translation of related medicines and treatments. This effort will leverage the structural biology capabilities of the Sauer Lab, the college's cryo-electron microscopy facility.*


Key Updates and Priorities for 2023–2024

  • New materials research: The NSF selected UT Austin’s Center for Dynamics and Control of Materials, an NSF MRSEC, for an additional six years of operation, with faculty from physics and chemistry holding leadership positions. The college is currently planning a major quantum materials initiative to complement in part the research happening within the MRSEC.

  • Machine learning and insights in computational health and medicine: The Machine Learning Laboratory (MLL) and its NSF-funded counterpart, the Institute for the Foundations of Machine Learning, continued work to improve medical imaging and also embarked on a “deep proteins” research project with groups across UT Austin and from Houston Methodist, aiming to identify and optimize therapeutic proteins for the treatment of a host of diseases. MLL continued also to advance the fundamentals of machine learning and to support machine learning applications in a variety of fields across campus. More than 200 students and more than three dozen faculty members representing 10 departments attended an MLL-sponsored matching event to work together on research projects while employing machine learning.

The College of Natural Sciences is providing strategic support for our researchers.

Our faculty and other researchers will advance bold research and tackle society’s greatest challenges as the college continues to implement its Master Space Plan for facilities development and also:

10. Support researchers to help foster first-class scientific discovery

Advance Higher-Risk/Higher-Reward Research with Spark Grants

  • CNS Spark Grants is a new internal funding mechanism open to associate professors who seek to explore new research questions or experimental approaches. The goal is to support new ideas that are typically too early-stage in their development to be appropriate for routine funding opportunities, encouraging high-risk/high-reward projects of many stripes, from developing new methods to gathering preliminary data for new vanguards in research.*

Continue Interdisciplinary Research Projects Supported by CNS Catalyst Grants

  • The CNS Catalyst Grant program is a College of Natural Sciences (CNS) internal funding mechanism meant to inspire interdisciplinary research collaborations that will seed efforts to secure external funding. 

Introduce New Proto Center Competitions

  • CNS is exploring the idea of creating a college-wide annual competition for new centers to support innovative interdisciplinary research. Proto Centers will be launched with college funding for a finite amount of time. This program would create regenerating support structures at the intersection of multiple disciplines and foster cutting-edge discovery.


Key Updates and Priorities for 2023–2024

  • Strategic Research Initiatives (SRI): The college’s new director of SRI oversaw the first two cohorts of pilot grants and the first interdisciplinary projects linked to Texas Biologics. Spark Grants, another program overseen by SRI, attracted dozens of proposals, of which 11 were funded, and Catalyst Grants have resulted in interdisciplinary projects being funded. SRI also continued to provide oversight of the Stengl-Wyer Endowment distribution, supporting biodiversity research at field stations, with postdoctoral scholars, by faculty and with graduate and undergraduate researchers. The office acted as a key college liaison for the new UT Austin-Amazon Science Hub, and it supported faculty across disciplines in developing proposals, such as in physics and astronomy where the new Weinberg Institute is the focal point for theoretical physics at UT with an emphasis on cosmology and gravitational physics.

  • Building and space planning: Lord Aeck Sargent architectural firm has been engaged to develop potential preliminary plans and cost estimates for two buildings in the college: Physics, Math and Astronomy (PMA) and Patterson Laboratories. Leaders in the college have also been partnering closely with the University on plans for a Sweatt v. Painter exhibit and entrance that would transform Painter Hall.

* See updates on these priorities also in our 2022 Fall Progress Report.

A related update for 2023-2024 can also be found in the “Amplifying Austin & Texas” section of this plan.