Economy

Federal stimulus program's end has science labs concerned

At Duke University, some scientists call it "The Cliff."

That's shorthand for next September, when federal funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act starts running out.

ARRA, known broadly as the "stimulus" program, has pumped $787 million into the nation's economy - a good chunk of that going to science research. In quick order, it created jobs and spurred ambitious new research programs.

But now, researchers must start to prepare for life without it.

"It makes people very nervous," said Marianne Hassan, associate dean with Duke's Pratt School of Engineering and the team lead for Duke's ARRA Response Team. "People who have been in research a long time know the ebbs and flows. But that doesn't make it any easier."

The stimulus money was intended to be a short-term fix - a way to get people working until the economy rebounded. And locally, it has proven quite lucrative for research giants such as Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill. Duke has reeled in $202 million in stimulus funds, and UNC-CH has won grants totaling about $168 million so far. N.C. State University has taken in almost $43 million in ARRA funding, a spokesman said.

Still, The Cliff beckons, and with it, all sorts of headaches.

To be clear, there's no single cutoff. The stimulus money was doled out in all sorts of ways. Some research grants funded projects for just two years; others stretched far longer, which means some endeavors won't use up their funding for several years.

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