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INDIANAPOLIS | Indiana University will seek solutions to some of humanity's most pressing problems through a $300 million, five-year research initiative dubbed "Grand Challenges."

The Bloomington-based institution, which has a campus in Gary, recently announced plans to support research on up to five challenges considered "too big to ignore" — such as global water supplies, energy availability, infectious disease, the use and protection of big data and climate change.

"This is the most significant investment in IU's research infrastructure in the university’s history," said Fred Cate, IU law professor and vice president for research. "It will enable IU to expand its efforts to address some of the most critical issues facing local communities and the state of Indiana, as well as the nation and the world."

Through Grand Challenges, up to 175 new faculty and of hundreds of new graduate students and postdoctoral fellows will unleash their skills and imaginations on projects set to be chosen in a competitive review process designed to maximize impact on the state, its economy and Hoosier quality of life.

The work also is intended to foster collaboration between academic disciplines, IU campuses, community organizations, industry and government.

"As one of the nation's leading research universities, Indiana University has a special opportunity — and responsibility — to drive large-scale research, discovery and innovation to help address some of the most pressing challenges facing our state, nation and world today," said IU President Michael McRobbie.

"Grand Challenges initiatives will be few, large, focused and measured by their impact. They will allow us to work in new and creative ways at the scale necessary to make a real difference on such global issues," he added.

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IU is just the fourth major U.S. university to commit significant funding in recent years toward overcoming the most pressing challenges facing the world today and in the future.

It joins Princeton University, the University of California-Los Angeles and New York University in seeking to enhance the volume, quality and impact of research in higher education.

"Whether impact on the public, on communities, on the economy or on quality of life, impact is the focus of the Grand Challenges program," Cate said. "That impact may be achieved through scientific breakthroughs or significant advances in other fields, but it must ultimately be felt outside of the university."

Most funding for Grand Challenges will come from existing university resources, though applications for federal research support and donations to the IU Foundation are expected to supplement the effort.

The initiative is part of IU's Bicentennial Strategic Plan that refocuses the work of the university ahead of its 200th birthday in 2020.

Earlier this month, IU faculty were invited to begin submitting project suggestions and preliminary research proposals to the nine-member Grand Challenges Review Committee.

After a first round of cuts set for January, followed by expanded proposal submissions by finalists, the university expects to announce the winning projects in June 2016.

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