following year. Since then, Alaska has invested these funds largely on efforts to strengthen state research capabilities in environmental science and biomedicine. The research has been driven by Alaska’s unique environment—both natural and sociological. The funds have helped bolster Alaska’s research capabilities, most notably in areas related to Arctic studies, climate change, community health, and participatory research.
Alaska, which is one-fifth the size of the continental United States, is the nation’s only Arctic state. It is also the nation’s largest and most sparsely populated state. Home to less than one million people, Alaska’s population density is less than one person per square mile. Federal, state, and Native Alaska organizations own 99 percent of the land. While 40 percent of the population lives in Anchorage, the Native Alaskan population (representing 15 percent of the population) resides largely in small isolated villages, many with less than 500 people.
Vast open spaces and extreme weather make infrastructure difficult and expensive to develop, especially for transportation and energy. In this energy-rich state, electricity can nevertheless cost $1 per kilowatt hour and gasoline can cost $10 a gallon. Troves of natural resources provide a strong economic base but also create environmental challenges. The scientific consensus is that climate change will have greater impact on Alaska than any other state in the nation, rendering profound changes in sea ice levels, coastal zones, timberlands, permafrost, and ecology that will require policies that promote resilience and adaptability.
The state’s university and research community is also unique. The University of Alaska system comprises 3 main campuses—at Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Juneau (the University of Alaska Southeast)—and 13 satellite campuses. Student population totals 33,000, which is less than the student population of many flagship state universities on the continental United States. Private universities are few in number. More than 80 percent of the research in Alaska is funded by the public sector. Only 20 percent of the funds come from the private sector. In the continental United States, the percentages are nearly reversed: 72 percent of research funding is derived from the private sector and 28 percent is from the public sector.
Before the arrival of EPSCoR, Alaska’s university system had developed strengths in a number of research areas, including geophysics and Arctic research (the University of Alaska Fairbanks is a land-grant, sea-grant, and space-grant institution). However, the system did not have strong research capabilities in either health-related environmental science or biomedicine (Alaska does not have degree-granting medical, dental, or veterinarian schools). The state’s long coastline and expansive wilderness make it an ideal place for monitoring and studying natural resources and climate change. Its isolated communities lend themselves to research—and applications of research—related to resilience and sustainability. EPSCoR has concentrated on building research capacity in these areas.