Robert Ferl’s white-flowered weed had a ticket to space.
The UF Space Plants Lab director was counting down the days till his plant’s NASA launch.
But the federal government shutdown has the small thale cress plant’s travels in limbo as Ferl’s calls to the federal space agency go to voicemail and his emails are left unread.
Ferl's funding is one of 1,075 awards given to UF researchers affected by the government shutdown, which started Dec. 22, said the UF Vice President of Research David Norton. In the last fiscal year, UF received $560.6 million in federal research funding. About 22.5 percent of 4,775 awards for funded UF projects are within agencies that are shut down.
The biggest concern is not necessarily for the university, but the many federal employees anxiously operating without a paycheck, Norton said. Researchers who have already received federal funding in 2018 are able to continue working, but others could be impacted from not receiving new awards.
“For every month the shutdown occurs, that’s a month where the money isn’t being allocated, and research isn’t being started,” Norton said.
For the Space Plants Lab, the launch of Ferl’s experiment is a top concern, which was scheduled for takeoff in the coming weeks. The experiment remains up in the air due to lack of contact from NASA, he said. If canceled, the effects could be costly with the change in travel, airfare and the scheduled launch. There’s no estimate on how much it would cost.
The day-to-day research tasks haven’t been immediately affected by the shutdown, but larger projects may be, said Juliana Cromie, a 22-year-old UF undergraduate researcher at the lab. She’s hoping her assignment on the effect of cosmic radiation on seeds is still on track.
“We don’t know quite how the shutdown will affect other aspects of our research, and we really won’t know until we hit a roadblock,” the UF microbiology and cell science junior said.
Outside of research laboratories, UF students have not seen any impact on their tax return transcript, including offering interim grants or accepting paper copies of tax return forms, UF spokesperson Margot Winick wrote in an email.
“Current year UF students have generally gotten their documentation in already — which is not the case apparently at Santa Fe,” Winick said.
Santa Fe College students are having delays in their financial paperwork, said Kamia Mwango, the college’s financial aid director. The Department of Education has allowed students who can’t receive their required documents from the IRS or other federal agencies to use alternative paperwork.
Despite this, Mwango said having the delays allows students to explore new types of scholarships or register for a later term in the Spring, which starts in March, she said.
“I have seen some really resilient students and some really collaborative agencies,” Mwango said. “Everyone’s been working together to try and get a resolution.”
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that 1,075 awards have been affected by the shutdown. The Alligator previously reported differently.