CHAMPAIGN — The prairie that settlers from the East found here is honored in the new name of a 150-year-old set of important scientific institutions.
The Illinois state scientific surveys are now part of the University of Illinois Prairie Research Institute.
From July 2008, when they became part of the UI, to last's week's name-change approval by the Illinois Board of Higher Education, the surveys were known as the Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability.
William W. Shilts, the executive director of the institute, said the UI was looking for a name that would be unique within the university and emphasize a strong connection to the state.
He called the prairie appellation "timeless." It also reflects regionality, he said, similar to the Desert Research Institute in Nevada.
Shilts said the name change has been in "kind of a protracted process" starting 10 months ago, as it needed approval from the UI senate, the UI Board of Trustees and the IBHE.
The first Illinois State Geological Survey was established in 1851. After being discontinued in 1875, the geological survey was re-established in 1905. It is leading an advanced carbon capture and sequestration demonstration project in Decatur with a budget of $200 million.
The oldest continuously operating survey, the Illinois Natural History Survey, was established in 1858. Today, it is managing the invasive Asian carp problem in the Mississippi River basin, among other natural resource issues.
The Illinois State Water Survey was founded in 1895 to survey the waters of Illinois to trace the spread of waterborne disease, particularly typhoid. In addition to water quality, the survey focuses on water supply across the state, including Chicago. It is also the home of the state climatologist.
The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center was established in 1984 to address hazardous waste technology for the state. Its researchers study biofuels, advanced energy technologies, e-waste, and engineered materials, and assist manufacturers with an emphasis on pollution prevention.
The Illinois State Archaeological Survey joined the institute in 2010, after decades of work at the UI, including one of the largest excavations in North America, a Native American ceremonial center in advance of construction of a $670 million Mississippi River Bridge at East St. Louis.
The reorganization "underlines that unlike most of the university we have statutory responsibility to maintain services like the geological map, testing water and performing archeological investigations," Shilts said.
He said the institute generates about $3 for every dollar in state funding, which amounted to $68 million in 2010.
He said among the revenue-generating work done by the institute was siting for FutureGen.
The Prairie Research Institute has 700 employees.