Sept. 13-26, 2002
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Research boosts economy

By Charlotte Crystal

Money spent on research at the University fuels a high-tech generator that helps power the regional economy.

For each $1 million in federal research funding received by U.Va and other research universities in Virginia, 36 new jobs are created, according to U.S. Department of Commerce data. And last year, U.Va. received $257 million in sponsored research, primarily in medicine, the sciences and engineering.

“Along with supporting our researchers and providing the best education possible for students at all levels, the University has a duty to smooth the transfer of technology from academic labs, where knowledge is created, into the public domain, where it can improve people’s health or quality of life,” said R. Ariel Gomez, U.Va. vice president for research and public service.

“Current practices in technology transfer have yielded a dramatic return to the taxpayer through the discovery of new technologies that extend and improve the quality of life.”

National Institutes of Health

Despite path-breaking research at U.Va., quality laboratory space is tight, limiting the number of projects that can be conducted and restricting the potential for additional research funding.

On Nov. 5, state voters will be asked to approve the issuance of $900 million in general obligation bonds, of which $846 million is earmarked for higher education, including $36.9 million for the construction and renovation of research space at U.Va.

Three of the U.Va. projects designated to receive state funding are a medical research building; a nanotechnology, materials science and engineering building; and renovation of teaching laboratories in Gilmer Hall.

In 2001, nationally recognized physicians and medical researchers at the U.Va. Health System received $105 million in research grants, and researchers at the School of Engineering and Applied Science received research awards of nearly $38 million.

And in 2000, the school’s materials science department received a prestigious $5 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation to establish a Materials Research Science and Engineering Center. The center will explore the creation of materials, atom by atom, and the assembly of tiny devices smaller than the width of a human hair, said Robert Hull, professor of materials science and engineering and center director. Possible applications include computing, telecommunications and medical devices.

U.Va. is working to ease the transfer of technology into commercial labs and, ultimately, into the marketplace.

For that reason, U.Va. founded Gateway Virginia in 1997. Its mission is to nurture relationships between University researchers and high-tech business. Likewise, the U.Va. Patent Foundation helps faculty entrepreneurs protect and market their intellectual property.

In 1999, the Patent Foundation created a for-profit affiliate, Spinner Technologies Inc., to help faculty researchers start their own companies.

“We help them build high-tech companies so they can stay here and grow,” said Andrea Alms, Spinner’s general manager.

In recent years, U.Va. faculty members have spun off more than two dozen new biotech companies from research conducted in University labs, with most of the young companies setting up shop in the Charlottesville area. Some of the companies have taken advantage of new laboratory space in the Emerging Technology Center at the U.Va. Research Park at North Fork.

Robert DiMauri, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development, collaborates with U.Va. on economic development.

“We work to enhance the region’s tax base by supporting the creation of highly paid jobs in growing, sophisticated companies,” DeMauri said. “The bottom line of economic development in the area is to take full advantage of the University and what it has to offer.”


© Copyright 2002 by the Rector and Visitors
of the University of Virginia

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