Mar 082007
 
Authors: Bob Shipton

Nearly 42 years ago, in the early summer of 1965, an assistant football coach at the University of Florida wanted to figure out why so many players were suffering from heat-related illnesses.

With the help of university research, Gatorade was born.

“Small innovations lead to tremendous results,” said Bill Farland, vice president for research at Colorado State University and a professor in the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences.

Converting information from the university level to useful products in the real world has long been a challenge for institutions across the country. But new and innovated approaches are emerging.

“Every university is looking at how you can move research out into solving problems,” Farland said.

Superclusters are CSU’s solution.

Superclusters allow researchers to focus on their area of expertise without having to worry about patenting and licensing, leaving that to CSU Ventures, a new not-for-profit entity that will collaborate with Superclusters to increase the likelihood that the research can be put to good use.

Mark Wdowik, chief executive officer of CSU Ventures, said the concept of Superclusters differs greatly from the “we’ve got a great widget here, who can use it?” approach.

The Superclusters will bring academic researchers, economists and business experts together to speed the conversion of research into marketable results.

“It’s so much like a business,” Wdowik said. “We send out a SWAT team and do intelligence gathering. Then we can piece together these partnerships in order to accelerate the development of these solutions.”

MicroRx was unveiled Feb. 8 as CSU’s first Supercluster and looks to find new solutions for infectious diseases while enhancing economic development.

The university, already one of 10 Regional Centers of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases, has a near-completed $17 million Regional Biocontainment Laboratory and a new $80 million Center for Disease Control research lab on the university’s Foothills Campus.

The focus of infectious disease as CSU’s first Supercluster is due largely to the great amount of success CSU has already achieved in that area of study. Future Superclusters will be organized around areas in which CSU has excelled and where a “great global challenge” exists.

“We decided to take on the mantra of local discovery and global impacts,” Farland said.

This is just one of the many globally impacting successes for students and faculty working at CSU’s Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory. The EnviroFit is another story that began in Fort Collins, but has made the greatest waves in Southeast Asia.

While researching ways to reduce air pollution in snowmobiles, students and faculty shifted their focus to the heavy polluting two-stroke engine motorcycles that are popular in places like the Philippines.

“We’ve got an infrastructure of platforms at CSU to get the students engaged,” Wdowik said. “And I hope most of them will take advantage of those.”

The Superclusters can spur technology transfer by increasing the number of patents and licenses issued, the number of inventions and the amount of start-up companies that result from university research by engaging both the faculty and the students.

“It allows (students) to get engaged in innovation and lets them look at new solutions to solving problems that are out there,” Farland said.

CSU is already a leader in university research, ranking 64th nationally in 2003 in federal research, according to the Center for Measuring University Performance.

“CSU is stepping up to a much bigger plate in terms of what we have to do,” Wdowik said.

Farland said 16 proposals were made for possible Superclusters. Sustainable energy and cancer detection and prevention are the two areas of research for prospective Superclusters.

“We’ve got to think differently than the ‘I’m only one person, what can I do’ mentality,” Wdowik said.

In the coming months, a panel will look at the proposals and make recommendations about whether they are mature and ready to be implemented. Next fall, the process will start over again, as other ideas for Superclusters develop.

“The goal would be to have a half a dozen Superclusters active at CSU,” Farland said. “But that will only happen when we have the talent and cooperation to make them successful.”

Additional Superclusters will be approved based on global needs, the strengths of the university and the interest in increasing overall economic prosperity and quality of life.

“I don’t think we can cure poverty,” said Wdowik. “But we are taking plenty of steps along the way as we try to solve global problems.”

Staff writer Bob Shipton can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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