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May 22, 201811:07 AMOpen Mic

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How university innovations change the world

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Just last August, we stood together in Janesville to commemorate breaking ground on the first building for SHINE Medical Technologies, a spinoff from technology developed at the University of Wisconsin–Madison College of Engineering. While it may have looked like just another ribbon-cutting ceremony with speeches and dignitaries, to us it was steeped in deep meaning.

The University of Wisconsin produces some of the best engineers and most innovative research to be found. It is capable of solving major problems that have not only state and national impact, but worldwide impact, as well.

But it’s not enough just to come up with top technologies. The Wisconsin Idea guides us to ensure these technologies benefit the entire state. As dean of the College of Engineering and a former student (now founder and CEO of SHINE), we believe this also means that the university has a role to play in translating new ideas into real life and real jobs.

The entire faculty believes it is part of their mission to impact the state and beyond. However, it’s also part of the character of the people of Wisconsin, who are friendly and want to help, that makes supporting the Wisconsin Idea even easier.

Let all of us — community members and professors — use our shared voice to reinforce success, to tell the stories that motivate everyone from students with their own ideas to potential partners and investors. When we advocate for our neighbors we put innovation to work and live the Wisconsin Idea.

With a recent hiring initiative, the composition of the engineering faculty is changing, and with it there is an increased emphasis on “translational” research, which means research meant to solve real-world problems. This emphasis provides direct solutions to technological challenges facing society. It also leads to an increase in industrial interactions and to the launching of research-inspired startups. We believe these technologies and companies will be absolutely essential for solving the big challenges we face as the world’s population continues to grow and industrialize.

The engineering college works with faculty to allow them to pursue growing their company, accepting that some will be successful and others not. Irrespective of the outcome, bringing the knowledge gained from the experience back into the classroom enhances the ability of the college to better prepare future entrepreneurs.

From the perspective of the researcher, the university fosters a culture that encourages innovation. It holds you up and tries to help you do difficult and ambitious things. There's a feeling of wanting to create greatness and very high performance.

The story of SHINE is a great example of this relationship in action. As a graduate student in engineering, Greg took a class called Resources in Space from a former astronaut, which inspired him to think about ways to create nuclear power without nuclear waste. He built his graduate thesis research work into a new method to produce the medical isotopes used to diagnose and treat heart disease and cancer.

This has the potential for solving a national problem because the United States is currently relying on supplies coming from outside the country. From a seed planted in the head of one University of Wisconsin–Madison graduate student, the SHINE medical isotope production facility will reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism and improve the health of over 1 billion people over its lifetime.


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