A Fast and Furious Few Months

November 2021

Wow, what a fast and furious few months it’s been at the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact. Since our last quarterly update, we’ve announced a second epic gift, launched the Wu Tsai Human Performance Alliance, enrolled a full cohort of bioengineering students, welcomed many other new faces to the community, and celebrated some tremendous wins by our early-career faculty. These accomplishments add to the staggering amount of activity over the last year, detailed in our first Knight Campus Annual Report.

Over the summer, our Inclusion, Diversity and Outreach committee sponsored a community conversation about how to infuse all five pillars in our strategic plan with goals and ideas for developing and supporting an inclusive and diverse Knight Campus community. The conversations, held on the 3rd floor connector, encouraged brainstorming and idea generation. A second, virtual opportunity to continue the discussion was held in late October and the committee will be providing a summary of the conversation back to the community and recommendations for revisions to the strategic plan. I’m encouraged by the progress of the committee, and I look forward to hearing more feedback from our community as we seize this opportunity. Together, we are ensuring an inclusive and diverse environment at the Knight Campus.

This fall we doubled our enrollment in the bioengineering PhD program, and welcomed 12 new graduate students with a wealth of inspiring research talents and interests — including students conducting research in biomaterials, tissue engineering, protein design, molecular sensors, and human performance. The cohort also increases the diversity of the emerging bioengineering program with global representation from Cuba, Ethiopia, India, Iran, and the Netherlands.

In other BioE news, we launched our brand new minor program, added a new research area in biomedical artificial intelligence that taps the power of machine learning to model complex biological systems, and launched a major new multi-institutional initiative in regenerative rehabilitation and human performance.

We’ve continued to see promising trends in other areas as well, including our Knight Campus Graduate Internship Program (KCGIP), which had 160 participants at peak enrollment this year. A total of 82 students are on campus this fall, filling the halls of the Knight Campus with life. GIP students in the materials tracks landed 400 interviews during a virtual recruiting event in September. Master’s students in the materials science tracks recently interviewed for 9-month paid internships, a cornerstone of the program. Within 2 weeks of interviews, 98% of participating students received competitive employment offers, with an average annual compensation of $66,200. A total of 55 students will be embarking on internships this winter.

In November, many of us participated virtually in the Oregon Bioengineering Symposium along with our partners at Oregon Health & Science University and Oregon State University. It was a great opportunity to highlight the latest research and applications related to regenerative medicine, rehabilitation, and artificial intelligence and a vital collaboration and exchange of ideas between students, researchers, and industry partners and clinical practitioners in Oregon and the surrounding region.

We recently celebrated the news that three of our early-career Knight Campus faculty members, Parisa Hosseinzadeh, Calin Plesa and Marian Hettiaratchi have received prestigious NIH grants, totaling nearly $5 million. You can read more about those projects and watch a video profile of their research neighborhood in a new immersive story on our website.

This fall, we also welcomed two new faculty members into the Knight Campus, Nick Willett, who arrived over the summer and Gabriella Lindberg, set to arrive in January.

Nick is an associate professor and associate director of the Human Performance Alliance at Oregon who takes a systems integration approach to musculoskeletal disease and regenerative and rehabilitation engineering by applying novel imaging and engineering techniques to clinically motivated challenges. He comes to the Knight Campus from Emory University, where he served as an associate professor in the Department of Orthopaedics.

Gabriella is an assistant professor, whose research is focused on the design of cell-instructive hydrogels, bioinks, and bioresins that mimic the native architectural organization and biological niche of musculoskeletal tissues, capable of adapting to the constantly changing micro-environment as new tissue is forming. Passionate about developing new generation biomaterials, she worked at a spinoff medical device company for four years before she moved to New Zealand where she pursued a PhD in biomedical engineering at the University of Otago, completed a postdoc and was promoted to Research Fellow in 2019 in the Christchurch Regenerative Medicine and Tissue Engineering (CReaTE) Group.

Although some of our work remains virtual, we recently hosted two hybrid events in our stunning Beetham Family Seminar Room — the annual Distinguished Lecture and the fall Entrepreneurship Lecture —  I’m thrilled to see so many in-person activities taking place safely on our campus. Cooler temperatures may have prevailed, but our second-floor terrace with its fire pits, central location and covered spaces has become a favorite gathering spot for many of us. I’ve seen countless impromptu lab meetings, conversations over coffee and social events like a reception for new UO faculty members. Our own Yan Carlos Pacheco, a member of our bioengineering PhD cohort jointly advised by Nick Willett and Marian Hettiaratchi, even organized a Latin X / Hispanic Celebration that drew dozens of students from across campus for music, salsa dancing, and food cart fare.

You’re going to be hearing more about Yan — our first NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program recipient — in our next newsletter and I think we can all take inspiration from seeing students like him thriving on our campus. Regardless of whether you’re a student, a postdoc, a new faculty member or someone who recently joined our growing staff, there are so many opportunities for success and growth here. After a full year in our beautiful new building, it is thrilling to see the Knight Campus come to life and, through our people and their work, begin to fulfill its mission of research discovery and impact.