Creating Connections

June 2019

Since the inception of the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact, UO leaders have talked about how the bridge over Franklin Boulevard creates a physical manifestation of intellectual connections between the Knight Campus and the broader expertise at the UO.

Never before have those connections been more visible, both in construction of the actual bridge and in the research and academic bonds developing rapidly amongst researchers around the UO and the state.

In just a few short weeks this summer, crews will complete the steel, glass and concrete span connecting the Knight Campus with other UO science facilities. While you will have to wait until June 2020 to walk the bridge, academic and research connections are taking shape even sooner, in more tangible ways than ever anticipated.

Earlier this spring, we announced four faculty hires, all of whom boast amazing talents and credentials. The faculty search committees were comprised of faculty from biology, chemistry, human physiology and physics. The search committees and the other UO faculty who assisted in the recruitments were overwhelmingly positive in their endorsements of the finalists and solid in their belief that each one of our new faculty have immediate connections with existing faculty research programs, tying us even closer together in our goal of integration with the campus.

Tim Gardner, a former biology and biomedical engineering faculty member at Boston University and co-founder of the Musk-funded Bay Area startup Neuralink, started his Knight Campus appointment at the end of June as the Robert and Leona DeArmond Chair in Neuroengineering. He will work closely with faculty in the Institute of Neuroscience as well as physics and materials science researchers.

Calin Plesa, a former Burroughs Wellcome CASI postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles, will start this summer at the Knight Campus. Plesa’s research interests are at the intersection of protein engineering, biochemistry, microbiology, synthetic biology, genetics and technology. Calin will engage immediately with faculty in the Institute of Molecular Biology as well as faculty in other areas of Chemistry and Biology.

Keat Ghee Ong, formerly the Portage Health Foundation Professor of Technological Innovations in Health in the department of biomedical engineering at Michigan Technological University, will also bring his expertise in implantable sensors, wireless sensors, electronic devices, and magneto-elastic materials, to the UO this summer. Ghee will engage closely with faculty in Materials Science and Human Physiology upon joining the UO in late summer.

Marian Hettiaratchi will join the Knight Campus in January 2020. She is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Toronto where her research focuses on combining chemical and biomedical engineering approaches to create effective biomaterials that can precisely deliver proteins for tissue repair. Like Ghee, Marian’s research interests are well paired with research programs in Materials Science and Human Physiology.

Not only are we hiring new faculty members, but we’re also creating opportunities for faculty members from existing academic disciplines to become involved with the Knight Campus through the new Faculty Affiliation Program.

Knight Campus associates are tenure-related faculty members and faculty members in the research professor classification with primary appointments outside the Knight Campus who are integrally involved with Knight Campus activities and programs. Associate members will have access to many of the research and innovation opportunities afforded to those with tenure in the Knight Campus.

Knight Campus affiliates are UO faculty members of all ranks with a primary appointment outside of the Knight Campus who would like to be kept abreast of activities and programs offered by the Knight Campus through direct communication, and who wish to be included as affiliated members on the Knight Campus website.

Membership proposals will be reviewed quarterly for affiliates and semi-annually for associates. Appointments are for three years and are renewable. We recently announced the first groups of both Knight Campus Affiliates and Knight Campus Associates on our website.

Additionally, we hosted a significant number of events this spring bringing outside speakers to campus every month, as well as holding our signature annual community science lecture, Science Knight Out, in April at the Shedd in downtown Eugene. Through both seminars and lunches, our students have the opportunity to engage in conversations with experts in a wide-variety of areas. These events enrich the scientific conversation on campus for students, faculty members and the overall community.

The bridge metaphor extends beyond the boundaries of the UO campus to building statewide partnerships. In mid-June, we announced an exciting partnership with OHSU for creation of a joint biomedical data center. This combines efforts from around the UO and at the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact with those at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute to detect and fight deadly forms of cancer and other diseases.

OHSU brings clinical research prowess to the partnership, and the UO brings expertise in data science, neuroscience, genomics, math, computer science, and other areas around campus. The partnership is so inspiring that Tim and Mary Boyle, among the UO’s leading benefactors, were inspired to strengthen both the center and efforts in data science with a $10 million gift.

This spring we also agreed with partners at OSU and OHSU to recruit graduate students together at the fall Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) professional meeting in preparation for joint graduate programs to begin Fall 2020. These partnerships benefit students by providing them with the combined strengths of each university. We aim to put Oregon on the national map for talented bioengineering graduate students who want greater breadth in their training than a single institution can provide.

As spring term wound to a close, we shared our strategic plan, a key driver that will guide our research and academic trajectory as we aim to build on our momentum to construct state-of-the-art facilities and recruit outstanding faculty.

Stakeholders from within the University of Oregon and external partners and advisors of the Knight Campus provided input for the plan through interviews and multiple workshops last year. We worked closely with Nexight Group, an outside firm that facilitated the planning process to identify the Knight Campus strategic objectives and research focus areas. Details of the plan are available on the Knight Campus website.

I hope you agree the progress made in a very short time is tangible and frankly has been beyond my expectations. We’re making amazing strides at a tremendous pace thanks to an incredibly hard-working staff and an unprecedented collaborative spirit across campus to work together. So, thank you to all who are contributing to this exciting effort. It’s truly inspiring to think about the future possibilities as the Knight Campus continues to push forward this summer.