11/05/2009

Bridging the Gap Between Industry and Academia

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Franklin & Marshall is a participant in a two-year project funded by a $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) aimed at strengthening the capacity of colleges and universities to foster innovation with industrial partners.

The NSF's Partnerships for Innovation awarded the grant to Penn State Harrisburg last month, with F&M and Dickinson College serving as the primary partner institutions. The project is titled "Overcoming Cultural Chasms: Maximizing Innovations for Smaller University/Industry Partnerships."

"The grant is designed to alleviate the natural tension between academic research and more applied applications," says Claude Yoder '62, Charles A. Dana Professor of Chemistry, one of two point persons at F&M for the grant. "The idea is to encourage faculty members at institutions in south central Pennsylvania to partner with industry."

Dick Fluck, associate dean of the faculty and Dr. E. Paul and Frances H. Reiff Professor of Biology, is a co-principal investigator for the project. He points to translational science—research motivated by the need for the practical application of the discoveries made in basic research—as a driving force behind the grant proposal.

"There is a high priority on translational science now," Fluck says. "People distinguish between basic and applied research. We have a national push to put basic research into action to create things such as better batteries, solar cells and drugs to treat cancer."

Fluck cites the Clinic for Special Children, a nonprofit medical service for children with inherited metabolic disorders in Lancaster County, as an example of the possible benefits of translational science. "They have been able to develop treatments for some of those disorders," Fluck says. "This is translational science in action."

The College's partnership with the clinic has provided research opportunities for students, Fluck says. Two F&M students also did translational research at the University of Pennsylvania last summer.

The NSF funding is an initial step to sustain the mission of the Innovation Transfer Network (ITN), a program designed to foster partnerships between academic institutions and the private sector. The ITN was established by Keystone Innovation Zones of Harrisburg and Lancaster.

The first phase of the grant includes a survey of faculty research interests and resources that can be shared with academic and industrial partners. During the second phase, grant investigators will identify potential innovative projects and industrial partners.

"The future of the College is tied to the future of this part of Pennsylvania, and vice versa," Fluck says. "We are embedded in this community, culturally and sociologically. This is a different kind of engagement with our community."

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