Wisconsin research institutions want to collaborate more, panelists say

UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank doesn’t have much patience for talk about any academic rivalries between UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee.

“We have to get past this whole discussion about competition between these two cities,” she said during a panel discussion at the Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium, held Wednesday and Thursday at the Monona Terrace Convention Center in Madison.

“We are only going to move forward if we can work together. And we are already collaborating on a number of fronts,” she said during the Thursday morning plenary session, which drew several hundred people. Total attendance at the symposium was a record-setting 560, said Tom Still, head of the Wisconsin Technology Council, which coordinated the event.

Blank said the two universities are anchors of the so-called “IQ Corridor, the symbol of the tech economy,” which stretches from the northern border of Chicago to the outskirts of the Twin Cities.

“We are the center of ideas and innovation, the two research institutions,” she said. “If you are going to have a state and a region filled with entrepreneurs and innovators, you have to have a university close by. Universities are also idea factories.

“And UW-Madison alone brings more than $1 billion into this state in federal research funding,” she said, while warning that cutbacks in support could harm the universities in this state and around the country – and ultimately imperil the United States’ leadership in technology.

Between 2010 and 2012, she said the UW-Milwaukee and UW-Madison partnered in a grant program that funded more than 30 different joint projects, with each institution contributing $1 million. Another partnership – run out of the Wisconsin Energy Institute – is a three-way collaboration involving scientists from UW-Milwaukee, Johnson Controls and UW-Madison who are exploring ways to get the excess energy stored in electric vehicle batteries into the power grid overnight and then back into cars and trucks the next day.

“This is a project that can serve as a wonderful model about how our two universities together with the private sector can really be in a partnership with each other,” she said.

Mark Mone, UW-Milwaukee’s interim chancellor, lauded his university’s 80-acre Innovation Campus, a research park in Wauwatosa by the Medical College of Wisconsin and the Regional Medical Complex. He called the campus a “game changer, a center where business, industry and academic research are co-located in the same buildings to launch companies in the 21st Century. It also connects our regional research with Madison and is in close proximity to the Blood Center of Wisconsin.”

Mone also said the Milwaukee-based Mid-West Energy Research Consortium (M-WERC) is a collaboration between researchers at UW-Milwaukee, UW-Madison, Marquette University, the Milwaukee School of Engineering and eight energy companies. He said M-WERC’s goal is to make the consortium a national recognized center of expertise on energy, power and control technology.

“Whether I am in Washington, D.C., Boston or other cities, M-WERC has a presence and collaborative relationship with some of the important advances in intellectual property developments in energy areas,” he said.

But he saved most of his discussion for his university’s new School of Freshwater Sciences, which he described as UW-Milwaukee’s “crown jewel.” He said the collaboration between state companies and the university was praised by federal officials during a recent visit to the White House. He said Milwaukee has the potential to become the global water technology hub and a major job creator for the region.

Mone said the school has a long history of working closely with UW-Madison’s Center for Limnology and other departments, providing access for scientists to Lake Michigan and surrounding waters on its flagship research vessel.

“These are the kinds of collaborations that will build new industries in the state,” he said.

Jacqueline Fredrick, head of the Blood Center of Wisconsin, said her institution has worked closely with UW-Madison researchers on the “RFID project,” the first-ever comprehensive investigation to research, develop and introduce radio frequency identification (RFID) technology for automatic identification, tracking and status-monitoring of blood and blood products across the entire transfusion medicine supply chain.

As a result of this effort, she said researchers have identified other projects on which they want to collaborate.

Fredrick said her institution has a much narrower focus than UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee and to a round of laughter, “we don’t have a football team or a basketball team – at least one that you’d want to watch.

“But we do share that same passion for research and innovation that Becky and Mark described,” she said.

She said the Blood Center – which has 900 employees (including 65 doctors and Ph.Ds) and $150 million in annual revenues – spends more than $20 million a year in research across all the work in which the institution engages.

“When you are small like we are, and growing up in Milwaukee like we have, research partnerships around the country and the globe are critical to us,” she noted.

“But with two great research universities in Wisconsin, the Medical College of Wisconsin and others, places like the Blood Center and Blood Research Institute couldn’t survive without the strength and, quite frankly, the excellent universities around us and what they do for us and, hopefully, what we give back to them.”

— By Brian E. Clark
For WisBusiness.com