Thank you for being here today. We are delighted to welcome the 2012 Boulder Economic Summit to the university. You may not be aware that you are part of the first conference to be held in the new Jennie Smoly Caruthers Biotechnology Building.
Ken Lund made some excellent points about the importance of innovation to our state, and our nation’s economy. Our goal is to collaborate with the state to create a framework for bringing research into alliance with economic development and industry so it’s more readily applied.
But we have to ask ourselves: "Who does the research spurring that innovation?"
It has increasingly become the role of universities to conduct the basic research on which much of this innovation is based. There was a time when companies like Bell Labs and Eastman Kodak hired scores of Ph.D. researchers to conduct basic as well as applied research. But over time, those kind of private endeavors have dried up, with only a handful remaining.
So it is now largely up to research universities around the country to create collaborative spaces, communities, and a coalescence of talent that attracts research funding—which can then plug into this greater economic effort.
In order to inspire the game-changing discoveries and inventions that will make this state and this country competitive on a global stage—universities need to provide the unique environments that produce what Tom Cech calls productive collisions— ideas that spring from bringing diverse research disciplines together in one space.
That’s what we have done here with this building in which you sit. The BioFrontiers Institute, housed here, is directed by Dr. Cech. It stands as a national model in interdisciplinary collaboration to advance human health and welfare. He is going to provide you with more insight into his concept of productive collisions and the work of this institute in just a moment.
Here we have united the life sciences, physical sciences, mathematics, computational sciences and engineering to advance bioscience and biomedicine in revolutionary ways.
This is the embodiment of the next generation research university.
In that same interdisciplinary spirit we are moving forward with our Geosciences Complex with the help of the community and our generous donors.
We envision the Geosciences Complex bringing together environmental researchers from the campus and neighboring federal labs to allow interdisciplinary teams to focus, in new ways, on issues of great relevance to Colorado:
- water and air resources
- the health of the ecosystems we depend on
- and clean and sustainable energy alternatives.
You may not know that, according to the National Science Foundation, CU-Boulder is second in the country behind Stanford in earth sciences sponsored grants, and third in atmospheric sciences only behind Cal-Berkeley and Michigan.
We hope to open the Geosciences Complex in 2014 in the renovated MacAllister Building at 4001 Discovery Drive, right here on the East Campus. I should note that buildings such as this one or the Geosciences Complex are not funded by tuition dollars. They are funded through a variety of sources including rent from federal lab partners, cost recovery provisions in research grants, and by gifts from generous donors without whom we could not achieve the significant research advancements that occur in these inter-disciplinary facilities.
The Geosciences Complex will be one of many examples of cross-disciplinary work we foster on this campus including those with the federal labs such as JILA. JILA is a joint research institute between the National Institute of Standards and Technology and CU, which has produced three Nobel Laureates and is considered a leading model in the nation for cooperative work.
As I noted, private sector corporate laboratories have almost vanished. Research universities fill the void. Universities increasingly perform the nation’s basic research, and without basic research, you can’t get to commercialization.
Let me share a quick story that exemplifies this point. In the late 1960’s there were two Indiana University researchers who got a grant to conduct research on the limits at which life could exist in hot thermal areas…read that as a junket to Yellowstone’s hot springs. They found bacteria living at and amazing 131 degrees F. That discovery turned out to be a key in our ability to amplify DNA through the polymerase chain reaction.
That simple discovery changed everything: how we diagnose and treat disease, build pharmaceuticals, plant crops, investigate crimes, practice law, and it was even at the center of the controversy over whether or not O.J. was guilty. It is arguably one of the most important new biological scientific technologies to come along in the last hundred years.
It started with basic research, with no known potential for commercialization. Yet it has resulted in tens of billions of dollars for industry in just the last 10 years.
Today, universities perform 56% of all basic research in the United States.
The downstream economic and societal benefits are obvious. Research leads to innovation and company creation. Company creation leads to economic and humanitarian impact.
Fifty companies have formed based on CU-Boulder technologies since 1999, more than half in the last five years. Forty-three of these companies are still operating.
A strong research university attracts the very best students and faculty; creates a unique environment for learning and innovation; makes transformative discoveries; and has positive economic impact, creating jobs and companies.
Research universities like CU, however, are not created overnight. They are the result of years of development of the infrastructure—the land, the labs, the equipment, power systems and mostly, the talent, -- to support basic and applied research.
Research universities are gems that we have created as a nation. They need the support of the federal government, the business community and donors to protect this investment so that it continues to thrive and produce the results we so heavily depend on for our future.
Thank you so much for your attention and for your support of CU-Boulder. And now I would like to introduce Dr. Tom Cech to tell you more about the incredible work they do here.
Introduction of Tom Cech
Dr. Cech, as I mentioned, is director of the BioFrontiers Institute. For those of you who don’t know, Professor Cech is a CU-Boulder distinguished professor and a Nobel laureate in chemistry. We wooed him back home in 2009 after he served 10 years as the president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
We had the vision for the BioFrontiers Institute and he offered dynamic leadership. Please welcome Dr. Tom Cech.