Fundamental science is the foundation for Penn State's innovative environment

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Penn State Vice President for Research Neil Sharkey joined other university senior research officers from across the country on July 18 to discuss research, policy, and economy-related topics.

“At Penn State, fundamental science drives what we do, but we’ve been really paying attention over the past several years to take those fundamental discoveries and bring them toward the marketplace, and we’re enabling our students, faculty and staff to do that effectively,” Sharkey said. “The University as a major ecosystem produces about 18,000 jobs across the Commonwealth and generates an enormous amount of economic impact in the billions of dollars. That’s the effect of having a major R1 research institution with campuses distributed across the state.”

The “2018 University Senior Research Officer Roundtable: The Economic Impact of Fundamental Scientific Research” was hosted by the Science Coalition and the Association of American Universities to cover the state of commercialization of innovations derived from fundamental university research; federal investment to support this work; public-private partnerships between universities and industry; and the direct economic impacts universities have on their communities.

Sharkey emphasized that fundamental science provides the foundation for the University’s innovative environment. Some examples of this wide-ranging impact include:

  • The University has generated more than $600 million worth of increased food production due to innovations in dairy cattle breeding.
  • Early scientific research at Penn State paved the way for the development of the birth control pill.
  • The University has developed the technology to produce numerous innovations in ceramic capacitor materials that are used daily in cell phones, computers and TVs.

Additionally, a major focus for Penn State has been on student entrepreneurialism through Invent Penn State, a statewide initiative launched that has created 21 innovation hubs throughout the Commonwealth that provide student entrepreneurs with tools and resources to develop their businesses — with an ultimate goal of creating a positive impact on the economy.

“We are taking our traditional scientific disciplines and coupling those with our newer emphasis on technology transfer, and we have a thriving ecosystem that extends not just to our faculty and staff but to our undergraduates,” Sharkey said. "Undergrads are entrepreneurial people, and by incorporating them into the research enterprise to give them the skillsets they need, the bigger economic impact we'll have, and the more discoveries we'll make."

Along with Sharkey, other roundtable participants were:

  • Mark Barteau, vice president for research, Texas A&M University
  • Gerald “Gerry” Blazey, vice president for research and innovation partnerships, Northern Illinois University
  • David Conover, vice president for research and innovation, University of Oregon
  • Terri Fiez, vice chancellor for research and innovation, University of Colorado – Boulder
  • Chris Keane, vice president for research, Washington State University
  • Chris Molloy, senior vice president for research and economic development, Rutgers University 
  • Jill Pipher, vice president for research, Brown University
  • Padma Raghavan, vice provost for research, Vanderbilt University
  • Rodolfo Torres, interim vice chancellor for research, University of Kansas
Last Updated July 23, 2018