September 30, 2004
Vision now reality in Purdue's Discovery Park
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. Three years after the birth of Purdue University's Discovery Park, the unusual combination of brain power and business savvy is bringing in millions of dollars in research funding, attracting top scientists and engineers and turning ideas into new companies.
The park, Purdue's hub for interdisciplinary research located on State Street on the west edge of campus, has attracted more than $100 million in funding, now involves about 500 faculty members and has been a critical factor in forming eight startup companies and 40 patent filings.
"Discovery Park is rapidly providing tangible benefits, including new large projects, new grants, new collaborations with other universities and companies, new faculty hires and opportunities for students," said Purdue President Martin C. Jischke.
The park currently encompasses six centers costing a total of more than $100 million: the Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship, the Birck Nanotechnology Center, the Bindley Bioscience Center, the e-Enterprise Center, the Center for Advanced Manufacturing and the Discovery Learning Center. The park also will include a new biomedical engineering building, to be completed in 2006.
The entrepreneurship and bioscience centers were instrumental in work that led to the creation of two companies, Prosolia and Tienta Sciences, now located at the Purdue Research Park, said Charles O. Rutledge, executive director of Discovery Park.
Prosolia and Tienta were formed in 2003 to commercialize research developed by Inproteo, an academic-industry partnership led by its president, John Hurrell. The partnership is designed to spawn new Indiana firms based on proteomics, the study of proteins for discovering new drugs and other protein-based products.
"Discovery Park is proving to be the perfect pipeline for the Purdue Research Park," Rutledge said. "The ideas happen in Discovery Park, and the business plans are developed in the entrepreneurship center. When the companies are actually formed, they move into the Purdue Research Park and join the other 104 companies that are out there.
"The purpose of Discovery Park is to hatch new ideas and nurture discoveries. The purpose of the Research Park is to be an incubator for startup companies based on discoveries largely made by Purdue faculty."
Rutledge said he does not know of any endeavor quite like Discovery Park anywhere in the nation.
"There are probably a dozen or so research institutes that focus on the life sciences, and there are probably another half-dozen very large nanotechnology centers," Rutledge said. "What makes the Purdue model unique is that it focuses on both the life sciences and the nanosciences, and it uses computer and information systems in such a way that you can address extremely complex problems.
"Whether those systems are biological molecules to treat illnesses or electronic chips to diagnose disease and detect food-borne contamination, or technologies to support astronauts living on Mars, these are very complex systems. We have the faculty and the expert support staff needed to use the hardware and software to address these very complex systems."
Five buildings have been approved for the park, including the recently completed Burton D. Morgan Center, which will be dedicated at 1 p.m. on Oct. 21. The Birck and Bindley centers will be completed by June, groundbreaking for the e-Enterprise Center is set for Oct. 18, and plans are progressing to have the Discovery Learning Center built by 2006. The Advanced Manufacturing Center will be housed in the e-enterprise facility.
Central to Discovery Park is its multidisciplinary nature.
"It's very difficult to answer and address the most important and interesting questions from just one discipline," Rutledge said. "It is helpful to apply the tools of physics and chemistry to probe biological systems and have engineers to design equipment, and then you can answer questions you didn't even think of asking before."
Another distinguishing feature of Discovery Park is that it unites scientists and engineers with management experts, who develop business plans based on particular discoveries.
"Almost as soon as the light bulb goes off in a scientist's or engineer's mind about a new company, right away we assign a management student who is supervised by faculty," Rutledge said. "That is different. That is unique."
About a dozen "superprojects" currently are under way in the park. The projects include work funded by the National Science Foundation and NASA to create superior computers for future spacecraft and support systems for bases on Mars and the moon.
Discovery Park has been a major drawing card for attracting new faculty, said Provost Sally Mason.
"Faculty just want to be part of it," she said. "Not only do they like the excitement and the people associated with it, but there is more space available for them to do their work; there is some seed money for them to get started. We help them get their labs started, and we work in partnership with Purdue schools and departments."
For example, she said, at least 16 new faculty have been hired in the area of nanotechnology since Discovery Park was formed. The park's Birck Center has awarded $2.4 million in start-up grants for nine of those new faculty members.
"The park also provides many new opportunities for educating undergraduates and graduate students," Mason said. "We want to train them to work on society's real problems, which are complicated and messy. They involve multiple disciplines. Our students are going to get their first exposure to interdisciplinary work before they graduate. And that's a big advantage."
The Birck Nanotechnology Center:
The $58.3 million Birck Center, a three-floor, 187,000-square-foot facility, involves more than 100 faculty members from 25 schools and departments across the university. The center will provide some of the best laboratories in the world for nanotechnology research, said George Adams, the center's research development manager.
Two specialized low-vibration labs have concrete slabs resting on large air-filled shock absorbers. Vibration and temperature must be carefully controlled because researchers will be working on the scale of individual atoms. The slightest jarring or expansion from heat would foul up experiments.
"We call it the high-accuracy room," Adams said. "You can hold things still on an atomic scale and then use scanning probe microscopy techniques and other techniques to examine the structure of materials on an atom-by-atom basis."
Labs in the building also will shield experiments from external sound, electromagnetic interference such as radio waves and other forms of "noise" that could hamper the nanotech research. The building's design team included the same people who created a new nanotechnology facility at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Md. That facility is considered one of the best in the world for nanotechnology research.
The Birck Center also will include a special "bioclean room" that will enable researchers to work in a totally germ-free environment, which is important for bio-nano research involving biological molecules and organisms.
"If you are working with proteins or DNA, for example, you don't want your work contaminated by extraneous molecules," Adams said. "You don't want rogue colonies of viruses or bacteria in there that might interfere with a particular organism that you are trying to study."
The bioclean room will be adjacent to a "fabrication clean room" used to make electronic devices such as computer chips. The fabrication clean room will constantly filter the air to remove minute particles that could ruin the fine features of electronic devices.
Researchers from both labs will be able to work together on the same experiments by using "glove boxes" common to both labs. A researcher in the bioclean room will reach into the glove box from one side, and a researcher in the fabrication room will reach in from the other side. The facility is believed to be the only laboratory in the world that will enable researchers from fabrication and bioclean rooms to work together on experiments, Adams said.
Numerous companies specializing in everything from aerospace to pharmaceuticals have contacted Adams to learn about the center.
While the Birck Center has made good progress thus far, researchers are looking forward to the building's completion, Adams said.
"By opening up the new laboratories and research spaces we are going to be able to do experiments, fabricate devices and materials, and make measurements that we couldn't before," he said. "We will be able to bring many people faculty, students, staff, visitors together, which we think will stimulate the intellectual environment and speed up the process of coming up with new ideas."
The Birck Center is named for Michael and Katherine (Kay) Birck, of Hinsdale, Ill. The Bircks donated $30 million for the building. He is a Purdue alumnus, a member of the Purdue Board of Trustees and chairman of Tellabs Inc. Kay Birck, a Terre Haute, Ind. native, is head of nursing at Women's Healthcare of Hinsdale.
The e-Enterprise Center:
The $10 million, 35,800-square-foot e-Enterprise Center, to be completed by the spring of 2006, will be located south of the Burton D. Morgan Center.
The center is already providing critical help for Purdue researchers, assigning "launch teams" of experts to quickly perform a variety of functions. The teams, for example, are called upon to create advanced software and databases that are essential for research, said Joseph Pekny, director of the center.
"We provide an infrastructure that would by very difficult, or perhaps impossible, for faculty to develop on their own," Pekny said. "Because we provide complex software and database tools, the faculty are free to concentrate on their own work without having to worry about computer issues."
Another role of the center is to provide a meeting place for people of diverse backgrounds to interact and share ideas.
"We can bring dozens of faculty to bear on a problem in a strategic and systematic way," Pekny said. "It's kind of like getting a bunch of beach balls rolling in the right direction. You will make the most progress if you get them to generally go in the same direction, as opposed to all of them bouncing or moving randomly."
Pekny said Discovery Park is coming into its own.
"Something like Discovery Park is a huge cultural evolution," he said. "We add to the culture of the university. It's already very rich, but we bring a different dimension to it: looking for the connections across disciplines. Such a big cultural shift takes time. We have been in existence now for three years, and we are starting to see that there is a lot of value in making those connections in connecting those disciplinary dots."
Along those lines, Purdue has established the Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering, an interdisciplinary effort to deliver health care to consumers more efficiently and effectively. The Regenstrief Foundation has provided a three-year, $3 million start-up grant that begins in January. The Purdue center will apply process-engineering principles, such as supply-chain management and just-in-time manufacturing, to health-care delivery, following the flow of information, communication, funds and materials through the system to achieve better results and efficiency.
Some initial areas of interdisciplinary inquiry involving Purdue researchers from most of Purdue's schools will include improving safety and efficiency of patient care, providing more efficient deployment of physicians, nurses and other health-care personnel, and better coordinating inpatient and outpatient treatment, as well as health communication.
"We recognize that re-engineering the delivery of health care is a huge undertaking," Pekny said. "While Purdue is known for its engineering, science and management, those schools can't accomplish this sky-high mission by themselves. The Purdue Regenstrief Center will also involve many liberal arts faculty in areas such as sociology, health communication and kinesiology, as well as researchers in our schools of pharmacy, nursing, health sciences, consumer sciences, technology, agriculture and even veterinary medicine."
The Bindley Bioscience Center:
The Bindley Bioscience Center supports a variety of projects in the core areas of:
Genomics, which involves mapping the genetic makeup of organisms and focuses on determining how those genes collectively function and are regulated;
Proteomics, which aims to identify and assess the collective functions of proteins found in cells or tissues;
Metabolomics, or the analysis of the smaller building blocks and products of cellular proteins;
And cytomics, in which researchers study the role of the cell in the context of genomics, proteomics, and metabolomics to recognize how genes are responsible for making byproducts called "metabolites" inside cells.
"Each of these technology research core areas employ tools that are continually changing, and new innovations through the research at Purdue and applied in the Bindley Bioscience Center will enable future studies in life sciences," said V. Jo Davisson, who co-directs the center with George Wodicka, head of the Purdue Department of Biomedical Engineering. "The commercial applications of these innovations are increasingly important and hold promise for predicting and diagnosing diseases such as cancer and diabetes, identifying the most appropriate type of drug for an individual patient and recognizing the characteristics of plant traits that indicate the presence of high-quality foods or materials."
The center continues to work with startup companies like Prosolia and Tienta Sciences to further develop these technologies and their applications, Davisson said.
R. Graham Cooks, the Henry Bohn Hass Distinguished Professor of Analytical Chemistry, is working with the Bindley Center in research aimed at developing an instrument based upon mass spectrometry that can fabricate custom-made biochips for protein analysis.
"Prosolia is a new company venture in the Purdue Research Park that will harness these innovations for commercial applications as a powerful research tool in areas like drug development and basic medical sciences," Davisson said.
The instrument offers a new method to "sort out" and isolate the tangle of proteins found within cells, a process necessary to reveal protein function within an organism. In contrast to other, more labor-intensive separation methods, the Purdue team's technique allows proteins with similar chemical properties to be separated in such a way that analysis can be accomplished in far fewer steps than previously required.
The increased efforts to dissect cellular components and garner deeper information about the working parts of the cell require high-performance computation and information management systems, Davisson said.
"Another exciting development has been the ability to harness the huge computing capacity on campus to go after large-scale life science problems," he said. "We have a number of pending grants in this area, and we are developing partnerships with companies like IBM.
"The research capabilities and mission of the Bindley Center have been important for attracting about nine new faculty researchers to Purdue," Davisson said. "We have also been able to hire some very highly qualified research staff, giving us a whole new capability as a research community. The objective is that they share with each other their expertise and collectively work together as a team to bridge their own work with a large number of faculty investigators to provide a research capacity that doesn't exist anywhere else on campus.
"Our newest mission is to expand our expertise in the research core area of bio-nanotechnology, which is merging the biological sciences with nanotechnology. One result of this kind of work will be advanced sensors that join biological molecules with electronic circuits."
An example in this area is research by Rashid Bashir, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and biomedical engineering, who is working with the Bindley and Birck centers to develop a miniature device sensitive enough to detect a single virus particle, an advancement that could have many applications, including environmental-health monitoring and homeland security.
The 50,000-square-foot, $15 million Bindley Center is being built next to the Birck Center. The facility is named for Purdue graduate William E. Bindley, who in 2002 donated $52.5 million to his alma mater. Bindley designated $7.5 million of his gift to cover half the cost of the building.
The Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship:
The center, considered the gateway to Discovery Park, houses programs to teach students about entrepreneurship and to lay the groundwork for establishing business startups based on new technologies.
The center sponsors several business plan competitions, which provide advice and money for winners who want to form a startup company or expand an existing company.
Meanwhile, Krannert School of Management students help businesses by providing technical expertise and advice.
"Student projects are offered through the center," said Krannert School Dean Richard A. Cosier, who directs the center. "Purdue students learn about entrepreneurship while helping fledgling companies through technical expertise and advice. Some students perform due diligence on early stage investments from the center's student-managed venture fund."
The center, which was finished in June, is a $7 million, 31,000-square-foot, two-story facility that will connect with overhead walkways to other buildings.
"All in all, we think we're on a roll," said Don Blewett, the center's associate director. "We've engaged a number of students, and they report great experiences. We have helped faculty and researchers. We have engaged corporate partners. And they likewise have been very happy to have us."
The building was funded by the Burton D. Morgan Foundation, established by the late Morgan, an alumnus from Hudson, Ohio. He received his Purdue degree in mechanical engineering in 1938. In 1992, the university awarded him an honorary doctorate in management.
The Discovery Learning Center:
"The Discovery Learning Center will house laboratories and classrooms with cutting-edge technological capabilities for researchers to improve teaching and learning methods especially in the sciences for children and college students," said co-director Margaret M. Rowe, vice provost and professor of English.
The center, which was formed in March 2003, also has funded projects and facilitated partnerships on campus, including a new federally funded center that will provide research experience to university freshman and sophomore students to increase their enthusiasm for science-related careers. More than 300 affiliates, representing 12 schools and 45 academic departments at Purdue, plus affiliates from other universities, business and industry, teachers and professional organizations, are involved in collaborations or research in conjunction with the center.
The Center for Advanced Manufacturing:
The Center for Advanced Manufacturing, formed this summer, is a resource for Indiana companies and will provide research assistance for industry to improve manufacturing processes. Director John P. Sullivan, a professor in the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, said the center is expected to contribute to Indiana's economic growth by:
Providing an infrastructure to facilitate the relationships between fundamental research, technology transfer efforts and startup companies.
Supporting existing companies around the state that require significant applied product research help or product and process improvement.
Attracting additional manufacturing companies to Indiana, increasing the number of jobs available in the field.
Bringing emerging technologies to Indiana and fostering the creation of new technologies.
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