The new collaboration between UCSB’s Material Research Laboratory and DOW Chemical Company gives graduate students a rare opportunity to conduct advanced industrial research, said lab director Craig Hawker at a recent press conference.
DOW this month announced it is giving a $15 million grant to UCSB (the exact amount will depend on what projects are pursued) as well as supporting a fellowship program for graduate students in the Chemical Engineering department. Recently, the two departments were ranked number one and two, respectively, in the country by the National Research Council.
DOW’s Theresa Kotanchek said she believes the new partnership will not only benefit the students but also her company. “UCSB understands what it takes to [develop] breakthrough technologies in an industrial environment and, as a result, makes an outstanding economical partner to us,” she said.
Kotanchek went on to praise UCSB for creating a comfortable environment in which students can share ideas and build off of those ideas. “It is important for us to pick institutes that create comfortable environments,” she stated, “because we need the students to think multi-dimensionally and work with faculty who embrace that…Some institutes take pride in their individual identity and don’t have as much free flow of idea and communication.”
According to Hawker, UCSB excels in taking the best attributes of industry and marrying it with the best qualities of academia. Also, most of the faculty at UCSB work in two different departments which “allows us to really think beyond traditional disciplines” – a concept that students love, he said.
“We’ve been attracting some of the best students in the country and in the world with this model,” Hawker went on. “When new students come and look at us, they also look at MIT, they look at University of Michigan, and then they go, ‘I really liked how [UCSB] was approaching these hard research problems.’”
Sharing the same visions and asking the right questions is something that UCSB and DOW Chemical Company have in common, added Kotanchek. “Both sides have to trust each other,” she said.
The $15 million will, among others things, be used to found a collaborative research institute on campus called DOW Materials Institute. Students will get a chance to meet with DOW researchers, visit the DOW research facilities, and work alongside experienced scientists.
“The students will be involved through doing the research, and we see them being an integral part,” said Hawker. “They’re a part of the team. To say they will be the heart and soul of the center is not an understatement. The center will really be revolving around them.”
Chemical Engineering Department Chair, Michael F. Doherty, is also excited about the collaboration with DOW, which is investing in ten other universities nationwide.
“This is big,” said Doherty. “It’s big because DOW has selected a very prestigious group of universities and departments within those universities to associate with, so it’s a great validation for us here to be part of that group.”