UW-Madison economic impact statewide hits $12.4 billion

Posted on 21. Jun, 2011 by in Academic Departments, Biomedical Engineering, Economic Impact, Engineering Professional Development, Features, Healthcare and Medicine, Issues, Magazine, Mechanical Engineering, Research, Security

UW-Madison’s profound impact on Wisconsin’s economy—one that totals $12.4 billion annually—is detailed in a late-March report that underscores the importance of the university to the state’s economic well being. The findings indicate that UW-Madison, along with its affiliated organizations and startup companies, supports 128,146 Wisconsin jobs and generates $614 million in state tax revenue. The report, issued by Madison-based NorthStar Economics Inc., found that UW-Madison research has helped to form at least 283 startup companies in Wisconsin that support more than 21,000 jobs. Economists also found that for every $1 of state tax investment in the university, there is $21.05 in economic activity in the state.

Through their research partnerships with industry, College of Engineering faculty, staff and students play a key role in supporting this economic activity. Here are a few examples of this work.

Tim Osswald (center) and students

Tim Osswald (center) and students. Photo: Jeff Miller

UW-Madison engineers help Resilient Technologies reinvent the wheel
In military combat, vehicle tires are critical, as blown tires can mean troops are stranded in dangerous situations. Wausau, Wisconsin-based Resilient Technologies is working on a non-pneumatic tire with a honeycomb-like design, which can’t be shot out and could save lives.

UW-Madison engineers are partnering with Resilient to develop the tire and help the company grow in Wisconsin. Resilient delved into advanced mobility technologies soon after its founding in 2005, and a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense connected the company with a team from Engineering Professional Development (EPD), including faculty associates and program directors Frank Rath and Carl Vieth. EPD in turn guided Resilient to the Polymer Engineering Center and Kuo K. and Cindy F. Wang Professor of Mechanical Engineering Tim Osswald, who worked with Resilient engineers for two years to refine and test the tire design.

EPD also supports Resilient beyond the lab. The team connects Resilient with non-campus partners, such as machinists and automation companies, many of which are in Wisconsin. “This spins out and expands into the broader state economy,” Vieth says.

Rath and Vieth also advise Resilient on how to move toward military and non-military commercialization. “Frank is vital in directing us toward solutions in many different areas,” says Ed Hall, Resilient chief operating officer.

As Resilient continues to grow as a company, Hall anticipates the company’s relationship with UW-Madison also will evolve. “There are lots of subjects where you can’t just jump on Google and find out who is the best,” Hall says. “The EPD knowledge and resources make it a lot easier to find experts in the field.”

For Rath, it’s rewarding to see a Wisconsin technology startup thrive. “We worked with Resilient before they even had employees. Now they have around 20, and these are high-skill, high-tech jobs—the kind of jobs we really want to see in Wisconsin,” he says.

Hall wasn’t surprised UW-Madison offers so many connections and resources for businesses. “They didn’t look at us as a science project, but as a growing business,” he says. “They were interested because what we are doing could save lives.”

From collaboration to commercialization: GE partnership yields medical successes

Wally Block, at left, and Thomas Grist

Wally Block, at left, and Thomas Grist discuss different approaches to using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology while meeting in a MRI control room at a radiology facility at the UW Hospital and Clinics. Photo: Jeff Miller.

Due in large part to a strong relationship that capitalizes on their respective strengths, UW-Madison and GE Healthcare have pioneered myriad medical advances to improve patient care.

Located in Waukesha, Wisconsin, GE Healthcare is a world leader in developing products and services that enable healthcare providers to better predict, diagnose and treat disease.

Now in its 10th year, the company’s successful research and intellectual property agreement with UW-Madison allows both GE Healthcare and university employees to work together as a seamless team on cutting-edge technology. In fact, GE Healthcare employee Jean Brittain is an honorary associate/fellow in the UW-Madison Department of Radiology. “How many companies actually commit to having their top researchers on site at the university?” says Jerry Shattuck, a licensing manager with the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, the UW-Madison technology-transfer organization. “That’s an example of what makes this a unique and special collaboration.”

In addition to radiology, GE Healthcare works most closely with medical physics and biomedical engineering faculty, staff and clinicians to develop new technology targeted toward improving clinical care, says Jason Polzin, chief technology leader for software and applications in the GE Healthcare Global Magnetic Resonance Business. “The combination of strong science, engineering and clinical expertise makes UW unique,” he says. “They are able to work ‘bench to bedside’ in developing new technology and then translating it to clinical studies to demonstrate an improvement in diagnosis or clinical outcomes. In many cases, this work becomes part of the GE product—resulting in an impact far beyond the state of Wisconsin.”

To date, UW-Madison and GE researchers have generated nearly 150 patent disclosures. Initially, says Shattuck, many of the patents focused on magnetic resonance imaging; however, more recent advances also capitalize on UW-Madison research strengths in additional areas, such as computed tomography and X-ray technologies.

A less quantifiable benefit of the partnership is the intellectual capital GE Healthcare gains from nearly 100 UW-Madison alumni who now work at the GE Waukesha location, with many in high-level positions. “UW and the Big Ten have very strong engineering programs and GE recruits heavily from those programs through regular campus visits,” says Polzin. “Because of its close proximity to GE Healthcare, there is a strong tradition of UW alumni working for GE.”

Tim Shedd (center, standing) and graduate students

Tim Shedd (center, standing) and graduate students.

Keeping Cray computers cool
It’s amazing to think that some of the world’s most powerful computers come out of Wisconsin,” says Mechanical Engineering Associate Professor Tim Shedd. “I really like the fact that we can help support Cray, a company that’s providing high-paying, good jobs in the Chippewa Valley area.”

Cray Inc. manufactures supercomputers in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. In November 2008, the company’s “Jaguar” supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Lab topped the list of the world’s 500 most powerful computers. The Jaguar system held that top position through November 2010.

An expert in cooling methods for electronics, Shedd has collaborated with Cray for the better part of a decade. His partnership with the company began somewhat serendipitously when Adam Pautsch, son of Cray senior engineering manager Greg Pautsch, enrolled as one of Shedd’s doctoral students. Cray asked Shedd and his students, including Pautsch, to investigate ways to cool supercomputers, ultra-powerful high-speed computers that pack so many processors into a small area that keeping the computer from overheating is a challenge.

That research yielded a unique spray-cooling method, two patents, and two additional research projects. David Kiefer, Cray vice president for business development in custom engineering, says the company derived multiple benefits from its collaboration with UW-Madison. “Working with UW-Madison mechanical engineering department—specifically Tim Shedd and his team—enabled Cray to tap their technical expertise, testing capabilities and resources to improve the spray-cooling technology beyond what we could have done in the same time frame, or to the same level of understanding,” he says. “Shedd’s team focusing on the underlying science and analytical methods related to multiphase cooling allows the Cray team to focus on the engineering and implementation of the cooling technology into Cray’s high-performance computing products.”

Now, the company is investigating an opportunity that would enable UW-Madison and Cray to investigate systems-level cooling solutions for future high-performance computers for specific applications.

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