Happy Thanksgiving from the OVPR! We hope you’ve been enjoying some relaxing time with friends and family. On Saturday, the Bears will take on the Red Raiders of Texas Tech at AT&T Stadium, an annual neutral-site matchup that usually proves to be one of the most exciting games on the Bears’ schedule. To help you prepare for the game, this week we present a Q&A with Dr. Robert V. Duncan, Texas Tech’s vice president for research, as part of our “Get to know Big 12 research” series.
Tell us about a few of the most interesting research projects at Texas Tech.
Texas Tech has a major emphasis on wind energy and wind mitigation research. Our scientists have studied the effects of wind on structures for more than 40 years. This research led to Texas Tech developing the first above-ground storm shelter and establishing the national standards for shelter design and construction. The university is positioning itself as a world leader in wind energy. In 2013, Sandia National Laboratories moved its wind test facility to Texas Tech to partner with our researchers to study advanced rotor technologies, and analyze wind flow and turbine-to-turbine interaction across a research-scale wind farm array.
Texas Tech has a strong focus in the areas of food safety and security. Researchers at our International Center for Food Industry Excellence are working around the world, looking at how to mitigate foodborne illnesses at the feed lot and processing levels. The researchers are also focused on health education for food production workers and for the general public. The team is working with government agencies, universities and development agencies across the U.S., Central America, the Caribbean and Europe.
A number of Texas Tech researchers are working on novel drug testing and delivery systems, such as a minimally invasive drug delivery system using micro-needles to treat oral squamous cell carcinomas. Researchers also have developed a microfluidic technology that could speed the testing of new drugs and ultimately result in moving drugs to the market sooner. Researchers also are using pollen grains as a novel system for oral vaccination which could lead to improved, painless and edible vaccines in the future.
On the national security front, researchers are working with materials less than one-thousandth the width of a human hair to develop nano-scale materials that could lead to the creation of a significantly more compact and powerful laser for use by the military. This could reduce the size of missile defense systems from the size of a 747 aircraft to something that could fit on a small truck. Our Center for Pulsed Power and Power Electronics is generating high-power electrical pulses to provide troops on the battlefield with a system that can be used to disable IED’s.
And of course, given our location in the heart of cotton and oil country, we have researchers looking at all sides of the hydraulic fracturing process. The Bob L. Herd Department of Petroleum Engineering at Texas Tech is one of the largest in the world. Our researchers also are developing innovative strategies for agricultural water conservation and working on more drought-resistant crops.
We know that commercialization is a major focus at Texas Tech; tell us about that.
We believe that innovation and entrepreneurialism are critical next steps in Texas Tech’s goal to become a major national research university. In 2014, the university was awarded the Innovation and Economic Prosperity designation by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), recognizing our leadership in spurring and promoting regional economic development. Texas Tech President M. Duane Nellis is playing a leadership role at the national level. He’s recently been named to the APLU Task Force on Managing University Intellectual Property. The task force will examine the purposes of university innovation, technology transfer, commercialization and entrepreneurship.
The first building of Texas Tech’s Research Park is set to open in summer 2015. The $29 million building will be a cornerstone in fostering public-private partnerships as well as providing incubator/accelerator space for new businesses. Up to six buildings could eventually make up the research park.
Students are also highly involved in entrepreneurship activities at Texas Tech. A new student-led organization, Texas Tech Innovation, Mentorship and Entrepreneurship, was formed less than a year ago. The university also sponsored a 3-day startup weekend to provide an intensive hands-on experience for students to learn entrepreneurial skills from generating an idea to market research and business plan development.
What have we missed if we haven’t been on the Texas Tech campus in a while?
A lot. You can see the growth just walking across campus. We set our sixth straight enrollment record this fall with 35,134 students, up just more than 2,000 from fall 2013. We have added two new residence halls, a Petroleum Engineering Building, the Burkhart Center for Autism Education and Research facility, and as a result of a $19 million gift from Bayer Crop Science, an addition to the Plant and Soil Science Building is under construction. The first of a potential six buildings also is under construction in Texas Tech’s Research Park. There are plans for a second Experimental Sciences Building on campus, as well as renovating the former College of Mass Communications Building into a material sciences facility.
Our growth is more than physical. Our research numbers are up significantly. While the numbers are still preliminary right now, proposals submitted are up 19 percent, awards received are up 25 percent, and restricted research expenditures are up 16 percent, all over the last year. And we are putting new resources into faculty in a number of research areas including: food safety and security, big data and cybersecurity; new soft nano materials; and genetics and bioinformatics.
How is TTU’s research administration organization structured?
At Texas Tech the vice president for research (VPR) reports to the president of the university. Responsible research committees, including the Institutional Review Board and the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, report to the VPR, as do the offices of research services, commercialization, and environmental health and safety.
Thanks to Dr. Robert V. Duncan and the Texas Tech University Office of the Vice President for Research for participating in our “Get to know Big 12 research” series. Check out their website at http://www.depts.ttu.edu/vpr/.