Findings Staff Report | May 19, 2021
When the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine was recruiting molecular scientist Tom C.M. Seegar—who had completed post-doctoral work at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—the young researcher turned to Ken Greis, a biochemist and executive director for Research Infrastructure and Facilities at UC and asked—“what about cryo-EM?”
Seegar’s work requires looking at the structure of proteins, and access to single-particle cryo-electron microscopy technology would be critical.
“As modern structural biologists, we need to be able to use all of the tools that are available,” Seegar says, “so we can be at the forefront of answering the most important biological questions that pertain to human disease and development.”
The good news for him—and all the future students and researchers studying structural biology at UC—is that a plan for a Center for Advanced Structural Biology was already in the works.
Beyond their teaching and research lab responsibilities, molecular genetics professors Rhett Kovall and Thomas Thompson, have been building UC’s structural biology program since 2004. They took it upon themselves to envision the center and push to acquire multi-million dollar cryo-EM instruments to keep UC’s program relevant and thriving.
The center is one of many opportunities folded into UC’s new strategic plan for research, Research2030, unveiled by President Neville G. Pinto at Research + Innovation Week in late March. UC has committed to investing over $100 million to the research initiative over the next 10 years.
“Like many of our recent initiatives with our strategic direction, Next Lives Here, the Research2030 plan is about growth in inclusion, innovation and impact,” Pinto says. “We want to define the American research university of the future by creating a ‘next’ culture of research. We’re very proud of UC’s foundational roots in basic research and our standing as a Carnegie Research 1 university. We want to build out this foundation farther and add a new dimension that creates greater impact by solving problems that matter.”
Research2030 is built on two key objectives: Enhancing UC’s national reputation and emphasizing the impact of UC’s research enterprise.
“We will be focused on supporting the talent involved in research—faculty, staff and students,” says Vice President for Research Patrick Limbach. “We will be making key investments in UC’s research infrastructure, to amplify the value of our talent. And we will be prioritizing research themes, to ensure that UC’s investments move the needle in a positive direction.”
By 2030, UC wants to break into the top 25 public research institutions in the United States, as measured by National Science Foundation through the Higher Education Research and Development Survey. UC was 33rd in the most recent ranking (the 2019 federal fiscal year).
It will take investment in technology and equipment but also long-term support of programs to see the vision through, Limbach says.
Research themes were defined and prioritized through a partnership with the Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Kristi Nelson.
“Research 2030 and UC’s academic plan are about the future and establishing our faculty as renowned experts to position UC as a leading urban public university,” Nelson says. “We must invest in our future through talent, infrastructure and programs to positively impact our global society.”
UC’s vision for what’s ‘next’ in research is one that supports all types of research—from the creative and performing arts and humanities, to social, behavioral and economic research, as well as engineering, basic and applied sciences, biomedical research and its clinical applications.
Some of the efforts will bring various disciplines together, like the Institute for Research in Sensing, another early investment in Research2030.
“Our lives are full of sensing,” says biology professor Nate Morehouse, one of the leading researchers at the institute. “The moment our foot touches the floor as we step out of bed; our toaster oven sensing its own temperature; the doppler radar that provides more accurate weather predictions—rather than taking a strictly technological or scientific approach, IRiS is brings together STEM perspectives with non-STEM perspectives. This broader consilience opens up new conversations.”
One of his colleagues at the institute, ecology and evolutionary biologist Elke K. Buschbeck noted that UC has "an unusual wealth of researchers who already work on many aspects of sensing, but they are distributed all over campus and are working in many different units from specific angles.
“IRiS is designed to be a home to all of them," Buschbeck says, "and as such will foster a level of synergism and exploration into all aspects of sensing in a way that has not been reached before.”
Research2030 is a commitment to UC students, not just our valued research faculty.
For example, Associate Vice President for Research Programs and Initiatives Jennifer Krivickas worked with Undergraduate Student Government leadership to establish the new University of Cincinnati Student Government Research Fellowship Program.
This program, which is overseen by undergraduate students, seeks to motivate and empower undergraduate students to pursue their research. Undergraduate students may request up to $700 in fellowship funding to help off-set the cost of supplies, conference presentations, publication, and travel to field sites.
Building on Research2030’s desire for inclusive excellence, undergrads of any major are eligible to apply.
Innovation is an important part of the philosophy.
David J. Adams is UC’s chief innovation officer and architect of the Cincinnati Innovation District, a thriving ecosystem that attracts, produces, retains and develops talent by co-locating and collaborating with organizations. It includes the 1819 Innovation Hub, where Vice President Kamala Harris recently met with state and local transportation and university officials, and the Digital Futures building, a UC research facility slated to open in the fall of 2022.
“Access to UC’s researchers, facilities, student talent, digital capabilities and pipelines to ‘problems that matter’ will create innovative ways of working and thinking that provides the game-changing talent organizations need today,” Adams says. “Powered by UC, the innovation district is on pace toward creating 20,000 new knowledge jobs and $3 billion in annual economic impact to the region by 2030.”
Whether through industry, local communities and the non-profit sector, UC is looking to co-create and partner with its neighbors to help Cincinnati and the surrounding region grow and prosper, Limbach says.
For more information regarding Research2030, visit ucresearch2030.com. Stay tuned to Findings for regular updates and new opportunities for engagement.