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Creating Partnerships

January 4, 2018
man on stairs
Ed Synakowski, UW’s new vice president for research and economic development, visits the STAR Observatory atop the Physical Sciences Building.

UW’s new vice president for research and economic development sees a bright future built on multidisciplinary research and partnerships.

By Micaela Myers

Ed Synakowski’s love for research started at a young age, when he got his first telescope and was able to explore the skies. He found seeing things firsthand much more exciting than just reading about them or even watching the moon walk on television.

He experienced that same sense of wonder conducting undergraduate research. “And then there were some moments of discovery in graduate school, all of which enlarged the sense that the world is mine for understanding by asking questions about it and ultimately for learning how to manipulate and influence for the better,” Synakowski says.

After earning his bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and his doctorate at the University of Texas at Austin, both in physics, Synakowski’s esteemed career included leading the Fusion Energy Sciences Program at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and holding a number of roles at Princeton University’s Plasma Physics Laboratory. Most recently, he served as associate director of science for fusion energy sciences at the U.S. Department of Energy. In July, he was named the University of Wyoming’s vice president for research and economic development.

“I’d like to work with faculty, leadership and students to prepare this university to be responsive to the kinds of problems that will be facing Wyoming, the nation and the globe in the next half century,” Synakowski says. “Addressing those problems demands we reach across research discipline boundaries.”

Research-sponsoring organizations seek these multidisciplinary and diverse responses to issues, he says. In addition to various disciplines working together, Synakowski hopes to instill a culture of partnerships that reaches beyond the university to other land-grant institutions, national laboratories, industry and others.

“Partner relationships can grow research opportunities and impact for the faculty and staff. And a vigorous research enterprise provides great opportunities for students to advance their education through research,” Synakowski says. “I’m a great believer in the power of this. I think if you talk to many faculty members, they will tell you about a student research experience that helped define their direction and shape their lives.”

Partnerships also form the basis of Synakowski’s vision for multidisciplinary use-inspired research centers, which will bring together UW, other land-grand universities, the business community and even international partners.
“I look forward in the near term to working with the faculty to identify classes of research that we think have a potential business impact in the state and nationally,” he says. Members of the business community would also be brought to the table to discuss their needs.

“All the stakeholders—faculty, administration, business interests, government agencies—need to work together to develop effective connections between the core fundamental research effort and business opportunities,” Synakowski says. “We have an opportunity through partnering to ensure that UW research has a profound impact on Wyoming’s economic interests, especially diversification.”

Use-inspired research centers would be adaptable and only continue long-term if fruitful and well supported.

“We’re all viewing the same problems but with different tools at our disposal to address them,” Synakowski says. “With partnering, we can create a complete toolkit. The kind of challenge we’re dealing with in the state of Wyoming is one of diversifying the economy, which demands all hands on deck and can only effectively be addressed with such partnerships from the different players.”

In addition to UW’s role in helping to diversify the economy, Synakowski says many of the research issues important to Wyoming—land reclamation, biodiversity, water management, cultural preservation and distance learning, to name a few—also have global analogs. He’s a strong believer in research interpreted broadly. A jazz trombone player, Synakowski finds inspiration in the arts. All of these factors played into his decision to join UW: “I think I’m attracted to the idea that this institution elevates the quality of life in so many dimensions.”

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