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Published September 14, 2017
Ed Synakowski has been in his new position just a little over a month. And, while he has formulated a vision for what direction research and economic development will take at the University of Wyoming, he looks forward to further developing it and improving it through discussions with faculty, staff and students.
And, while he expects the vision to continue to evolve, one thing Synakowski knows for sure: A “culture of partnership” will be at the center of the vision.
“The vision will provide an opportunity for this university to be responsive to the next decade or two, or three, to problems most important to the state, the nation and the world,” says Synakowski, UW’s vice president for research and economic development since Aug. 8. “These problems will be multidisciplinary and will require a response of expertise of multiple areas.”
Synakowski will unveil his vision during a Research and Economic Development Town Hall Thursday, Sept. 21, from 3:30-5 p.m., in Room 129 of the Classroom Building. The town hall will include an opportunity for UW faculty and students to express their research vision and includes a question-and-answer session. For those who cannot physically attend, the town hall will be available live and archived for later viewing through WyoCast at https://wyocast.uwyo.edu/WyoCast/Play/83916c52b69f4833aa144074c59661051d.
He invites UW faculty -- and interested staff -- who are currently conducting research -- STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) or otherwise -- or who have an interest in research; and Ph.D., graduate and undergraduate students conducting research or who have an interest in doing so. He also has invited members of the UW Foundation, including Foundation President/CEO Ben Blalock.
Synakowski’s vision, while not yet complete, includes identifying research opportunities across multiple disciplines; being inclusive in accordance with UW’s land-grant mission; creating incentives for faculty who teach their students research; realizing more opportunities between academia and business, such as the partnership between the petroleum industry and the High Bay Research Facility; partnering with national laboratories in a way the university currently does not; and focusing heavily on the UW Science Initiative.
The UW Science Initiative began in 2014, when Gov. Matt Mead and the Wyoming Legislature challenged UW to develop a plan to address outdated science laboratories at UW and improve the quality of instruction and research in the sciences. The developed plan charts a clear course for these science programs to rise to top-tier status in the nation and builds upon Wyoming's STEM initiatives, which include the location of the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center in Cheyenne, the Michael B. Enzi STEM Facility, and the Wyoming Governor's Energy, Engineering STEM Integration Task Force.
Synakowski says these emerging new facilities will be key in forwarding research on campus.
The university currently takes in “just under $100 million” annually in all grants combined, Synakowski says. While he has no number goal as of yet, he sees potential in hiking that number through increased research opportunities in the life sciences and digital imaging, which includes the creation of digital images of microscopic objects.
“Life sciences, in general, represents one of those areas where federal spending has increased in recent years,” he says. “Economic opportunities in the life sciences are abundant in applications ranging from health to agriculture, and beyond.”
Digital imaging, with which Synakowski says he is familiar through previous research, can be applied to the fundamentals of biological cells, among others. Advances in microscopic techniques and electronic cameras continue to occur, he says.
Visualization is a field that includes taking complex sets of data and visualizing it in different ways to enable conclusions to be drawn. Synakowski says, more generally, the science of visualization allows scientists to look at tremendously complex sets of data and see trends in the data that are otherwise hidden.
“Imaging can help make abstract concepts understandable, and it can make real things in 3-D, such as molecules, cells and biological specimens -- ranging out to a system of stars and galaxies -- accessible,” he says. “We all can recognize the power of pictures, but teasing out conclusions from images obtained through research is, itself, a scientific discipline. The university has an opportunity to be a leader in this field.”
During August, Synakowski succeeded Bill Gern, the longtime vice president for research and economic development, who retired. Before coming to UW, Synakowski was director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fusion Energy Sciences Office. Synakowski had held his former position, associate director of science in the Department of Energy, since 2009, administering a budget of about $400 million annually to develop nuclear fusion as an energy source. The agency supports research at more than 50 universities, eight national and two federal laboratories, and 15 industry groups.
The role of the vice president for research and economic development is to support and facilitate the research efforts of UW's faculty, staff and students; direct the university's research mission as a public research university; promote the university's research program with stakeholders; and direct technology transfer and commercialization efforts for UW intellectual property.
Synakowski is a Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS) and a recipient of the APS Award for Excellence in Plasma Physics Research (2001) and Princeton University’s Kaul Foundation Prize for Excellence in Plasma Physics Research and Technology Development (2000).
“When I think about the reasons I explored and accepted this position, it is to help others succeed,” he says. “That includes helping students, faculty and the citizens of Wyoming to succeed. Exploring this position, I found this was all possible.”