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Executive director named for Morgridge Institute for Research

September 11, 2008 By Janet Kelly

A distinguished researcher from Purdue University with significant private and public sector experience will return to Wisconsin as the executive director of the new Morgridge Institute for Research, part of the twin Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery.

Sangtae (Sang) Kim, who currently serves as the Donald W. Feddersen Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering at Purdue, will begin his duties as leader of the Morgridge Institute on Oct. 1. His extensive resume includes serving the National Science Foundation (NSF) as director of the division of shared cyberinfrastructure in 2004-2005, while on loan from Purdue University, as well as six years of executive industry experience gained at Lilly Research Laboratories, Pfizer Global Research and Development and Parke-Davis Pharmaceutical Research.

He joined the UW–Madison faculty in 1983 and served as chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering from 1995-1997. During his tenure at UW–Madison, Kim also was granted a courtesy appointment in the Department of Computer Sciences.

His Ph.D. in chemical and biological engineering from Princeton University in 1983 followed concurrent bachelor’s and master’s of science degrees from the California Institute of Technology in 1979. In 2001, he was elected a member of the prestigious National Academy of Engineering for his contributions to microhydrodynamics, protein dynamics, and drug discovery through the application of high-performance computing.

Carl Gulbrandsen, chair of the Morgridge Institute Board of Trustees, says Sang Kim’s wealth of experience managing collaborative and interdisciplinary research projects made him an ideal candidate to lead the private, not-for-profit institute. Set to open in 2010, the Morgridge Institute for Research is part of the $150 million Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery public-private partnership designed to facilitate breakthrough discoveries across the fields of biology, computer science and bioengineering to improve human health.

“Throughout his years in academia and industry, Sang has proven himself as a bold thinker and exceptional leader who embraces interdisciplinary research,” Gulbrandsen says. “This is precisely what’s needed as we work to set the stage for world-class collaboration and innovation at the Morgridge Institute. His background makes him the perfect candidate for the executive director position.”

Gulbrandsen says Kim also has an established reputation for commercializing research and helping entrepreneurs transform university discoveries into successful business ventures. Kim currently serves on the scientific advisory board of Venture Investors of Wisconsin and has personally provided advice and technical support to a number of start-up companies. Among them are Alien Technology, a California maker of radio frequency identification (RFID) tags for inventory tracking; and Indigo Biosystems, a software and information management company spun off from Eli Lilly & Co. in 2004.

Gov. Jim Doyle says Kim’s excellent academic credentials coupled with strong industry and government experience will serve the state well.

“As leader of the Morgridge Institute, Sang Kim will ensure that discoveries in the lab move quickly to the public as treatments and cures,” Doyle says. “In the process, the people of Wisconsin will benefit from new jobs and a stronger economy.”

UW-Madison Chancellor Carolyn “Biddy” Martin says the vision of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, comprised of twin institutes — one public and one private — is to leverage the best of the public with the best of the private to help keep the university competitive.

“The Morgidge Institute, and the university as a whole, will be well served by Sang Kim’s unique talents and experience,” Martin says. “We also believe he will prove a major asset as the university works to attract and retain faculty members of the very highest caliber.”

Former UW–Madison Chancellor John Wiley, who has been selected to serve as interim director of the public side of the twin institutes, the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, says he looks forward to working with Kim, a fellow engineer.

“The twin institutes have the potential to be transformational for the university and the entire state of Wisconsin,” Wiley says. “I can think of no one more appropriate to lead the Morgridge Institute than Sang Kim.”

“From his earliest days on campus, in 1983, Sang exemplified precisely the kind of scholar we hope to recruit to the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery. He was an intellectual leader who was widely respected and sought out by others as a consultant and collaborator. He had a remarkable ability to identify and solve problems having deep and wide implications in multiple fields and disciplines. He was a visionary in seeing those implications and pursuing them,” adds Wiley. “And he was literally revered by his students. His contributions to the interdisciplinary Materials Science Program, which I chaired at that time, were and are legendary. It will be a great pleasure and honor to work with Sang again and make sure these institutes are launched in a way that maximizes their potential.”

As part of the research agenda at Morgridge, Kim’s initial work is expected to focus on the establishment of a “center of excellence” for scientific informational technology. Earlier this year, regenerative biology was identified as another thrust area of the Morgridge Institute with the appointment of stem cell pioneer Dr. James Thomson as the first of several scientific directors.

Made possible by a $50 million gift from John and Tashia Morgridge matched by funding from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and state of Wisconsin, the Morgridge Institute for Research will leverage the best of a great public university with the flexibility and resources of a world-class private research institute. The building that will house the Morgridge Institute for Research and Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, located on the 1300 block of University Avenue, is expected to serve as a vibrant hub of cross-campus interdisciplinary research.