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New initiative facilitates research partnerships with the private sector

June 29, 2021 By Natasha Kassulke

Seven projects – from generating valuable products from the abundant non-food dairy residues that remain after milk is processed into food product, to amplifying UW–Madison doctoral trainees as the new generation of biotechnology industry leaders – have been chosen for funding through the Promoting Industry Collaboration Initiative.

These projects were among 32 proposals submitted from across campus. The $1.3M initiative is funded by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

This photo shows one of Phoenix’s accelerator systems that will be at the heart of the facility UW–Madison will be designing as part of the project, Harnessing Wisconsin Industry to Develop Materials and Fuel Breeding for Fusion Energy. Photo submitted by Paul Wilson

“Each of these projects promises a winning combination,” says Steve Ackerman, vice chancellor for research and graduate education. “These projects will create solutions that will benefit society, while further branding the UW–Madison as a place on the forefront of innovation and progress. Additionally, this initiative creates a nurturing environment for entrepreneurial development and student readiness in some of the most exciting areas of research today.”

The goal of the initiative is to develop, build and promote collaborations between UW–Madison and the private sector. It seeks to address solutions to complex social, environmental and economic challenges that are best addressed via collaboration between universities and industry. This initiative also supports semester or semester-plus-summer long internships for Ph.D. students with dissertator status.

One PICI partnership, led by William Murphy, professor of biomedical engineering, provides students with the multidisciplinary training required to succeed and lead in the rapidly growing biopharma industry. Industry partners include Promega, 3M, Catalent, Versiti, University Research Park and Venture Investors.

Another PICI project pairs Viji Easwar, professor of communication sciences and disorders, and William Sethares, professor of electrical and computer engineering, with a leader in the hearing aid analysis industry, to better assess whether hearing aids are of benefit during infancy.

“We know that to solve complex problems, we need creative solutions. These mutually beneficial partnerships can produce groundbreaking research and innovation that solve complex problems, drive economic growth and create a more skilled workforce,” says Cynthia Czajkowski, associate vice chancellor for research in the biological sciences. “We also know that some problems can’t be solved in isolation in a lab, and industry feedback is key to taking an invention or product from conception to market.”

A list of PICI projects, their team members and project descriptions is available at

Research Projects and Principal Investigators:

Fermentation of Dairy Residues/Coproducts Into Valuable Products

Timothy Donohue, professor of bacteriology and interim director of the Wisconsin Energy Intitute

Clinically Feasible Cortical Measures of Hearing Aid Benefit

Viji Easwar, assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders

Advanced Topics in Biotechnology Innovation and Translation

William Murphy, professor of biomedical engineering                

WMS™ Rapid Personalized Cancer Model for Innovating Drug and Medical Device Development

Dhanansayan Shanmuganayagam, assistant professor of animal and dairy sciences

Synthesis and Catalysis: Partnership with the Pharmaceutical Industry

Shannon Stahl, professor of chemistry

Harnessing Wisconsin Industry to Develop Materials and Fuel Breeding for Fusion Energy

Paul Wilson, professor of engineering physics

Novel biomarkers of cancer treatment response and resistance

Shuang Zhao, assistant professor of human oncology