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New round of ‘cluster hires’ announced

September 6, 2018 By Käri Knutson

UW-Madison is continuing its commitment to interdisciplinary research with the announcement of four new cluster hires. Part of the goal is to foster collaborative research, education and outreach by creating new interdisciplinary areas of knowledge that cross the boundaries of existing academic departments.

UW’s Cluster Hiring Initiative was launched in 1998 as an innovative partnership between the university, state and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF). In its first phase, the initiative authorized nearly 50 “clusters” and nearly 150 new faculty through several rounds of hiring. In 2017, phase two of the Cluster Hiring Initiative was authorized with a goal of supporting at least 12 clusters.

This past February, six proposals were chosen for a first round of clusters out of 48 submitted. Submissions for a third round of proposals will be announced, with a deadline of Jan. 18, 2019.  This summer, four clusters were chosen for funding out of 31 proposals submitted. Those four new clusters are:

The Metastructures of Viral Infection: Ann Palmenberg, professor of biochemistry and the Institute for Molecular Virology, Paul Friesen, professor of biochemistry and the Institute for Molecular Virology, Robert F. Kalejta, professor of molecular virology and oncology, Paul Ahlquist, professor of plant pathology and oncology and Nathan Sherer, associate professor of Molecular Virology and oncology; the Madison Virology Program Faculty: Lyric Bartholomay, Kristen Bernard, Curtis Brandt, David Evans, Thomas Friedrich, James Gern, Tony Goldberg, Jenny Gumperz, Eric Johannsen, Yoshihiro Kawaoka, Shannon Kenney, Randall Kimple, Paul Lambert, Daniel Loeb, Mirek Malkovsky, Andrew Mehle, Janet Mertz, Shelby O’Connor, David O’Connor, Jorge Osorio, Aurelie Rakotondrafara, Matt Reynolds, Rob Striker, William Sugden, Marulasiddappa Suresh and John Yin.

Viruses cause disease in plants, animals and humans but also serve as key experimental tools that have revealed fundamental truths in cell and molecular biology, biochemistry, immunology and oncology. Viruses infect living cells and convert them into environments suitable for either long-term habitation or acute amplification; they do so through viral protein-nucleic acid complex-induced modulation of cellular functions. This cluster will create three new positions to leverage and improve UW–Madison’s current strengths in RNA virology, DNA virus epigenetics, and atomic-level imaging, and expand our research portfolio into the evolving field of metastructural virology.

Rethinking East Asia and the World: Politics, Education, and Society: Shelly Chan, director of the Center for East Asian Studies and associate professor of history, Donald Moynihan, former director of the La Follette School of Public Affairs, Adam Nelson, chair, Department of Educational Policy Studies, School of Education, Steven Ridgely, Chair, Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, 
James Raymo, Chair, Department of Sociology
, Louise Young, professor of history and John Zumbrunnen, Chair, Department of Political Science

In recent years, China’s explosive growth has transformed East Asia, altering trade relations, social structures, and geopolitical alliances, with broad global implications. This interdisciplinary cluster in the social sciences examines three interrelated areas — politics, education and society — in order to better understand how the transformations in East Asia affect the world. The cluster’s goals include producing high-demand scholarship in Political Science, Sociology, and the La Follette School of Public Affairs; bolstering existing strengths in History and Asian Languages and Cultures; and building new bridges with the School of Education. Driven by a contemporary social science focus, these advancements would not only address a research area not well represented on campus, but also augment interdisciplinary activities at the Center for East Asian Studies (CEAS), a historical home for scholarly collaborations between departments since 1962.

Native American Environment, Health, and Community Cluster: Paul Robbins, director of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, Linda D. Scott, dean of the School of Nursing
 and Soyeon Shim, dean of the School of Human Ecology

The Native American Nations of the United States, and those of Wisconsin, have demonstrated marked resilience over several decades but also face complex contemporary challenges in a rapidly changing world. As a land-grant university with a tripartite mission (teaching, research, and Wisconsin Idea engagement), UW–Madison can and should take on a more active role in addressing these challenges by developing well-coordinated collaborative research and outreach programs specializing in improving environment and health practices; eliminating health-related disparities; and developing youth programs that strengthen family and community bonds. This cluster will help meet the complex challenges now confronting Native peoples, here in Wisconsin and across the United States, through a concerted research and engagement effort, one that will involve experts drawn from a number of fields and clustered in well-organized working groups that promote information sharing and creative synergies.

Quantum Science and Engineering: Mark Saffman, professor of physics, 
Robert Joynt, professor of physics, 
Mark Eriksson, professor of physics
, Mikko Lipasti, professor of electrical and computer engineering, Paul G. Evans, professor of materials science and engineering

Advances in the field of quantum science are now driven by collaborations between physicists who continue to explore quantum phenomena, mathematicians and data scientists who analyze what is possible with quantum machines, and engineers who are essential for developing practical systems with quantum components “under the hood.” This interdisciplinary cluster brings together scientists in all three fields to provide a springboard for broadening the already well-established research in quantum computing at UW–Madison to a wider engagement in related areas of quantum science.

The historical objectives of UW’s Cluster Hiring Initiative are to:

  • Enable the campus to devote a critical mass of faculty to an area of scholarship that would not be addressed through existing departmental structures.
  • Provide for new research tracks and collaborative opportunities.
  • Address complex societal problems.
  • Advance the Wisconsin Idea by serving society’s needs through interdisciplinary research, learning and service.
  • Encourage and foster cooperation within an already strong faculty and staff.
  • Create new curricular offerings on the undergraduate and graduate levels.
  • Assist in fulfilling other missions of the university, particularly increasing campus diversity.

To learn more about the Cluster Hiring Initiative, visit