Rose Bowl matchup highlights lab connections, collaborations

When the Oregon Ducks and Wisconsin Badgers take the field Jan. 1 in Pasadena, the matchup will harken back to more than just the 2012 Rose Bowl game.

That’s because the University of Oregon and the University of Wisconsin-Madison have more in common than just success on the gridiron. Though the two campuses are roughly 2,000 miles apart, the communities they call home date to the same historic period: Eugene was founded in 1846, the same year Madison, Wisconsin was chartered.

Both schools are the public flagship universities of their respective states and members of the prestigious Association of American Universities. Additionally, they are among the 15 public research universities recently selected to participate in a National Science Foundation-funded initiative to boost the diversity of faculty and students in STEM fields.

The UO faculty includes no less than 24 members who have earned a degree, including 17 doctorates, from Wisconsin’s main campus in Madison. Four others on the faculty, including Provost Patrick Phillips, held postdoctoral positions there. One associate professor, Youchang Wu of the UO College of Business, has worked at both universities.

A pair of recent research collaborations highlight the scholarship of faculty members from both institutions — with a nautical twist.

Ramakrishnan Durairajan, now an assistant professor with UO’s Department of Computer and Information Science, studied under computer scientist Paul Barford in UW-Madison’s doctoral program. Together with Carol Barford, who directs UW–Madison’s Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment, they co-authored the first assessment of the risk of climate change to the internet.

Presented in 2018, their research revealed that thousands of miles of fiber optic cable located in densely populated coastal regions of the United States is at risk of being destroyed by rising sea levels within the next 15 years. Much of this infrastructure is buried and follows long-established rights of way, typically paralleling highways and coastlines.

“When it was built 20-25 years ago, no thought was given to climate change,” Barford said. “This is a wake-up call. We need to be thinking about how to address this issue.”

Placing embryonic cells from frogs and starfish under the microscope, a second group of collaborators discovered the mechanisms underlying cytokinesis, the point when a cell divides its cytoplasm to create two daughter cells.

George von Dassow of the UO’s Department of Biology and Oregon Institute of Marine Biology and William M. Bement of the UW-Madison were two of the senior authors on the study, which appeared in the journal Nature Cell Biology in 2015.

"We are longtime collaborators, and it just happened that two threads of research accidentally converged on what turned out to be a similar phenomenon in both frog eggs and embryos, and starfish eggs and embryos," von Dassow said.

Under a subsequent grant, the two researchers have expanded their work, exploring wound healing in single cells, mostly in starfish, and mitotic cytokinesis in embryos of both starfish and sea urchins. The project brought Bement to work in von Dassow’s lab in Charleston.

In another collaboration, UO biologist David McCormick, director of the Institute of Neuroscience, is working with Wisconsin’s biomedical engineer Justin Williams in a project that aims to accelerate learning capacity.

With funding from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the group, which also includes collaborators at the Baylor College of Medicine and New York University, is pursuing a system for strengthening the connections of neurons by stimulating peripheral nerves outside the brain and spinal cord. Such a system may help military personnel who often need to quickly master new skills or digest vast quantities of important information.

Other UO-UW-Madison connections include:

  • Art Clough, the WPA-era artist who created the carved cedar panels in Knight Library’s Paulson Reading Room, was born in Madison, Wisconsin in 1891.
  • Margarete Hopkins, who earned her doctoral degree from Wisconsin in 1935, was profiled in the book “Pioneering Women in American Mathematics: The Pre-1940s PhDs” by UO mathematics doctoral graduate Jeanne LaDuke.
  • Prior to the composition of “Mighty Oregon” in 1916, the Oregon Marching Band had appropriated “On Wisconsin” as UO’s fight song.

By Jason Stone, University Communications