State universities agree to more sharing of research facilities

Working at an electron microscope

A trio of new agreements between the University of Oregon and four of the state’s public universities are poised to advance research across Oregon, promote greater collaboration and help magnify state funding.

The memorandums will help researchers at the UO, Oregon Health & Science University, Oregon State University, Portland State University and the Oregon Institute of Technology work more closely together by reducing hurdles for cooperation while also leveraging each other’s strengths.

Researchers at each of the five universities will now have greater access to facilities at the partner institutions, and at a lower cost to them as well. The agreements also clarify ownership of intellectual property that emerges from research efforts across multiple institutions.

It’s a significant step in the ongoing trend of improving collaboration within the state among the UO and its statewide peers (see Related Links).

“When it comes to research and innovation, we all agree we are stronger when we collaborate and speak with one voice about the value of research universities to the state of Oregon,” said David Conover, the UO’s vice president for research and innovation. “These initiatives will allow us to build on our collective strengths and pave the way for new discoveries and innovations that will benefit Oregonians and help fuel our state’s economy.”

Fred Sabb, assistant vice president for research facilities at the UO, said the agreements will build on activity already taking place.

“There’s already quite a bit of cross-institution research core facility activity that this has kicked off, and more things are planned for near future to facilitate access and harmonize services,” he said.

One of the most visible hurdles potentially slowing researchers across the state from working more closely together has been the limited access to specialized, expensive research equipment available at other in-state institutions and the cost to use it.

Universities typically have one set of fees for their own students, staff and faculty members, and another set for those at other universities. Now the cost to use those facilities could decrease by as much as 25 percent in many cases for researchers at the five universities taking part.

The universities hope the agreement also will lead to economies of scale and encourage researchers to collaborate in broader ways that improve scientific outcomes simply by bringing scientists together in each other’s labs.

“This is a big deal because it’s difficult for any single institution to have every piece of equipment our faculty and students might want to use,” Sabb said. “This allows our faculty to have easier access to services and equipment that exist elsewhere in the state. It reduces the barriers, makes it cheaper, gives them more opportunities and enhances collaborations.”

At the UO, one such facility that is already in demand statewide and beyond is the Center for Advanced Materials Characterization in Oregon, also known as CAMCOR. The center is home to highly specialized labs and equipment that are prohibitively expensive to purchase by individual faculty members, not to mention the highly qualified staff that run the facility.

“We’re already having conversations; how can we find ways to complement instead of compete?” Sabb added. “If research investment and activity is happening, let’s make sure that investment stays in the state of Oregon.”

The other key element of the agreements, one that aims to strengthen collaboration among researchers, is providing a unified understanding about sharing intellectual property developed by a scientist who may be employed by more than one university, or between scientists collaborating among the state universities.

Historically, concerns about ownership of intellectual property had the potential to dampen enthusiasm for research collaborations across campuses. But the new agreements address those concerns.

“The state of Oregon is fortunate to have technology transfer offices that have worked closely together for over 10 years,” said Chuck Williams, the UO’s associate vice president for innovation. “Our support of research collaborations between our institutions is longstanding, and we are positioned for even greater opportunities as the Knight Campus engages our sister institutions in enhancing Oregon’s innovation ecosystem.”

University leaders say the agreements will ease the ability of scientists to work together to advance scientific discovery, rather than each institution attempting to go it alone, and mark the latest milestone in a longstanding effort to improve collaboration.

“Oregon is a small state,” said Peter Barr-Gillespie, OHSU executive vice president and chief research officer. “We believe the collaborative model will work better to generate new discoveries and products because it enables our scientists to draw on the combined strengths of all of our institutions.”

By Jim Murez, University Communications