Texas Universities Becoming Known for Research
Several Texas universities are involved in major research projects.
One of the biggest research achievements in recent times at the University of Texas at Austin is the hiring of Robert Metcalfe.
Metcalfe is an electrical engineer who co-invented the Ethernet and founded 3Com, and in January 2011, was hired as professor of electrical engineering and director of innovation at UT-Austin. Today, Metcalfe is heading innovation initiatives at the university’s Cockrell School of Engineering.
“UT-Austin wants to take the next step toward being a great research and innovation university, and hiring Bob Metcalfe certainly helps,” says Gregory Fenves, dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering. “We are attracting top research faculty in engineering and science who are developing new products and new processes, so that student engineers leave our research labs with ideas to take to companies for entrepreneurial efforts.”
Fenves says UT-Austin is concentrating much of its current research efforts in three main areas: energy, health care and advanced manufacturing..
“Energy research includes developing a better manufacturing process for shale gas and oil through sophisticated physics, petro-physics, engineering, imaging, automation, robotics and controls,” he says. “In health care, we have a biomedical engineering department for innovation and advancements in cancer and cardiac medicine, and a new medical school is being developed. For advanced manufacturing, the state of Texas wants cost effective, high-tech manufacturing and nanomanufacturing, and UT-Austin looks to take the lead.”
Big Money on Research
Research is a major initiative at many Texas universities, with efforts to develop advancements across a gamut of industries that range from electronics and life sciences to aerospace and energy. Developing skilled workers for the high-tech future is not a problem because total enrollment at Texas’ higher education institutions is more than 1.45 million, with the major university systems being UT, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Texas State, University of Houston and University of North Texas.
Universities in Texas today are spending big money on research. Texas A&M reported research and development expenditures of more than $706 million in fiscal 2011, while UT-Austin spent $632 million. UT, A&M and the University of Houston have all been designated Tier 1 research universities by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the top designation for academic research institutions.
A Wind-Wind Situation
Texas Tech University is also making major strides to become one of the top research universities not only in Texas, but the entire United States and the world. One of the key projects at TTU is in wind exploration, and the university has constructed research wind turbines at the former Reese Air Force Base just west of Lubbock.
“Mechanical engineers are studying turbine gears, turbulence and materials, while atmospheric scientists are studying the wind itself through a variety of mechanisms,” says Michael San Francisco, interim vice president for research and professor of biological sciences at Texas Tech University. “A number of companies from around the country are also on site to observe our research, plus the U.S. Department of Energy has people visiting us at Texas Tech. Our wind studies have also attracted interested dignitaries from South Korea and Europe.”
San Francisco adds that the research is invaluable to Texas Tech engineering students because they are involved in both education and actual commercial interests.
“Besides mechanical engineers and atmospheric scientists, there are also electrical engineers studying how batteries can store more energy during periods of low use, such as at night,” he says. “In addition, there are people researching better ways to efficiently distribute wind energy, and there is also the cyber-security component to make sure the energy is safe and nonhackable.”
San Francisco credits the Texas Emerging Technology Fund for providing much of the money needed to spearhead and research the wind exploration project.
“The Technology Fund has allowed us to hire top faculty in this field from around the world,” he says. “It’s exciting to be involved in a project that can benefit the whole world.”