New endowed chair at The University of Akron boosts region’s role in innovation – Knight Foundation
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New endowed chair at The University of Akron boosts region’s role in innovation

Eric J. Amis, Ph.D., is the vice provost for research at The University of Akron and dean of the College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering. Knight Foundation is supporting the establishment of an endowed chair at the college in honor of Dr. W. Gerald Austen, who served on Knight’s board of trustees for 24 years and as chair for 14 years. 

In the 1890s research in Akron helped revolutionize transportation.

In the 1940s the synthetic rubber research done by our polymer scientists was considered second only to the Manhattan Project in importance to the war effort.

In the 1980s we established a distinct college focused on polymer research that helped grow the diverse polymer industry in Ohio and established our international reputation.

In the 2000s research in polymeric biomaterials at The University of Akron is replacing “sticks and stones” with next generation materials for the treatment of injury and disease.

Now today we have announced that Matthew Becker, Ph.D., professor of polymer science, has been named the first holder of the new W. Gerald Austen Endowed Chair in Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering at The University of Akron, created with a $3 million gift from Knight Foundation.

Matthew Becker, Ph.D., professor of polymer science, has been named the first holder of the new W. Gerald Austen Endowed Chair in Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering at The University of Akron. Photo courtesy The University of Akron.

Becker’s Laboratory for Functional Biomaterials develops biodegradable polymers for medical applications. One simple but game-changing application is a polymer tube designed to replace sections of arm and leg bones destroyed by injuries or removed in surgery. This special polymer “scaffold” spurs bone regrowth and then disappears over time, leaving healthy, new bone. Early trials show the polymer tube allows bone replacement in four months. Recent advances may reduce healing to only eight weeks.

One of the key aspects of Becker’s group is the way it integrates research from medicine, chemistry and engineering, as well as polymer science. Similar cross-disciplinary collaboration is found in other programs that touch polymers at The University of Akron including biomimicry and advanced manufacturing.

The Austen Endowed Chair supports ground-breaking research and contributes to Akron’s reputation as a destination for talented scientists and engineers who want to work on advanced materials with medical applications. Silicon Valley, North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park and other research hotspots demonstrate the importance of gathering creative minds to spur discovery and innovation. This significant support from Knight Foundation further enhances the international reputation of the College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering and increases its ability to attract even more researchers from around the world to Northeast Ohio.

In addition to conducting fundamental research, our region with its history of entrepreneurial innovation is uniquely positioned to commercialize it. Ohio already is home to America’s largest polymer industry cluster, and the Northeast Ohio corridor has a well-earned reputation for advancing medical science.

W. Gerald Austen, M.D., former chair of the board of trustees, Knight Foundation.

In naming this chair for Dr. Austen, a renowned cardiac and thoracic surgeon, clinical investigator and co-inventor of the open-heart surgery bypass machine, Knight Foundation sends a clear message of the importance it places on innovation and applied research in medicine.

Dr. Austen was a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Medical School, and served as surgeon-in-chief of Massachusetts General Hospital from 1969 -1997. He was the personal physician and longtime friend of Jack and James Knight, the brothers who founded Knight Foundation, and he served on the foundation’s board for 24 years, including 14 years as its chair. He was a driving force in the creation of the Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron. A member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Austen has long championed the role of research in the development of biomedical innovations.

We are grateful to Knight Foundation for joining us in the quest to move medical marvels from the pages of science fiction to the world of clinical reality.

Eric J. Amis can be reached via email at [email protected]. For more about the College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering at The University of Akron, visit uakron.edu/cpspe

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