U to receive $17 million from Dow Chemical Company

Unique industry partnership will strengthen research and enable building expansion

Every Friday afternoon, University of Minnesota chemical engineering and materials science assistant professor Aditya Bhan and his grad students teleconference with their fellow research team members. But these team members aren’t across campus or at another university across the country; they are top scientists at Dow Chemical Co., one of the biggest chemical companies in the world.

Together, these University and Dow researchers are developing new solutions for using alternative raw materials in the production of various chemicals ultimately used in making plastics, paints, antifreeze, and many other products we use every day.

This research is just one example of several University research teams being funded as part of a new partnership program between Dow and the University of Minnesota. The University will receive nearly $17 million over the next five years through an agreement with Dow designed to encourage research in chemical and materials sciences.

Of that total, almost $2.3 million per year over the next five years will go to chemical engineering and materials science, chemistry, and mechanical engineering researchers in the University of Minnesota’s College of Science and Engineering. Dow also has made a $5 million commitment to help fund a building expansion for Amundson Hall, the home of the highly ranked Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science.

Dow will fund a variety of research projects focused on developing materials used in photovoltaic devices; polymers that target electronic devices, floor coatings, and the delivery of pharmaceuticals; and catalytic compounds that facilitate the transformation of oil and natural gas to feedstock chemicals.

A ‘game changer’ for students and faculty

In sharp contrast to most research grants, the funding from Dow is accompanied by ongoing collaboration. Dow will partner with the school’s graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and faculty researchers, giving them a chance to work directly with Dow scientists. Researchers from Dow and the University meet by telephone each week to discuss the progress of their research, and the researchers will meet in person at least four times a year. Many of the students will also be tapped for internships at the company to give them direct industry experience.

“For Minnesota, the donation and research funding are a game changer,” said Frank Bates, head of the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science in the U’s College of Science and Engineering. “This investment is a real change in the way companies invest in research and work with universities. It’s really about a partnership to work together to meet the needs of both the company and the university while contributing to the greater society.”

Expanding the pipeline

The commitment to the U is part of Dow’s recently announced investment of $25 million per year over 10 years at 11 leading U.S. universities. The funding is meant to strengthen research in traditional scientific fields important to Dow and to the nation’s future. Dow chose the 11 universities for their excellence in science and engineering education and research and their willingness to collaborate with industry.

“This unique and industry-leading investment will support breakthrough technologies and increase collaboration between Dow and key universities, while helping to develop America’s future pipeline of Ph.D.-level talent,” said William F. Banholzer, Ph.D., Dow’s chief technology officer and executive vice president of ventures, new business development and licensing. “It is vital that we support academic research to ensure universities can continue the tradition of excellence in chemical engineering, chemistry and materials science to help address the needs of the industry and of our country.”

Working across disciplines is part of the equation

The Dow gift will further enhance research relationships at the U between— among others—faculty from the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science. A large number of faculty from both departments already have established collaborations.

“At the University of Minnesota we have a uniquely close relationship between chemistry and chemical engineering and materials science that helps bring scientists and engineers together in new ways to solve important problems,” said William Tolman, chair of the Department of Chemistry. “This new investment from Dow will help strengthen that relationship between our departments and drive exciting research forward.”

In addition to the University of Minnesota, the other universities receiving funding from Dow are California Institute of Technology, University of California at Santa Barbara, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Georgia Institute of Technology, Pennsylvania State University, University of Wisconsin, Northwestern University, University of California at Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon University, and University of Michigan.