Tuesday, April 2, 2002

University of Hawaii

3 UH research units
backed for possible
economic payoffs

By Helen Altonn

Three University of Hawaii research units have outstanding faculty and programs that could have greater economic payoffs with increased administration support and resources, review committees have reported.

The Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, the Institute for Astronomy and the Pacific Biomedical Research Center were visited by separate committees, each with three scientists from prominent mainland institutions.

"In the past, these reviews would just get put on the shelf and reported to the Board of Regents, saying HIGP, for example, was reviewed this year," said Edward A. Laws, interim vice chancellor for research and graduate studies at the University of Hawaii.

This time, he said, he and interim Chancellor Deane Neubauer met with HIGP Director Klaus Keil and Institute for Astronomy Director Rolf-Peter Kudritzki and "agreed the follow-up to those reviews has got to involve more than just telling the Board of Regents the programs were reviewed."

He said the biomedical research center is in a different situation because of a potential move into the new John A. Burns School of Medicine planned at Kakaako.

Laws said Neubauer stressed to both Keil and Kudritzki that money is limited, but Laws added: "There are certainly recommendations for IFA and HIGP that could be implemented without spending a dime.

"Those we probably are going ahead with. They relate to faculty morale, creating opportunities, knocking down barriers, people concerned about tenure, job security and maybe access to facilities. We're working with the directors to try to respond to the concerns the best we can, given the restraints ... things that don't involve money."

Laws said the administration wants to build on the HIGP's expertise and is looking to more collaboration between it and IFA. An undergraduate degree in astronomy will be considered, he said, noting "astronomers do a lot of teaching, which people don't realize."

Among highlights of the reviews:

The HIGP was described as "a world-class research institute that brings international recognition to the University of Hawaii as an enterprise of excellence and accomplishment.

"The committee unreservedly complements the director and faculty ... for the quality and magnitude of their research accomplishments."

The institute excels in studies of volcanoes, seismology, remote sensing, sea floor mapping, global tectonics, extraterrestrial materials and planetary exploration, among other specialties, the committee said.

It recommends:

>> Continued investments of UH resources in faculty, staff salaries and facilities to maintain competitiveness, which "will assuredly be repaid many times over by the resulting increase in federal research funding."

>> Overhaul of the system of rewards and recognition of faculty to encourage new programs and retain "the many 'stars'" on the faculty.

>> Increased efforts to tell the Legislature, business community and public about benefits of the research to the state.

Scientists who looked at the IFA and its facilities on Oahu, Maui and the Big Island said the research program "is clearly excellent, and we believe that it ranks in the top 10 astronomy programs nationally by almost any measure."

In some areas, such as instrumentation development and planetary science, the IFA is one of the top three or four institutions nationally, the group said.

It said "a more collegial atmosphere" would significantly enhance productivity, and the director and staff are working on that. The theory group also is too small to support the observational programs adequately, the committee said.

The panel said new astronomy projects being discussed are "innovative and impressive," but "for the IFA to become a true national and international leader, it must become proactive ... and a major partner in the creative activity."

The committee was impressed with facilities for developing instruments, especially at the Hilo facility, "which we believe has the potential to become one of the premier centers in the world for large telescope astronomical instrumentation development."

Manoa should continue to be the main IFA campus, but the university should provide resources to make the Hilo facility productive and possibly self-sustaining, the report said.

The group noted that the IFA lost its role as a leader in development of astronomical adaptive optics when key people left, but said it has "one of the world's premier panoramic detector programs ... an extremely powerful asset, and spills over into the technological and industrial base for the state of Hawaii as a whole."

The panel examining the Pacific Biomedical Research Center recognized "the remarkable role" of the late Fred Greenwood, PBRC director for 27 years, in developing an impressive research group. It recommends creating a "Greenwood Endowed Chair for Pacific Biomedical Research."

The committee praised the high quality of the faculty and their research, particularly related to diverse Pacific resources and populations. It said UH "is in an enviable position for biotechnology opportunities based on this local genomic treasure trove."

The group expressed surprise that PBRC, now headed by Martin Rayner, is not well integrated into graduate education "given the excellence of the researchers and the obvious reciprocal advantage that graduate students and postdoctoral fellows bring to research teams."

The center should be restructured and integrated with the medical school and other biomedical research entities, which would provide new opportunities for biomedical research, education and mentoring at UH, the committee said.

The PBRC, and the UH as a whole, also need to re-evaluate how its technology is transferred, the committee added.

University of Hawaii

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