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Commitment to Community

With successes such as Qualcomm Inc., Cymer Inc. and San Diego’s biotechnology cluster, UC San Diego has been an economic catalyst and a job generator for the past 52 years.

Pradeep Khosla wants to extend that streak.

Khosla is the university’s new chancellor. He took the top job at the campus in August, coming from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he was dean of engineering. A long academic career has given him exposure to startup companies and venture capital.

The chancellor said recently that he wants UC San Diego and its stakeholders to pause, reflect on the campus’ direction and ask some hard questions.

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Khosla has been creating a strategic plan for the university, meeting with various constituencies in several regions of San Diego County for town hall-style meetings. A list of future meetings is available online at http://plan.ucsd.edu.

Center for Innovation

How does one maintain UC San Diego’s status as a center for innovation?

It is important, Khosla says, to maintain “an environment where faculty can think deep thoughts.” Also important is the ability to execute with funding from both the federal government and industry.

State funding hires the faculty; federal funds support research, Khosla said. And the university may be at a crossroads.

In the university’s lifetime, state funding has grown to $240 million. “I don’t see this budget getting much more,” Khosla said.

Federal spending for basic research could easily be cut by 8 to 10 percent if federal officials don’t find a way to avoid sequestration, the threatened across-the-board federal spending cuts. Currently UC San Diego receives more than $1 billion in federal research funds yearly, said a campus spokesman.

UC San Diego takes credit for fueling entire industries in the San Diego region.

San Diego employment in biotechnology and biomedical devices has grown from about 20,000 in 1991 to 34,600 in 2010. The region’s information and communication technology sector has grown from 44,700 employees to slightly more than 72,000. The environmental technology and clean-tech sector has grown from 3,200 people to almost 8,000 in that same period, according to UC San Diego statistics.

UC San Diego faculty, staff and alumni have started 646 companies, the university said. Of those, 156 are still active. They range from the large (Life Technologies Corp. and ViaSat Inc.) to the small (Mushroom Networks and Muttropolis LLC).

Those companies had annual sales of $15.3 billion and directly employed 18,400 people, the university said. Total economic impact of those companies is estimated to exceed $20 billion.

At the Root

At the root of it all is research.

Khosla said World War II was a turning point for research. The push to win the war brought a government R&D effort that created technologies such as radar, or the machine shop with early versions of numerically controlled

machines.

After the war, there was a push to transfer that government-created technology to the private sector for the good of society and humanity.

What is needed today, the chancellor said, is “a culture of collaboration and problem solving for the benefit of society.”

Don’t Divide Disciplines

Many projects will require researchers to cross the dividing lines between academic disciplines, he said.

UC San Diego does that already, said a campus spokesman. Consider, he said, that engineers collaborate with medical scientists to create medical devices, or that the Scripps Institution of Oceanography collaborates with pharmacologists to create new medicine.

There are plenty of problems left to solve, Khosla said, including improving power sources such as solar cells and biofuels. Society needs to find cleaner ways to burn coal and gas, the chancellor said.

Khosla also noted that various disciplines approach problems from different angles. In the effort to create algae-based fuels, for example, researchers can experiment with algae farming methods. Or they can “play with genetics” in an effort to get individual cells to produce more oil.

Khosla’s background is in electrical and computer engineering. He has also done work in robotics. In the mid-1990s, he served as a program manager for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, which is the Pentagon’s research arm.

He received his bachelor’s degree from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur, near Kolkata (or Calcutta) in the eastern portion of India. He received his master’s degree and doctorate from Carnegie Mellon.

He can look over UC San Diego’s patent portfolio with a seasoned engineer’s eye.

UC San Diego is “a generator of ideas,” Khosla said. The campus has a portfolio of more than 1,600 patents and claims more than 2,600 active innovations. Some are right for the market.

Transferring that technology from the lab to the world must be “a seamless and painless process,” the chancellor asserted.

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