major driving force behind the technology transfer program is that it is proactive, managed by an individual with industrial experience, located in the center, and not managed as a adjunct activity by lawyers hidden away in one of the university's many bureaucracies. The expectation of the education program is that it goes beyond the traditional university programs by introducing students to the systems approach to projects. More recently, the production of exemplary instructional materials has been incorporated into the NSF's ERC expectations.

All ERCs are exhaustively and seemingly continuously evaluated. The NSF performs an annual site visit with five to seven external reviewers, who typically produce a 7- to 14-page review. Critical reviews for continuance occur during years three and six. Several ERCs have been terminated as a result of an unsatisfactory third-year review.

In addition, the agreement with the NSF calls for an annual report containing substantial amounts of detailed data that consumes the equivalent of one full-time staff person per year to compile. Because an ERC's operation involves handling millions of dollars from the federal government, the University of Minnesota, and member companies, the activity attracts auditors like vultures to prey. Dealing with the expectations of companies and simultaneously with the rules and regulations of two major bureaucratic organizations requires a sophisticated and highly skilled staff. The costs of running an ERC properly are not trivial.

Organization and Operation

As shown in the organizational chart in Figure 4.1, CIE has four research programs, each under the leadership of a professor. Associated with each of these programs is a technical advisory committee that meets twice a year with faculty to review progress and suggest new research challenges and directions. All research projects at the CIE are nonproprietary in nature.

A major focus in the center has been the development of a Characterization Facility that currently contains over $7 million of high-level research instrumentation. This facility has become a major research resource for the university and was used last year by 400 university and faculty personnel and by 120 companies. The annual operating budget of the facility is $700,000 and is obtained from instrument-user fees. These funds cover the salaries of the facility personnel and service contracts on the equipment.

As part of establishing a new discipline, the center sponsored the publication of six textbooks in a series entitled ''Advances in Interfacial Engineering."1 More than 10,000 copies of these books have been sold. In addition, the center has developed several series of computer-based instructional modules in interfacial engineering, fluid mechanics, and thermodynamics. The university has licensed these to a private company for distribution.

The magnitude of the operation is perhaps best depicted in terms of the statistics applicable to our recently completed tenth year of operation (see Box 4.1).

University-Industry Partnership

There are two main membership categories:

  • Sponsors, who pay $80,000 per year and are involved in all of the research programs, and

1  

Advances in Interfacial Engineering (New York: John Wiley, Inc., 1992–1999).



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