Juan de Pablo

(Photo courtesy Office of Research and National Laboratories)

Partnering for innovation

New initiatives bring together science, innovation, national laboratories, and global initiatives.

As executive vice president for science, innovation, national laboratories, and global initiatives, I have had the unique opportunity to lead our efforts to create new initiatives and partnerships involving collaborators with a broad range of backgrounds and areas of expertise, all with the common goal of amplifying the University’s impact, as well as that of our partners. This year our office launched a number of programs that are already starting to bear fruit.

At the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, we apply world-class expertise from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business to bring new ideas and breakthrough research to market. By working with faculty across the University, we seek to translate our university’s discoveries into new products and services that help others. We support students, alumni, faculty, staff, and South Side community members without a UChicago affiliation to turn their ideas into scalable businesses.

Last year our office launched Duality, the first US start-up accelerator exclusively focused on supporting early-stage quantum companies. A partnership with the Polsky Center, Chicago Quantum Exchange, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Argonne National Laboratory, and Chicago nonprofit P33, Duality is representative of our efforts to forge vibrant partnerships that build on regional strengths to improve our intellectual and entrepreneurial ecosystem. The six companies in Duality’s first cohort have already made headlines with new funding, milestones, and awards, and the second cohort will be announced this spring.

Prototype for Success, launched through a partnership between the Polsky Center, Career Advancement, the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, and the College, is designed to prepare UChicago undergraduates for careers in emerging technology. The competitive program is open to all incoming first-years and encourages applications from Black, Hispanic, and women students, who are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM disciplines).

Our office is also responsible for the two US Department of Energy national laboratories operated and managed by UChicago: Argonne and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. Through the UChicago Joint Task Force Initiative, or JTFI, we support research and many new initiatives that bring to the fore the talent, creativity, and scale of the University and the labs’ combined efforts. This year alone, JTFI seed grant programs have supported collaborative research in quantum sciences, artificial intelligence, sustainability, medical radioisotopes, and energy and climate. On the talent development front, a JTFI postdoctoral fellowship program developed by Fermilab and UChicago will support innovative research and seek to increase the diversity of Fermilab researchers working on fundamental questions of matter and energy.

The Polsky Center works closely with the national labs, as two newly launched programs serve to highlight. The Lab Innovation Fellows program supports individual researchers at Argonne and Fermilab in exploring commercialization paths for technologies, empowering the fellows to think about how their innovations could eventually benefit society and industries outside of the lab. The Strategic Program for Innovation at the National Laboratories promotes entrepreneurial thinking at the labs. In classes taught by UChicago and Chicago Booth faculty, industry experts, scientists, and staff, participants develop an entrepreneurial mindset, skills, and strategies that can be applied to all aspects of their careers.

This work is not confined to Chicago. Our office just hosted two exclusive workshops at the UChicago Center in Paris focused on quantum science, engineering, and innovation, and on materials for energy and sustainability. The goal is to connect the University with European industry leaders to foster collaboration among experts in areas of innovation that are critical to our future. And this summer we and Chicago Booth will host two workshops in London in the areas of entrepreneurship in artificial intelligence and data science, and in quantum information sciences.

We are excited about these initiatives and hope many of you will get involved with innovation at UChicago.

Juan de Pablo is the executive vice president for science, innovation, national laboratories, and global initiatives and Liew Family Professor of Molecular Engineering, Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering