"SO" a precision instruments maker Fujikin's magazine published an interview with Dr. Robert Baughman, Executive Vice President (Office for Sustainable Development of Okinawa) & Vice-CEO, and Ms. Lauren Bic Ha, Associate Vice President (Office for Sustainable Development of Okinawa).
Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST)
- A New Global Hub of Intelligence
OIST, located on a hill in the central part of mainland Okinawa overlooking the East China Sea, is a new global hub of intelligence. We interviewed two key persons asking about the features of OIST and their approaches for technology transfer in the Office for Sustainable Development of Okinawa, which is one of OIST missions.
Interview with Dr. Robert Baughman, Executive Vice President (Office for Sustainable Development of Okinawa) & Vice-CEO, and Ms. Lauren Bic Ha, Associate Vice President (Office for Sustainable Development of Okinawa)
Aiming for World-Class Education and Research
Q: Please tell us the features of OIST.
Dr. Baughman: OIST is a new graduate university established in 2011. We provide a single five year Ph.D. course, aiming to conduct world-class research and education under the best faculty and researchers from around the world. In September 2012, the first class of students enrolled in the Graduate University.
As for the features of OIST, first, we are highly international, and we use English as the official language for research and education. More than half of the faculty and 80% of the students are non-Japanese. In line with the international standard, OIST’s academic year starts in September.
Another feature is the multidisciplinary environment. OIST covers five major research areas of neuroscience, molecular/cell/developmental biology, mathematical/computational science, environmental/ecological science, and physics/chemistry. The organizational structure and environment are established with minimum walls between different fields of research to promote active exchange and collaboration. For example, common spaces are provided in the labs, and facilities are carefully designed to promote such environment. In addition, major state-of-the-art instruments are installed as shared equipment, leading to further exchange and collaboration.
In the first year of the Ph.D. program, all students will undertake three lab rotations. At least one of the rotations must be outside the specific field of the student’s studies. Through this, the students gain experience working in areas other than their expertise, and lean to communicate with researchers of different fields.
The third feature is the high independence of our faculty. Even young faculty members run their own research unit. They will develop their research plan, manage staffing and budget on their own, without having instructions from senior members.
Highly Evaluated from External Panel
Q: Four years have passed since the inauguration of OIST, and how would you describe the achievements during this period?
Dr. Baughman: OIST relies on evaluation by external specialists involved in different levels of operation, which is another feature of OIST.
From June to August last year (2015), an external Peer Review was conducted to evaluate various aspects of education, research, and operation. The Panel was comprised of six distinguished reviewers, including former University presidents and Nobel Laureate.
The conclusion reached by the Panel through reviewing vast amount of materials and three-day site inspection was as in the following;
“The Panel is happy to state that progress across all key measures of excellence has been outstanding. In these measures, OIST is on a par with the 25 universities ranked highest around the world.”
OIST’s research programs were initially launched in 2005 by OIST as an Independent Administrative Corporation, and has been expanding since then. The research projects are already established at quite a high level. OIST’s academic program has also been developing steadily in the four years since the establishment of the Graduate University.
Accelerating Patent Strategies and Technical Transfer
Q: How OIST will contribute to the development of Okinawa.
Dr. Baughman: OIST’s mission is to conduct internationally outstanding education and research in science and technology, and thus contribute to the sustainable development of Okinawa, and promote and sustain the advancement of science and technology in Japan and throughout the world.
In order to contribute to the sustainable development of Okinawa, it is important for OIST to produce world class intellectual properties and to promptly realize technology transfer. In addition, we need to promote joint research projects and start-up corporations through collaboration with industries.
Ms. Ha: OIST’s Technology Licensing Section (TLS) provides support from invention, patent application, marketing to licensing agreement.
At OIST, when an invention is disclosed by a researcher, TLS will review the invention comprehensively, which includes an external evaluation, before moving on to patent application. For patenting, we first submit a provisional application to the US Patent Agency. It is easier to file a provisional application, thus the intellectual right can be protected promptly. Then, the provisional application will be followed by PCT application (International Patent Application), for patent registration in respective countries, such as Europe, US, and Japan.
Q: Would you tell us what concrete measures you take to promote technology licensing?
Ms. Ha: One of our major approaches is “POC (Proof of Concept) program” launched in 2015. There are technical and financial gaps between research invention at OIST and commercialization of such invention. POC plays a role to bridge this gap to promote commercialization. It provides competitive, short term funding to carry out focused experiments, and opportunities for researchers to develop their professional and technology skills through guidance by external experts. Selection of the projects is made through external review by experts. In 2015, five projects were selected.
Business Development Rooted in Okinawa
Q: Would you mention distinctive achievements of collaboration with industry?
Dr. Baughman: The Business Development Section at OIST is in charge of promoting collaboration with industry and start-up businesses. One example is the joint research started this year with Misawa Home Institute of Research and Development Co., Ltd. This project aims to realize an eco-friendly house that runs on sustainable energy and is comfortable in hot and humid regions such as Okinawa and South East Asia. This research particularly benefits from the climate and environment specific to Okinawa. An experimental house was built in OIST campus in March 2016.
Aiming at effective use of renewable energy, OIST has been working jointly with institutes such as the Sony Computer Science Institute, to develop an Open Energy System that employs a distributed DC grid architecture.
In addition, the first OIST venture company, Okinawa Protein Tomography was launched in July 2014, and we have been actively promoting start-up businesses through fostering entrepreneurship.
The Future of OIST
Q: How do you expect OIST to develop in the future?
Dr. Baughman: First we would like to expand in scale. In the coming five to seven years, we are planning to double the number of faculty to 100. In the future, we would like to increase the number up to 300.
At the same time, we are aiming to be among the top 25 universities in the world through further advancing our education and research.
Our dream toward the future is to develop an R&D cluster in Ryukyu Islands with OIST as its center. By this, we believe OIST’s contribution to Okinawa’s sustainable development will be further enhanced. In addition, we expect that OIST graduates will be active in the world, bringing positive impacts to Okinawa.
Dr. Robert Baughman:
Ph. D. of Chemistry Department, Harvard University (1974), Director of Program in Neuroscience, Harvard Medical School (1990), Director of Division of Fundamental Neuroscience and Developmental Disorders, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes (NINDS) (1995), Associate Director of Technology Development, NINDS (1999), Vice President and Executive Director, OIST Promotion Corporation (2007), Provost and Vice-CEO, OIST (2011), Executive Vice President of OIST (2014)
Ms. Lauren Bic Ha
Born in Saigon, Vietnam, BSc from South Carolina University (Biological Science), After working at Harvard Medical School Massachusetts General Hospital Molecular Biology Department, worked with Prof. Sydney Brenner for the establishment of Institute of Molecular Science, University of California, Berkeley and became the Vice Director of the same. She then established a start-up corporation for biotechnology, working on fund procurement, providing advice for business planning, etc. Currently as the Associate Vice President in the Office for Sustainable Development of Okinawa, she is in charge of technical development, intellectual properties, coordination between industry and academia, and license agreement.