Keeping an Eye on the Georgia Coast

September 21, 2010 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

Walter Jones of the Morris News Service recently took a look at the influence of the Georgia Research Alliance across the state.   His article below shows how some targeted investments can make a big difference.

Georgia Research Alliance helps keep science funded in the state

By funding research in the state, it helps those efforts find more funds.

Posted: September 19, 2010 – 11:16pm

By Walter C. Jones

ATLANTA – If oil was spewing from an undersea well off the coast of Georgia, the resulting slick would have been tracked by a sophisticated radar system funded by the Georgia Research Alliance.

The money for the high-frequency radar stations on Jekyll Island’s Villas by the Sea condo complex at the north end of the island and on St. Catherines Island is just part of the investment by the Research Alliance in the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, which is based near Savannah. And it’s a fraction of the $2.6 billion the alliance has helped attract to the state in research funding over the last 20 years.

“The GRA has contributed substantially to the development of Skidaway Institute’s high frequency radar capabilities in coastal ocean observations,” said Dana Savidge, the principal scientist on the radar project.

True to the mission of the alliance, the funding is aimed at both practical applications and pure research.

“The ocean continues to be very poorly observed,” Savidge said. “For example, we do not know how material from the land crosses the shelf. It may be organic. It may be man made. It may be pollutants. Where does it go and how does it get there? These measurements will help us find out.”

The Research Alliance also funded molecular biology at Skidaway by purchasing a DNA sequencer and other equipment for a classroom and lab. The lab is being used by scientists studying arctic climate change.

Those funds permitted the establishment of a master of science program at Savannah State University. They also prepared the institute to compete nationally for grants that brought in $6 million from out of state, according to Mac Frischer, principal scientist in the lab.

“Skidaway Institute has also built a reputation in marine molecular studies that has attracted many national and international visiting scientists to visit Georgia and the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography,” he said.

Enhancing the reputation of the state’s academic-research institutions like Skidaway, Georgia Tech and Emory University is a major reason the Research Alliance was created.

Boost for the state

Twenty years ago, 17 of the state’s most prominent businessmen agreed to raise money for academic research. Their goal was to boost the state economy by building up intellectual capital and fostering the transfer of breakthroughs from the campus lab to the market place.

The businessmen shared their idea with the candidates for governor that year, and the winner, Zell Miller, made it the centerpiece of his economic-recovery strategy in office.

What resulted became the Georgia Research Alliance. In partnership with the state, it has recruited to Georgia campuses 60 of the country’s most eminent scholars, who have won $2.6 billion in federal and private grants. Their discoveries have benefited more than 100 companies and led to the creation of at least 150 start-up companies and 5,500 high-tech jobs, according to the alliance’s own tally.

By funding early research and young startups, the alliance helps those efforts attract other funding, according to alliance President Michael Cassidy.

“We’re trying to work with each of the universities,” he said. “No. 1, we’re trying to leverage with each other … looking at some glowing embers and throwing some gas on them.”

Looking forward, the alliance is developing videoconferencing for researchers across the state to talk with one another, an online database of their discoveries and a research campus on the site of an abandoned military base near Atlanta’s airport.

walter.jones@morris.com, (404) 589-8424

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Commentary: GRA Pioneers New Paradigm A 200:1 Return

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