Georgia Tech engineer to lead UO’s Knight campus project

November 21, 2017 GMT

After an 11-month search, the University of Oregon has chosen Robert Guldberg, a biomedical engineer and college administrator from Georgia Tech, as the executive director of its $1 billion Knight science campus project.

Guldberg will start at the university next fall, taking over from UO biology professor Patrick Phillips, who has led the project in its early stages.

Guldberg’s starting salary will be $550,000 a year.

Guldberg, 50, is the executive director of Georgia Tech’s institute of bioengineering and bioscience, a position he has held since 2009. His research there has focused on musculoskeletal growth and development and degenerative diseases, such as osteoarthritis and osteoporosis.

Guldberg also has worked with the U.S. military on muscle regeneration strategies to restore function to soldiers’ damaged limbs — research that has partnered him with a doctor from Oregon Health & Science University.

A committee of UO administrators, science professors and the head of OHSU’s Knight Cancer Institute selected Guldberg after an international search that began in January.

Guldberg, who has been at Georgia Tech since 1996, said the focus on “convergence science” for the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact was an attraction for him. That refers to scientists from different disciplines working cooperatively “to try to solve complex problems.”

“The uniqueness of the vision is what caught my eye,” Guldberg said in an interview. “At a time of uncertain federal support for university research, these types of public-private partnerships have never been more important.”

University officials said Guldberg will be a good fit with the Knight campus’ goal of quickly turning scientific research into practical applications in society.

UO President Michael Schill said Guldberg’s “ability to effect change” is “really impressive.”

“Bob describes himself as an engineer who speaks many different ’languages’ — engineering, biology, entrepreneurship and the like,” Schill said in a written statement. “This fluency is just what we need for the Knight campus.”

For example, Guldberg collaborated in recent years with a startup company on a porous plastic implant used in spinal fusion surgeries. That company, Vertera Spine, was bought by a major medical device manufacturer, NuVasive, in September.

The $1 billion Knight campus project is underwritten by a $500 million gift over 10 years from Nike co-founder Phil Knight and his wife, Penny, that was announced last fall.

The rest will be raised through private philanthropy. The state of Oregon is being asked to contribute $100 million, of which $50 million was approved by the Legislature earlier this year.

Money for the project will be put in an endowment that initially will fund the construction costs of the campus and then cover its ongoing staff salary costs.

During the next decade, the university plans to hire 30 researchers and create 750 total new jobs.

Construction on the first $225 million phase of the project, along Franklin Boulevard, will begin in February. The 160,000-square-foot building is expected to open in 2020.

Once he starts work next fall, Guldberg said his focus will be on recruiting staff and forging partnerships with scientists at Oregon’s other major public universities, OHSU and Oregon State University.

“Building teams can deliver huge benefits,” he said. “It makes you competitive for these large federal (research) funding initiatives.”

Guldberg’s wife, Tina, also will be hired by the UO in an administrative role similar to the one she holds at Georgia Tech. But their two children will remain at the school, where they are both students.

Follow Saul Hubbard on Twitter @SaulAHubbard . Email saul.hubbard@registerguard.com .