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August 12, 2015 12:00 AM

Academies Bestow Honors on the Director of The Linde Institute

The 2015 elections of Mory Gharib, Director of Caltech’s Ronald and Maxine Linde Institute of Economic and Management Sciences; Hans W. Liepmann Professor of Aeronautics and Bioinspired Engineering; and Vice Provost, to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (American Academy) and the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) are two recent accomplishments in his storied career in academia and business.  The Caltech news article “Spotlight on Inventing” summarized Gharib’s work in this way:

"Advancing innovation and the transfer of new technologies and ideas to society and industry is both a personal and professional passion for Gharib. The holder of nearly 100 patents, he leads a research group at Caltech that studies examples from the natural world—fins, wings, blood vessels, embryonic structures, and entire organisms—to gain inspiration for inventions that have practical uses in power generation, drug delivery, dentistry, and more. As vice provost, he also oversees Caltech's Office of Technology Transfer and Corporate Partnerships. OTT plays an instrumental role in helping Caltech's researchers commercially realize their ideas, making sure that their work is protected, patented, and licensed along the way. As of the close of fiscal year 2014, Caltech managed more than 1,700 active U.S. patents. Since the office was established in 1995, its staff has helped launch more than 150 start-up companies."

Gharib’s accomplishments extend well beyond the world of academia, though, as he has considerable experience as an entrepreneur, helping to launch and establish many different startups over the years.  He cofounded Glaukos Corporation, which develops products and procedures for the treatment of glaucoma, and was also named to the Wall Street Journal’s “Next Big Thing” list of top venture-backed companies in 2011 and 2013.  Gharib also founded Arges Imaging in 2008, later acquired by Sirona, to commercialize a 3-D imaging device for use in dentistry; Folda, LLC, to develop stent and heart valve technologies; and VioSense Corporation to market laser sensor technologies for research and industrial applications.

In 2008, R&D Magazine recognized Gharib’s Volumetric 3-Component Velocimetry Video (V3V) system as a "significant new technology from the past year" when the publication recognized Caltech-licensee TSI, Inc., as one of its R&D 100 Award winners.   The V3V is a 3D camera with a vast array of possibilities, ranging from 3-D movement tracking for rehabilitation to underwater surveillance.  Gharib described the R&D Award as “recognition that basic research can have a by-product for society.” 

More recently, Gharib has published articles and spoken publicly about the role patents, licensing, and commercialization activity should play in decisions for faculty merit, tenure, and career advancement.  He coauthored the article, "Changing the academic culture: Valuing patents and commercialization toward tenure and career advancement", which published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in 2014.  In the piece, the authors point out that while there is near universal recognition of the importance of innovation, technology transfer, and entrepreneurship for sustained economic revival, industrial research laboratories in the United States are also on the decline. As a result, research universities are expected to fill in through technology transfer from their discoveries, innovations, and inventions.  The authors take the position that to encourage innovation, universities should expand their criteria for merit, tenure, and career advancement to consider technology-transfer accomplishments along with the traditional criteria of publishing, teaching, and service. 

Caltech News interviewed Gharib about the PNAS paper and the panel at the 2013 Annual Conference of the National Academy of Inventors that preceded it, entitled “Would Thomas Edison Receive Tenure?” (The interview is available here.)  In it, on the question of how one creates an atmosphere for entrepreneurship, Gharib responded:

"Entrepreneurship is not just about monetary gains; it's a lifestyle: to be bold, to be fearless in tackling the toughest science and engineering issues that industry and our culture as a whole face. Caltech wants to instill in its students a mentality of taking risks, questioning everything, not being afraid that you're wrong. These are the elements that make a dynamic research group, and a group like that will be productive, regardless of whether that is through basic science, published papers, patents, inventions, or start-up companies.

In fact, these research groups have a lot in common with start-up companies themselves. There's just a lot of dynamism and adrenaline, ideas always popping. Some of the research groups here at Caltech are like a pack of lionesses, hunting down their research prey. If something commercial comes out of it, good. If not, it will still impact other aspects of science and technology. This may not bring a penny back to us, but it's our social contribution, and we're happy with it.

We're never going to encourage faculty to drop basic research at the expense of making patents, but then we don't see those two undertakings as exclusive. They're really inclusive. The most productive faculty in patent innovation—not only at Caltech, but at other universities too—are also the most productive in terms of the papers they publish."

With his recent elections, the American Academy and the NAE have recognized Gharib’s accomplishments not just in basic research, but also for how the work that he has done has benefited our society overall. The Ronald and Maxine Linde Institute of Economic and Management Sciences is fortunate to have Gharib at its helm.