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A recent gathering of leading researchers and laboratory officials in Washington, D.C., had a distinct Tennessee flair.

The White House Forum on Connecting Regional Innovation Ecosystems to Federal and National Labs was an opportunity for political, educational and scientific leaders to discuss ways that economic growth benefits from research facilities.

UT President Joe DiPietro and UT Knoxville Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement Taylor Eighmy, and officials from Oak Ridge National Laboratory were part of delegation from the state that made up more than ten percent of all attendees, according to Teknovation, a newsletter devoted to technological innovation.

“While the University of Tennessee system is a powerful economic engine in its own right, our partnership with the powerful economic engine of ORNL yields exponentially enhanced impact for both entities that result in hundreds of thousands of jobs, billions of dollars in economic impact, and research advances that enhance opportunity and quality of life throughout Tennessee and beyond,” said UT President Joe DiPietro.

For Eighmy, the event served to highlight the many collaborations between UT and various labs and research centers in the region.

“This was a special opportunity to visit with White House staff and Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, the Department of Energy’s deputy secretary,” said Eighmy. “ORNL was prominently featured as a national lab that is open for business with industry and universities and IACMI—our new Composites Institute—was shared as one such exemplary collaboration.”

Government statistics bear out the importance of programs like the Composites Institute.

According to those figures, more than half of the total increase in U.S. productivity between 1948 and 2012 came from innovation and advancements in technology made by such facilities.

In addition to the Composites Institute, the White House highlighted the impact of research programs including:

  • ORNL, which uses the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility and the Small Business Voucher Program to actively help businesses improve their supply chains through collaborative research and development and to provide small businesses access to labs and experts.
  • The Air Force Research Laboratory, whose entrepreneurship-opportunity program encourages and allows experts at the facility to conduct research outside the auspices of the lab.
  • NASA’s Glenn Research Center, whose industry workshops help bring together members of the automotive industry with municipalities for the sake of improving transportation and job opportunities.
  • NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which has worked with several California universities to provide better access to funds for small businesses and business incubators.

UT was also represented by joint UT-ORNL Governor’s Chair for Advanced Manufacturing Suresh Babu of the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Biomedical Engineering, Center for Industrial Services Economic Development Team Leader Beth Phillips, and the center’s Solutions Consultant Dwaine Raper.

ORNL Director Thom Mason and IACMI CEO Craig Blue were other prominent Tennesseans at the event.

While the presence of so many Tennesseans highlights the importance of the state to the research, a number of developments in 2015 help highlight the importance of that research to the state’s flagship university.

In addition to IACMI, UT has taken on research endeavors with The Ohio State University’s Manufacturing and Materials Joining Innovation Center and the Air Force Research Laboratory and Aerojet Rocketdyne. UT’s longstanding partnership with ORNL includes the Governor’s Chair program.

“UT is poised to continue its collaborations with ORNL to advance the automotive and aerospace manufacturing innovation ecosystem,” said Eighmy. “We are very fortunate to be able to grow these areas in East Tennessee using projects like the Composites Institute as a catalyst.”



David Goddard (865-974-0683,