Committed through our support: Reinforcing Research Excellence

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“For the past 19 months the UW-Madison community has risen to the challenge of a global pandemic without ever giving ground in its mission to teach and discover. We also know our greatest challenges and opportunities lie ahead. WARF is pleased to be part of the solution through our annual grant, additional facility and pandemic support and our everyday work advancing Badger inventions to market.” - Erik Iverson, CEO, WARF “WARF was founded over nine decades ago by Professor Steenbock to protect and commercialize inventions from UW-Madison. With WARF’s largest grant in history this year, we see the importance of his legacy to the university itself.” - Dr. James Berbee, Chair of the WARF Board of Trustees “Recruiting and retaining top faculty to teach the next generation of Wisconsin leaders and innovators is a top priority. We are fortunate to have a strong and generous partner in WARF to help us in that goal. The support we receive from WARF allows UW-Madison to advance our research enterprise, provide support to promising graduate students, and maintain a margin of excellence that keeps our institution in the top tier of American universities.” - Chancellor Rebecca Blank, University of Wisconsin-Madison “WARF’s support of the Morgridge Institute helps us stay true to our mission of serving as a catalyst for bold new initiatives in the UW-Madison biomedical community. It allows us to partner with the university in promising but unproven frontiers in science and take advisable risks that may lead to big advances in scientific knowledge.” - Brad Schwartz, CEO, Morgridge Institute for Research


“WARF’s gift is essential to the continuing research success on campus and has been especially instrumental in research support during the COVID-19 pandemic. With WARF’s increased investment this year, we are even better able to support our world class faculty with fellowships and seed funding of new research, as well as more competitively recruit new faculty including those who are rising stars in in emerging fields. The focus on new funding for research buildings support enhances our research productivity, and these facilities also are training grounds for the scientists and engineers of tomorrow.” - Steve Ackerman, UW Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education

Message from the


This year was one of strategically and enthusiastically reinforcing our commitment to research and our university. It has been a year where, along with campus partners, we summoned creative energies to meet evolving challenges brought by the pandemic and a world in transition. During this period of reinforcement, we are celebrating that in 2021-22 WARF is providing the foundation’s greatest level of support to the UW in our history. A total of $216.8 million is awarded in the 2021-22 academic year and includes WARF’s annual grant, several supplemental grants and $50 million for development of the new Computer, Data & Information Sciences facility announced in September. You will find details of that support in this book as well as stories on: •

WARF Accelerator Challenges that ignited new disclosures in high potential markets. Also, go behind the scenes with researchers polishing their pitches.

WARF Therapeutics meeting major goals on program development with UW faculty committed to drug discovery.

WARF Ventures welcoming five new startups to its portfolio this year, including Leo Cancer Care, a UK-based company helping patients ‘look cancer in the face.’

The legacy and future of stem cell science from a WARF Licensing Director who has shepherded the technology for more than a decade.

Celebration of WARF licenses from the Badger Flame Beet to cutting-edge proteomics to heart surgery innovations that are benefiting patients today.

Strategic and regular engagement with over a dozen federal and state legislative representatives in support of UW’s priorities and sharing WARF’s partnership.

Inspiring thousands of Wisconsinites at the 11th annual Wisconsin Science Festival, which hosted more than 300 events statewide.

It was a year that proved our resilience and resolve to meet challenges head on. I am proud of our accomplishments and, most of all, our people and partnerships. I wish you and your family a joyous season, and a healthy and peaceful New Year. All the bestErik Iverson Chief Executive Officer






YEAR OF SUPPORT For nearly a century, WARF’s mission has been to support research at the University of Wisconsin. This year presents a point of immense pride for the foundation as WARF is providing $216.8 million in support for the UW research enterprise during the 2021-22 academic year. The figure is WARF’s largest annual investment in UW-Madison- based research and education in our foundation’s history.

2021-22: A Guide to WARF Support for UW–Madison WARF exists to benefit UW–Madison

$13.0 million

Faculty Recruitment and Retention

$10.9 million

Fall Research Competition

$11.5 million

Graduate Student Support

$2.5 million $10.5 million $5.5 million

Faculty Fellowships Strategic Initiatives (including Research Forward) Grant Matches for Instrumentation, Facilities, Doctoral Training and Research Programs

$1.5 million

Leadership, Personnel, Policy and Implementation Support

$8.2 million

Cluster Hire Program and Targeted Research Support

$63.6 million $2.5 million $9.1 million $95.0 million $0.2 million $170.4 million

Total Base Grant to the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education Anticipated for WARF Accelerator Program Anticipated Department Royalty Shares & Distribution of Department Royalty Funds New Research Buildings and Pandemic Support Additional Support

Total support to UW–Madison for 2021-22

$11.4 million

Morgridge Institute for Research

$35.0 million

Operational and Functional Support

$216.8 million

In addition to the traditional base grant, which this year amounts to $63.6 million, WARF provided several other areas of supplemental grants, most notably $55 million to support new research buildings, and $40 million for research support during the pandemic. WARF is unique in the world in that we not only have the privilege of helping university discoveries develop, achieve patents, commercialize and positively impact the world, but due to wise investments over the years, we are also able to provide a substantial level of annual support to our great public university. Many call our support UW’s margin of excellence, and it is part of our legacy in partnering with UW. Since March 2020, the UW-Madison community has risen to the challenge of a global pandemic without ever giving ground in its mission to teach and discover. We also know our greatest challenges and opportunities lie ahead. We are proud to know WARF is part of the solution through our annual grant, providing for additional facility and pandemic support. WARF’s everyday work in partnering with researchers to advance Badger inventions to the market is an important part of what allows this level of support to continue. As we face a new century of supporting university discoveries, our strategy in identifying innovative ways to do so becomes both an opportunity and a great privilege.

Together, funding for all university and affiliate organization categories for 2021-22



Program Launch Part of WARF’s history of commitment to university research includes funding facilities that advance research endeavors. This year WARF announced its largest gift to a single building in donating $50 million to the new UW School of Computer, Data & Information Sciences (CDIS). CDIS is a unique, forward-thinking collaboration focused at the intersection of technology and humanity. It brings together UW-Madison’s highly ranked Computer Sciences and Statistics departments and the Information School. The new facility will be a hub for the bustling tech ecosystem in Wisconsin, fostering academic research, supporting booming student interest, and hosting collaborations with industry and community partners. Designed to be the most sustainable building on campus, the new facility will also focus on creating a more inclusive and diverse tech community. Visionary alumni John and Tashia Morgridge committed $125 million – $50 million of which is in the form of a challenge grant to the project that will result in a 300,000-square-foot home for the school. In announcing WARF’s support, CEO Erik Iverson said, “We’re thrilled Eric Wilcots, Dean of the College of Letters & Science to join our partners in launching a new era for the UW School of Computer, Data & Information Sciences. We’ve come together because we share the vision of this campus catalyzing technologies with the power to shape societies. The mixing of disciplines in the school and its innovative new facility will enable intellectual collisions that will further drive innovation.” CDIS’ three units are now home to more than 3,600 undergraduate and graduate students studying software design, robotics, machine learning, cybersecurity, information retrieval and much more. The computer science major alone grew from 200 students to 2,000 over the last decade, with more than 40 percent of them matching computer science with double- or even triple-majors that will propel them into the workforce with a wide range of needed abilities. CDIS research collaborations are already exploring how social media shapes and reveals the direction of public opinion, how data can help supercharge clinical trials, how to help the visually impaired interact with data, and the development of ultra-high-resolution, long-range 3-D imaging. “We’re focused on a future that connects what is happening now with what happens next,” said Tom Erickson, founding director of CDIS, a veteran tech entrepreneur and UW alum. “The generous support of the Morgridges and WARF will complete the tech corridor on campus and further establish Madison as the next major innovation center in the country. The interdisciplinary uniqueness of our program coupled with its popularity will drive economic growth throughout the region.”



Building Support Over Decades In addition to providing a substantial annual grant to advance campus research endeavors, over many decades WARF has supported the development and building of research facilities across campus and beyond. Starting with an investment in the Biochemistry Building in 1938, WARF’s contributions to research facilities now total more than $304 million. More recent contributions include donations to the Meat Science and Animal Biologics Discovery Building ($2,000,000), the new Chemistry Building ($10,000,000), the Veterinary Medicine Building ($15,000,000) and the Computer, Data & Information Sciences Building ($50,000,000).





Disclosing an invention can be the first step in a life-changing journey. Iconic technologies, from stem cells to microprocessors, come through WARF’s doors as disclosures. And a steady disclosure pipeline feeds a strong patent portfolio. Once again this year, WARF and UW-Madison ranked among the top 10 universities in the world granted U.S. utility patents. Behind these patents are new tools and methods to beat cancer, empower farmers, realize clean energy, leverage machine learning and more. Some of these patents have become the seeds of startups; others are successfully licensed to industry. All have the full backing of WARF to succeed in the marketplace of ideas. Michael Falk, WARF’s Chief Intellectual Property and Licensing Officer, says: “In a competitive international field, to secure more than 160 U.S. utility patents in a given year is a testament to the world-class researchers of UW-Madison. Patents represent years of effort and iteration, and behind each of them are people working to impact the world. WARF is a proud partner in this enterprise.”

Fiscal Year 2021 Disclosures 140
















Medicine & Public Health

Letters & Science

Agriculture & Life Science

0 OVCRGEngineering Veterinary Pharmacy Nursing Human Ecology Medicine & LettersEducation & Agriculture & OVCRG Veterinary Medicine Public Health Science Life Science Medicine


WARF Accelerator


Last year WARF Accelerator launched its first-ever $100,000 Challenge Grant to inspire and advance technologies aimed at combatting the COVID-19 pandemic. The response from campus was strong and multidisciplinary. Building on that success, WARF Accelerator has now launched two more targeted grant opportunities zeroing in on areas of strategic commercial potential. The first sought to unlock the dynamic potential of microbiomes – the massively intricate microbial communities that impact all areas from human health to the environment. From infection-fighting probiotics to methods for managing mosquito populations, this area of research has high potential impact. Researchers representing 20 departments and centers submitted disclosures. The selected projects are led by the following principal investigators (PIs): •

Kerri Coon (bacteriology) and Lyric Bartholomay (pathobiological sciences) for harnessing the microbiome to control disease-transmitting mosquitoes

Lindsay Kalan (medical microbiology & immunology) and Meghan Brennan (medicine) for microbiome-based biomarkers of wound healing

Vanessa Leone (animal & dairy sciences) and Michael Charlton, Orlando DeLeon and Na Fei of the University of Chicago for monitoring the gut microbiome as an indicator of fibrotic liver disease

Megan McClean (biomedical engineering) and Kevin Lauterjung (biophysics) for a smart probiotic for programming fungal members of the microbiome

The second Challenge Grant focused on advanced manufacturing. These technologies – ranging from industrial robotics to 3-D printing – are transforming industries large and small. Researchers representing multiple departments and engineering disciplines submitted disclosures. The selected projects are led by the following PIs: •

Paul Milenkovic (electrical & computer engineering) for improved control software for robots used in manufacturing and other industrial settings

Sangkee Min (mechanical engineering) for real-time detection of manufacturing equipment anomalies and product defects

Scott Sanders and Lianyi Chen (mechanical engineering) for an on-board sensor to help generate 3-D printed parts with controlled quality “Over the past year, our Accelerator Challenge Grants have helped innovators across campus pursue proof-of-concept work critical to build momentum behind emerging technologies,” says CEO Erik Iverson.



INNOVATION Faced with a crisis, a UW surgeon teams with makers to protect colleagues in the operating room

On a spring day in 2020, in an operating room in Madison, Michael Bentz, MD and his chief resident were performing cancer reconstruction on a patient. For seven hours “we were literally forehead to forehead,” says Dr. Bentz, a surgeon in the Division of Plastic Surgery at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. Then, his colleague tested positive for COVID-19 and became symptomatic. Soon, Dr. Bentz himself came down with the disease and quarantined. Both recovered, but “it made me think – how can we prevent this from happening again?” The imperative to conserve personal protective equipment (PPE) was one challenge. The other was finding a face mask that could accommodate a surgeon’s tools, including specialized magnifying glasses (i.e., loupes), cameras and headlights. No existing product fit the bill. He connected with the engineers at UW Makerspace. Their challenge: collaborate to rapidly prototype a new design. “I think [Dr. Bentz] sent us a picture of a Hannibal Lecter mask,” recalls Karl Williamson, shop manager at UW Makerspace. “He said ‘I need something like this, but clear.’” Iterations passed between surgeon and engineers. The constraints were many: headlights get hot and melt plastic; clip-ons aren’t sterile; fogging is forbidden. “It was about three weeks of me driving back and forth, parking my car illegally, running up to a box outside Makerspace’s office and running back,” Bentz recalls.

“We are privileged to be able to help Dr. Bentz and the team at UW Makerspace make this important design available to others working to provide quality health care while maintaining the safety of the staff and patients,” says Jeanine Burmania, Senior Director of IP & Licensing at WARF. “We have created a license that minimizes any hurdles to licensing during the COVID pandemic and provides opportunity for future use.” Post-pandemic, Bentz sees the continued utility of their invention, including in other fields such as dentistry. “The reality is, if it’s not COVID-19, it’s going to be something else and this won’t go away completely,” he says. “Everyone is still concerned about transmission and being protected, and not losing workdays.” He adds, “I don’t consider myself an inventor or any of that. My goal was just to create something that would protect people.” “The product design is quite simple—a plastic sheet with a few holes,” Williamson of UW Makerspace told campus news. “But it took many connections, tools, and skill sets to bring it together…The whole process was a mini-exercise in user-centered design that requires all of these stakeholders.” “Being on a university campus is awesome,” Bentz says. “This would have been a lot more challenging in a private environment. That’s the benefit of being in a place where you have high level collaborators and colleagues who are willing to engage.”

The final design – thin, trimmable and customized – was approved for use by UW Health’s Hospital Incident Command. By the middle of 2020, some 225 surgical shields had been produced on campus for attending surgeons, residents and other staff in UW Health operating rooms. For its part, WARF launched a successful marketing campaign and provided a time-limited royalty free license to companies to help speed deployment of the shield. Dr. Michael Bentz, Department of Surgery


venture studio After a successful pilot last year, the nation’s first university venture studio of its kind gets set to launch a software startup. And inspire a new generation of UW-Madison entrepreneurs.

‘The leader and the guinea pig’

In late 2020, two veterinary students with a problem answered a call for submissions. Within 12 months their solution has become the seed of a startup poised to impact a multibillion-dollar market.

Wisconsin has become the proving ground, says Katie Rice, WARF Venture Associate. WARF brought High Alpha and its playbook to Madison, taking an informed risk that campus is rich in untapped software innovation.

Their co-founding partner is Varsity Venture Studio (Varsity), the first company-builder of its kind to embed on a university campus. Now, Varsity is getting set for round two. A trio of partners makes it possible: WARF, UW-Madison and High Alpha Innovation, based in Indianapolis. High Alpha lives a unique model, coupling venture capital with hands-on support. Their team of startup architects applies ‘a proven, disciplined playbook’ to vet, pressure test and transform big ideas into real companies. Their record proves the point – High Alpha has launched and scaled more than 30 software startups and invested in another 25+ out of its capital fund. Akin to the pioneering Hollywood studios that centralized talent – from screenwriters to directors – venture ‘studios’ convene company-building talent under one roof. It’s an emerging model of entrepreneurship complementary to WARF’s mission, says Greg Keenan, WARF Senior Director of Ventures & Accelerator. Software in particular is challenging to protect and commercialize via traditional licensing methods, which has limited WARF’s ability to support and invest in innovative software solutions on campus. Commercializing the next disruptive software or app (think fintech, ag tech, health care and supply chains) calls for equally nimble thinking, Keenan says. Varsity is not a competition, grant or incubator. It is a fund, for which WARF and High Alpha look to generate a return on investment. In terms of equity, the studio model generally splits among venture investors, the co-founding team and the venture studio. Those who launch with a venture studio retain a minority share of equity in exchange for co-founding studio support. “The model works because we’re getting an appropriate amount of ownership for the resources we’re deploying and the risk we’re taking,” says Keenan.


While venture studios are thriving in cities around the world, a university campus is new territory.

Rice says a venture studio is one effective way to tap that potential and bring the execution needed to build companies. The model is especially well suited to big thinkers who may not wish to leave their day jobs as researchers or students. The vision is intense and inclusive. To flourish, it requires a pipeline of people and ideas. Sourcing those ideas across all of campus – from medicine to agriculture, law to computer science – is one of Rice’s mission-critical responsibilities. Her outreach campaign to faculty, staff and students pays dividends. Last year, 100 innovators representing more than 35 departments across campus submitted some 159 ideas. One-on-one meetings yielded 80 percent of submissions. This year Varsity is moving at twice the speed, compressing the timeframe from a full academic year to a single semester. Rice says the accelerated pacing is designed to focus efforts on the most promising ideas earlier and “to dig deeper, faster” without compromising quality. The top 20 or so ideas that advance through the exploration stage are subjected to a ‘lean canvas’ template designed to break apart key concepts and build them back stronger. Over the course of the fall the field narrows, as assumptions are surfaced, values tested and customers analyzed. It all leads up to a gauntlet known as ‘sprint week’ in January featuring the top two or three ideas. Even for those not ultimately selected, engaging with Varsity Venture Studio offers the UW-Madison community something rare – a window into the venture building process, a glimpse of VCs in action evaluating ideas and building business models. Rice says that communication is critical for all participants to “go in with open eyes.” The team emphasizes transparency, balancing excitement and expectations. And other schools have taken note, introducing the venture studio model to their own communities.

Anne and Ali’s Story In October, Varsity Venture Studio publicly launched its first startup. The company, Transfur, has developed an AI-driven referral management platform for the veterinary industry. It began as the vision of two vet med students – and sisters – Anne and Ali Pankowski, who submitted the initial concept to Varsity Venture Studio having experienced firsthand the challenges of referral management growing up around their family’s veterinary practice. Transfur says that its platform brings a ‘new level of innovation’ to the vet space, making it easy for veterinarians to manage and review medical records. It may be needed now more than ever – the $32 billion veterinary market experienced an unexpected strain during the COVID-19 pandemic, driving clinics to seek new efficiencies. Post-launch, the Pankowski sisters, who are studying at UW-Madison and UC-Davis, respectively, will stay on with the company as advisors. “The whole experience taught me that you can be an expert in something and have a good idea and find people to help you,” says Ali Pankowski. “It’s worth it. To flex those muscles, to go down that path is worth it.” “Ali and I had been texting each other [during the submission process] asking what if this is our moment? What if this is it?” says Anne Pankowski. “To see it grow into what it is today is really cool.”

Top ideas from supply chain, fintech, law tech, healthcare, agricultural analytics, industrial engineering, and veterinary medicine

Top ideas from computer science, engineering, business, healthcare & medicine, animal sciences, real estate, and health/wellness









“Look cancer in the face”

Serial med tech entrepreneur Rock Mackie and CEO Stephen Towe close a $25 million global fundraise in their drive to help patients ‘look cancer in the face.’ In July, startup company Leo Cancer Care announced it had completed a $25.3 million Series B fundraising round through parent company Asto CT Inc. The fundraise drew international investors including WARF, Pureland Venture Capital, Yu Galaxy, Alumni Ventures, Junson Capital, Serra Ventures, CHC, Cosylab, Toret Devices and Radiation Business Solutions. The fundraise empowers Leo to expand its team and continue development of its state-of-the-art upright Radiation Therapy paradigm, which the company believes can improve both the quality of and access to lifesaving treatments. Leo spun out of the University of Sydney in 2014 to commercialize upright patient positioning technology designed to improve access and treatment outcomes. In 2019 it was acquired by Asto CT, a UW-Madison company advancing a standup equine imaging system in the veterinary space. The companies had two assets in common: proprietary upright technology and co-founder Rock Mackie. Together, Leo is uniquely positioned to target the $10 billion radiotherapy market for cancer. This includes standard photon (X-ray) and more advanced particle therapy systems. Radiation Therapy remains a pillar of cancer treatment. An estimated half of all cancer patients require such treatment but less than one third actually receive it. Cost, size and complexity are all headwinds to access. For those fortunate enough to receive it, treatment in conventional devices can be intimidating. Seen

through the eyes of a patient, conventional radiotherapy involves lying flat on a table as a heavy gantry turns overhead. Specialized shielding is required as radiation is delivered at different angles. Rotating people, not multi-ton machines, is Leo’s elegant solution. “By combining upright positioning with Rock [Mackie’s] upright imaging technology, Leo Cancer Care is able to provide a complete cancer care solution that simplifies workflow, reduces cost, and most importantly, improves patient outcomes,” says Greg Keenan, WARF Senior Director of Ventures and Accelerator. The company’s line of upright, gantry-free systems can provide head to thigh coverage. They are made to be simpler to install and maintain, complete with a software package to boost usability and setup. Coupling CT capabilities with radiotherapy means a patient can be imaged and treated in the same room – increasing throughput.


“It is really rare with any innovation to be able to drive improvements in clinical efficacy at the same time as making such huge strides in improved health economics,” CEO Stephen Towe says. “I think that is what makes Leo Cancer Care so exciting.”

The Leo Cancer Care team with their upright patient positioning system in ESTRO 2021

The potential clinical benefits of upright treatment are compelling – such as the reduction in breathing motion and better organ stability shown by a group at MD Anderson Cancer Center. The company, which installed its first unit under research contract in a center in Lyon, France, in 2020, continues to make the case. By turning the tables on cancer, Towe believes his startup is poised to “revolutionize” the space and become “the more human way to deliver Radiation Therapy.” “We are building on research from some of the biggest cancer centers in the world which have shown that organs move less in the upright orientation – logic tells us that having the target move less makes it far easier to be accurate with radiation delivery,” Towe says. “Put that together with the millions of dollars we can save per machine and this really is a game changer in the Radiation Therapy space.”

17 MIL

new cancer cases in 2018

27.5 MIL estimated new cancer cases by 2040


of cancer patients currently receive Radiation Therapy

VENTURES Invest-Develop-Partner


WARF Therapeutics An eventful year for WARF Therapeutics included onboarding new talent, assessing internal best practices and exceeding target goals as it works to champion the drug development enterprise at UW-Madison. Hongmin Chen, Head of Biology for WARF Therapeutics In the fall, Hongmin Chen, previously at Merck Research Laboratories in Boston, joined the team as Head of Biology. In this new role, Chen will draw on her 20+ years of translational experience to guide and probe opportunities around the biology of disease and bring expertise to target validation, assay development and pharmacology that is critical to the discovery of preclinical drug candidates.

Chen’s unique skillset “will be the perfect complement to Brian Dyck, our Head of Chemistry, and together they co-lead our portfolio programs,” says Jon Young, Head of WARF Therapeutics. He notes that during her first quarter at WARF, Chen worked in Shanghai building the biology infrastructure for new programs and interviewing potential contract research organization (CRO) partners. Furthermore, WARF Therapeutics’ new “virtual laboratory” – built last year in response to the pandemic – continues to pay dividends. This move, which added both functional and geographic diversity, brought in highly skilled and industry respected CROs to help execute on the portfolio. It also helped WARF Therapeutics exceed target goals for FY21. For example: •

Program 702, which is hypothesized to have numerous applications in cancer, rapidly progressed through Stage 2 and checked more than 90 percent of the boxes for Stage 3 in less than 10 months. This would typically require three years.

Program 384, another oncology program aimed at treating metastatic prostate cancer, entered the portfolio at the Scientific Advisory Board meeting in May and is now the highest priority program. The program entered Stage 1 in July and is on track to move into Stage 2 by the third quarter.

Finally, over the past several quarters, the WARF Therapeutics team has been evaluating what works and what improvements could be made to internal processes. Young says that one of the weaknesses identified was “line of sight” to new program submissions 18-24 months out. As it typically takes 12-18 months to fully validate a new target for a specific disease, WARF Therapeutics has launched a new initiative to fund Stage 0 (Target Validation) work on campus ($75,000). Hongmin Chen will work directly with principal investigators (PIs) to plan the studies required for validation. In addition, Young says that many PIs have stated that they would like a larger role to play in the accepted program. “Our solution is to provide a one-time grant ($50,000) to the PI when their target proposal is accepted into Stage 1. Those resources are intended for the PI to further their research into the biology of the accepted target.” Learn more at


WARF ACCELERATOR Resident pitch expert Nhi Lê empowers WARF Accelerator teams to discover their message

How do you communicate your life’s work? How do you distill years of research, deconstruct a problem, and market your solution to an audience of hundreds? And how do you do it in under seven minutes? Crafting a pitch presentation to industry, investors and the public is an intensive process that draws on market intelligence, science communication, graphic design, business development principles and the timeless art of persuasion. Nhi Lê, WARF Accelerator Associate, has shepherded multiple UW-Madison teams through the journey. For these researchers, working with an expert like Lê is a once-in-a-blue-moon opportunity to discover and polish their message. Throughout the fall, Lê helped three teams – whose Accelerator projects range from microelectronics to biomedical engineering to industrial hemp – get ready for prime time. Lê, now transitioning from WARF to lead a venture fund for a private family foundation, draws on her years of experience mentoring startups.

Meet the pitch presenters Randolph Ashton, Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering and co-founder of Neurosetta LLC. Ashton’s young startup is developing a high-throughput human brain and spinal cord screening platform to transform neurotoxicology and disease modeling. As Ashton notes, we are exposed to thousands of chemicals every day via our medications, food chain and environments. Yet for the vast majority of these chemicals, we have little-to-no information on whether they negatively affect human health over a lifetime, including their potential to cause birth defects.

Neurosetta’s stem cell-derived 3-D tissue models could help change that.

Nhi Lê, Accelerator Associate Shawn Kaeppler, crop breeder, geneticist and Director of the Wisconsin Crop Improvement Center (WCIC). His team has leveraged their knowledge of soy and other crop genomics to develop a gene editing method that allows them to create optimized hemp varieties with high-value traits. Hemp, one of the first plants to be spun into fiber thousands of years ago, now commands a $6 billion global market that includes high-profile products like CBD and other cannabinoid oils.

While Kaeppler’s team is currently focused on cannabinoid production, their method can also be used to engineer hemp varieties for drought and disease resistance, overall fiber quality and biomass, improved seed resiliency and other traits of interest to commodity growers. Sean Foradori and Prof. Mike Arnold, materials scientists. Their method of aligning atomically thin rolls of graphene – called carbon nanotubes – could enable next-generation electronics. This is because well-aligned, high-density carbon nanotubes act like tiny semiconducting wires that can significantly outperform silicon. Semiconductors, which underpin all of modern electronics from our cars to the microprocessors in our phones, have relied on inorganic materials like silicon for more than 50 years. As industry maxes out the performance of such devices, carbon nanotubes are poised to take electronics to the next level, says Foradori.

Left: Professor Mike Arnold, Dept of Materials Science and Engineering Center: Associate Professor Randolph Ashton, Dept of Biomedical Engineering (right) Right: Professor Shawn Kaeppler, Dept of Agronomy



Strategic R&D alliance to discover and develop cell therapies for eye diseases In May, three companies with ties to WARF announced a “strategic research and development alliance” that aims to reverse and restore vision to patients. The partnership brings to bear respective expertise in clinical stage therapeutics, pluripotent stem cells and retinal diseases: BlueRock Therapeutics, a biopharmaceutical company and subsidiary of Bayer AG; FUJIFILM Cellular Dynamics Inc., a leading developer of human induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell technologies; and Opsis Therapeutics, a startup co-founded by Dr. David Gamm of UW-Madison. According to the announcement, the companies will leverage their combined expertise to discover and develop off-the-shelf cell replacement therapies. Specifically, they look to advance programs targeting dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – the leading cause of irreversible blindness and visual impairment in the world – and certain inherited retinal diseases with treatments currently in preclinical development. Dr. Gamm, a practicing pediatric ophthalmologist and a leader in the field of retinal cell differentiation, is a longtime WARF collaborator, notes Andy DeTienne, Director of Licensing.

Andy DeTienne

WARF Director of Licensing

DeTienne says that WARF played a supporting role for Gamm’s company by “shepherding that relationship, seeing value in [iPS retinal technology] very early on, and putting a lot of diligence and resources into prosecuting that intellectual property.”

The other partners have connections to WARF as well. Cellular Dynamics International (CDI) was co-founded in 2004 by UW-Madison stem cell pioneer James Thomson before being acquired by FUJIFILM for $307 million in 2015. And WARF and BlueRock Therapeutics have a separate licensing agreement in the neurodegenerative space.


Reflecting on the legacy of stem cell innovation, DeTienne observes that it was just over 20 years ago that James Thomson’s “breakthrough of the century” ushered in a new therapeutic paradigm. “Within about a decade we had patients in clinical trials,” he says. “Now fast forward another 10 years later, is there an approved product based on it? Not yet, but we’re getting closer.” WARF’s ongoing role in championing stem cell advancements is unflashy but critical, adds DeTienne. “Quietly and behind the scenes WARF enables this industry to grow by doing the non-exclusive licensing, enabling small, medium and large companies to get into it to produce the tools that researchers need,” he says. “Getting that out to the world to help build the foundation of therapies is a critical role we play.”

22 MILLION Estimated number of people affected by age-related macular degeneration worldwide by 2050

Inherited retinal diseases (IRDs) are the leading cause of vision loss in persons between

15 AND 45 years of age



The idea began with alligator clips and duct tape. Now, Dr. Nick Von Bergen and his young company are out to improve care for the most vulnerable heart surgery patients.

“Did I see myself being an inventor or an entrepreneur? Not really,” says Nicholas Von Bergen, MD.” But I do see myself as being an innovator.” Dr. Von Bergen is a pediatric cardiac electrophysiologist at American Family Children’s Hospital. His patients are occasionally “really little babies – maybe one week old – who have had major heart surgery.” Monitoring his small, complex patients is critical: up to 60 percent of pediatric patients experience arrythmias – abnormal heart rhythms – following heart surgery. Arrythmias can be potentially dangerous and prolong hospitalization, but diagnosing and treating them is challenging. Conventional methods lack either precision or timeliness. Bedside monitors display low-quality signals, while a high-quality ECG can take up to 20 minutes to set up. Von Bergen, trained in Iowa, says the problem was still irking him after moving to Wisconsin a few years ago. Armed with an idea and a primitive prototype made of alligator clips, wires and duct tape, he approached the UW Biomedical Engineering Department. There he connected with a team of students – including Matt Knoespel and Phil Terrien – with the skills to drive product design and development. After graduating, Knoespel and Terrien turned down more traditional job offers to form Atrility Medical LLC, along with Von Bergen and Pete Lukszys of the UW School of Business. Investors, including WARF and UW Health’s Isthmus Project, took a chance. They were right. Over four years the Atrility team has transformed Von Bergen’s vision into an innovative device currently in use at UW Health and around the nation. Their device is called AtriAmp. It sits on the outside of the patient’s chest, receiving atrial signals from temporary pacing wires implanted during surgery. It connects to the bedside monitor to provide a streaming atrial electrogram in real time. Von Bergen says the invention combines the benefits of the highest quality signal from the temporary pacing wires with the continuous monitoring of the bedside monitor. Continuous. Immediate. Integrated. It all translates to better outcomes for patients. The pediatric market is modest – just over 20,000 patients a year in the U.S. But Von Bergen sees the device, which received 510(k) clearance from the FDA last year, moving into the general heart surgery patient population on its merit.

Nick Von Bergen, UW School of Medicine and Public Health, holding the AtriAmp device


“The reason is just the significant improvements in ease in evaluating heart rhythms,” he says. “In this potentially critically ill population, the AtriAmp really does a wonderful job of allowing us to know the patient’s heart rhythm, as opposed to saying: maybe we need a few more tests.” Others have taken notice. This past summer, the company took the grand prize at the annual Governor’s Business Plan Contest. “[Winning] was a nice testament to the amount of work that we’ve done over the last few years and the excitement that Wisconsin has for our product,” Von Bergen says. “We really value strong partnerships with our inventor and faculty startups as they are great opportunities for technology advancement and new product creation, fostering the Wisconsin Idea and moving campus innovations out to a place where they can have impact,” says Jeanine Burmania, WARF Senior Director of IP & Licensing. “The Atrility team is a great partner and we

are excited about the AtriAmp device and look forward to seeing the future innovations that they will develop.” Now, as a Milwaukee-area contracted manufacturer begins production, Atrility looks ahead to sales and distribution strategy. From the design to the production to the distribution, Von Bergen says: “The AtriAmp has been a Wisconsin product from start to finish. We’re proud of how Wisconsin we happen to be.” “It’s great to see how far they’ve come since the team of student engineers and Dr. Von Bergen first submitted their disclosure to WARF,” says Stephanie Whitehorse, WARF Director of IP for Physical Sciences. “It’s gratifying to be part of the process, enabling early-stage innovation to make it to a product that enhances patient care, and this team has been so fun to work with.”

Stephanie Whitehorse, WARF Director of IP for Physical Sciences; Matt Knoespel, Nick Von Bergen and Phil Terrien, co-founders of Atrility Medical; Jeanine Burmania, WARF Senior Director of IP & Licensing


An ELEGANT SOLUTION Team crosses disciplines to uncover the many faces of proteins

On a wall of her office, Professor Ying Ge honors a cherished colleague, the late Dr. Patti Keely, who fought, won, fought again, and lost to cancer in 2017. Over the past year, Prof. Ge has drawn on her friend’s radical positivity to mentor her students through the estrangements of COVID-19. For Ge, solutions are found at the bridges. It is the spirit of her lab. To describe her highly interdisciplinary research, Ge draws a Venn diagram of biology, chemistry and medicine. At the center sits a powerful technology for analyzing the molecular building blocks of a lifeform – protein. “Success in my proposed research will advance our understanding of the molecular basis of diseases,” says Ge, a professor of cell & regenerative biology and chemistry. Specifically, cardiovascular disease cancer and diabetes. For her team, that means charting the fabulously complex proteome – the entire set of proteins expressed by our genes at a given moment in time. Unlike the genome – the static ‘blueprint’ of life – the proteome is dynamic and largely unmapped. One gene can source an untold number of protein variants (‘proteoforms’) depending on how that protein is ‘read,’ ‘written’ or ‘erased.’ Variations range from a few sequence swaps to chemical modifications that occur

even after a protein is produced within a cell. Even small changes can be life-changing. A catalog of the million or so estimated proteoforms inside any one of us would be a marvel for precision medicine. To start with, a reliable analysis would go a long way towards understanding the molecular mechanisms behind conditions from heart failure to aging, and help identify new therapeutic targets. To pursue this vision, Ge’s team harnesses a powerful technology at the center of her Venn diagram, top-down mass spectrometry. This analytical technique is the best method to date to comprehensively characterize proteoforms. The potential is huge, but many challenges remain. Before they can be studied, proteins must first be extracted and solubilized from cells/tissues. Conventional surfactants (also known as detergents) interfere with mass spectrometry, drowning out the signals from proteins. Ge and her team set out to develop the world’s first mass spectrometry-compatible surfactant of its kind. Critically, it had to work on hard-to-study membrane proteins, which play important roles in many biological processes and account for about two-thirds of known ‘druggable’ targets in the cell. Bullseye for drug developers. Their surfactant, called Azo for short, is an elegant solution. It efficiently solubilizes proteins – including those highly coveted membrane proteins – before decomposing upon exposure to UV light prior to analysis. In other words, making it photocleavable. For their feat, the Azo team (including graduate student Kyle Brown, postdoctoral fellow Tania Guardado and Song Jin, professor of chemistry) published their breakthrough paper in the prestigious Nature

Justin Anderson, WARF Senior IP Manager; Prof. Song Jin; Prof. Ying Ge; Jennifer Gottwald, WARF Director of Licensing


Methods in 2019. Azo has been licensed by WARF to chemicals giant Sigma-Aldrich and will be readily available to labs worldwide. “I really appreciate Ying’s collaboration in getting Azo licensed and offered as a product,” says Jennifer Gottwald, WARF Director of Licensing. “She established relationships at Sigma-Aldrich that helped them decide to license, and she is doing so with other companies as well. Ying’s scientific reputation and her willingness to talk to companies really enhances WARF’s ability to license her technologies.” Justin Anderson, WARF Senior IP Manager, has worked with Ying Ge and Song Jin for more than a decade. He says that by adding Azo to the research community’s toolbox, the inventors have opened the door to better understanding the proteome, which will hopefully lead to life-changing therapeutics. “As a WARF IP manager, there is no greater reward than working to protect innovations like Azo, a supporting step in enabling cutting-edge proteomic research, while also helping to complete the cycle of innovation, so that WARF can support Ying and Song in pursuit of additional discoveries,” Anderson says. Azo is a success story within an ambitious research collaboration between Ge and Jin, who are looking ahead to a new NIH-funded project at the intersection of proteomics, materials chemistry and nanotechnology. Solutions at the bridges. “I want to bring positivity to my group. To love research and love life,” Ge says. “Life is a privilege.”

NeuroOne Medical Technologies Corporation In May, neurological tech company and WARF licensee NeuroOne started trading on the Nasdaq. More exciting news followed. In September, the company announced its second product to receive FDA 510(k) clearance. The products are part of the company’s EVO™ line of electrode technology for patients requiring diagnostic brain mapping procedures – a market estimated at $100 million. This work builds off innovations developed by UW-Madison Professor of Biomedical Engineering Justin Williams. Unlike conventional cortical electrodes, NeuroOne says its high-definition thin film electrodes use a much less invasive approach to provide a similar function at the subsurface level of the brain. Designed to reduce trauma to the brain, the electrodes Dave Rosa, President and CEO at are lighter, thinner and more flexible. Implantation does not NeuroOne Medical Technologies always require removal of the top portion of the patient’s skull. Other potential advantages include better signal clarity and automated manufacturing. NeuroOne began developing its cortical electrode technology in 2015 in partnership with Mayo Clinic, WARF and other prominent academic medical centers. While the company initially focused on the epilepsy and intraoperative tumor monitoring markets, it is also targeting therapeutic applications. The company’s pipeline now includes electrode solutions for brain stimulation and ablation for patients suffering from epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and chronic pain due to failed back surgeries and other related neurological disorders. “Our relationship with WARF began in 2014 and remains strong today,” says Dave Rosa, President and CEO of NeuroOne. “In conjunction with the University of Wisconsin, we have expanded the relationship beyond our licensing agreement and have utilized the university’s lab to test the performance of some of the products in our product portfolio. “I personally have enjoyed the collaboration with the physicians, scientists and business development team. They have always supported us, especially in the challenging times. I look forward to continuing the relationship moving forward.”




UW-Madison’s “Vicar of Vegetables” on harvest, hubris and a beet born to be raw

It has starred in Forbes and stormed Austin, Texas. It even charmed a wary podcaster. It is the Badger Flame beet, a charismatic vegetable with pyrotechnic color and breakthrough flavor. It took UW-Madison breeders 15 seasons to create. In contrast to the high-tech ethos of fail early/fail often, horticulture is “the slowest of the performing arts,” muses Irwin Goldman. Prof. Goldman, a plant breeder and geneticist, is a celebrated figure in UW-Madison Horticulture. His team has produced a veritable cornucopia – novel carrot lines, onion and table beet varieties – all crafted through decades of love and labor using traditional breeding techniques. Goldman works with WARF to protect and commercialize high potential creations like Badger Flame. Other innovations he releases into the world through the Open Source Seed Initiative, which he helped found. The relationship between intellectual property and crops is a unique one, he observes. Historically, an open access tradition governed horticulture. “Let’s say you had an apple tree in your backyard and there was a mutation with a new apple on it. You’d share cuttings with your neighbors and that was the ethic,” explains Goldman. “I know that the world doesn’t work that way anymore. And I know that the universities have all looked for ways to capture the value of the work of the students and the faculty.” Interestingly, in its near 100-year history, WARF did not begin commercializing germplasm until the mid-1990s. For Goldman, who joined the faculty in 1992, it has been an edifying journey for all involved. “WARF was learning about how to get into this business and so was I. In many ways, I feel we’ve learned together over the years. It’s just been wonderful,” Goldman says. His program currently has over 75 active germplasm licenses. Back in the greenhouse on the west end of campus, a spray of Badger Flame beets resembles Lady Liberty’s torch. But their flashy hue belies a subtler, more extraordinary characteristic. Like carrots or jicama sticks, these beets are designed to be relished raw. Diminished is the earthy aftertaste that has deterred generations of children (and adults) from beets. Through many cycles of breeding, Goldman and colleague Nick Breitbach sought to down-select stringency and a compound called geosmin – which makes some vegetables taste a bit like soil. (Geosmin is the same molecule behind the scent of freshly plowed fields.)


Long associated with borscht and other ‘peasant’ fare, Eastern European immigrants brought beets to North America in the 19th century. Goldman says the beet renaissance began some 25 years ago, powered by Martha Stewart’s renewed interest in the neglected vegetable. Suddenly, beets began headlining Gourmet magazine and Bon Appétit. Deservedly. Beets are a powerhouse of vitamins A and C, fiber and folate. Goldman, who acknowledges a certain “hubris” in horticulture, hopes that his eminently accessible variety wins over the holdouts. Badger Flame seeds are available to gardeners and farmers through a specialty seed company called Row 7, founded by award-winning chef Dan Barber. They are also sold by High Mowing, a seed company based in Vermont. The Badger Flame series of beets is emblematic of a long tradition of Wisconsin crop research ending up on dinner tables. In fact, it was Goldman’s predecessor, Buck Gabelman, bringing to bear the tools of modern plant genetics, who created what became the parents of all the beet varieties now grown. From Poland to Australia, “the seed went all over the world, and everybody used that material as the parents to make the hybrids that are grown today,” says Goldman. Goldman, the nation’s only university-based plant breeder of table beets, describes himself as the “current steward” of the beet. “I’m curating this variation and essentially preserving it, cataloging it, securing it for whatever happens in the future.” The future. Time has a special significant to plant breeders – the passage of seasons, the passing generations of students, the budding pace of progress. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the field has been a sanctuary of sorts for Goldman. “It’s beautiful and so joyful to be connected to the harvest. When it goes on, you just feel there’s some normalcy out there.”

Emily Bauer, WARF Director of Licensing; Prof. Irwin Goldman; Victoria Sutton, WARF IP Manager, holding Badger Flame beets





Innovation Awards 2021 Despite the ongoing challenges posed by the pandemic, UW-Madison researchers continued partnering with WARF to disclose their innovations throughout the year. Following tradition, WARF staff nominated six teams whose work stands out for exceptional ingenuity and potential. The competition is stiff – the six finalists are winnowed down from more than 300 disclosures submitted to WARF over the prior 12 months. An independent panel of judges ultimately selects the two winning teams, who each receive an award of $10,000. This year, the finalists vying for WARF’s top honor are:

Improved Terahertz Imaging for Global Security Prof. Jiamian Hu and Shihao Zhuang are materials scientists developing new tech to safely and non-invasively detect explosives and other hazardous materials. Their terahertz imaging system could be used for counterterrorism in public spaces like stadiums and subway stations.

Planck Spectrometer Reduces Complex Components Prof. Mikhail Kats, Yuzhe Xiao, Chenghao Wan and Jad Salman. This team of electrical and computer engineers looks to democratize optical instrumentation. Their innovative design (named after Planck’s law of thermal radiation) cuts the size, cost and complexity of spectrometers, which are used across many fields to analyze the properties of light.

‘Green’ Synthesis of Bio-Based Polyurethanes and Polyesters Prof. Jim Dumesic, Hochan Chang and Prof. George Huber. This chemical engineering team is working to unlock bio building blocks and help farmers in the process. Their new biomass-derived compound could serve as a ‘green’ substitute for important platform chemicals used in everything from consumer goods to medical devices.

Enhanced Probiotic Delivery to Treat Intestinal Disorder From the School of Pharmacy, Prof. Quanyin Hu and Jun Liu are charting a new strategy for delivering probiotics. Their novel double-layer coating strategy better withstands the gauntlet of the human body to treat inflammatory bowel disease and other intestinal indications.

Indoor Sound Shaping Based on Broadband Metamaterial Reflector Prof. Chu Ma is an engineer whose sound-shaping materials could change how we hear – or don’t hear – the world around us. Her work has applications from noise control at construction sites to conference rooms.

Nanoparticle to Render Tumors More Susceptible to Treatment Prof. Shaoqin Gong, Dr. Zachary Morris, Ying Zhang and Raghava Sriramaneni. This interdisciplinary team is bridging medicine and nanotechnology to confront cancer. The combination of their novel nanoparticle, radiation therapy and a checkpoint inhibitor could render more tumors more treatable by immunotherapy.



Two young researchers reflect on lessons learned as WARF’s ‘envoys’ on campus

The assignment entailed many phone calls, emails and relationship building.

Launched more than a decade ago, the WARF Ambassador program is something of a rare opportunity for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. It is a safe space to discover skillsets beyond the lab – from tech scouting to outreach and writing.

“It has been a pretty exciting opportunity to be a part of actual technology transfer at work, to really play a role in discovering these new cell lines and helping to get them from someone's freezer to hopefully being more commercially available to other researchers interested in using them,” Jeanette says.

Perhaps most importantly, the program offers a “sense of community” during what, for many, can be an isolating period. “Grad school is no walk in the park,” says Ambassador Jeanette Metzger, a postdoc whose work centers on understanding and treating Parkinson's disease using non-human primate models. Ambassadors like Jeanette are mentored in intellectual property and commercialization by WARF staff. They become invaluable boots on the ground, reaching out to their student networks as well as faculty to learn about the “coolest ideas” brewing on campus and to encourage invention disclosure.

Another ambassador, Laura Muehlbauer, is part of a WARF working group looking at diversity in disclosure. The patent gap among women and people of color is a national concern – both Congress and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office have signaled the need for action. Even at universities like UW-Madison, attitudes and obstacles can impede disclosure.



Laura, a doctoral student in chemistry, says that speaking with female researchers has been educational. “[Women] may have really cool research that could become IP but they have so many other extra duties, like childcare, that they just don't have time or don't prioritize disclosing,” she says. “The working group has given me a new perspective on IP in general.”

For Laura, the Ambassador program is a space to mull her professional future, whether in academia or a supporting field like tech transfer. Indeed, while many alumni have gone on to successful research careers, others have “It helps that we can make students aware not only of pivoted to law and patent management, notes Beth WARF’s role on campus, but also that they themselves can Werner, WARF’s Director of IP, Life Sciences, who be inventors. They really are contributing to things that leads the program. could become treatments or products.” “I find it really satisfying to give back to the graduate Jeanette says that being part of the program has given her student and postdoc communities by providing them with perspective on both lab and life. experience in technology transfer that may lead to a career “I started off just trying to learn where my research fits in patent law or business development,” Werner says. into this big landscape and its impact outside of the lab,” “I’m very thankful for the career I have in this field. she says. “Working for WARF keeps me thinking about Hopefully, they can use their experience with the how research moves from the benchtop into treatments Ambassador program to inform their career plans.” that are available to patients. It encourages me to think For Laura, the most meaningful part of her ‘ bigger than the world of lab research and our sometimes ambassadorship’ is personal. niche questions that we try to answer. It keeps me thinking bigger picture about where this research can go.” “I just like the people at WARF,” she says. “It's been a fun experience.” Recently, WARF deployed the Ambassadors on a mission to 30scout cell lines being developed in labs across campus. “It’s always an exciting conversation to be part of,” says Jeanette, who notes that many students don’t realize they too can be inventors.


In October representatives from the U.S. Army visited the University of Wisconsin to discuss possible collaborations with the university research community. Dozens of UW faculty participated in a lunch and learn held at the Discovery Building. Representatives were on hand to meet with researchers from the UW School of Computer, Data & Information Sciences (CDIS), the UW College of Engineering, the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery and other UW departments throughout the day. Key meetings with UW System and WARF as well as enjoying a Badger win at Camp Randall against Army were part of the visit. #GoBucky!

Michael Duffey, Partner, Equinox GS; Dr. Doug Matty, Director, U.S. Army Artificial intelligence Capabilities; Major General Walter Rugen, Director, U.S. Army Future Vertical Lift Cross-Functional Team (FVL CFT); Erik Iverson, CEO of WARF; Kristin Eschenfelder, Assistant Dean for Computer, Data & Information Sciences (CDIS); Tom Erickson, Founder, CDIS; Michael Ertmer; Booz Allen; Steve Ackerman, UW Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education



As the Wisconsin legislature emerged from the 2020 elections to begin their 2021-22 biennial session, WARF CEO Erik Iverson and WiSys President Arjun Sanga held a series of meetings with new and returning legislative leaders to congratulate them on their elections and introduce them to the tech transfer offices for UW-Madison and UW System campuses. In January and February, Erik and Arjun met with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, as well as Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu and Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley. They also provided an update on WARF and WiSys to the chairs of several important legislative committees, including Representatives Mark Born, Dave Murphy and Adam Neylon, and Senators Alberta Darling, Dale Kooyenga and Howard Marklein.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester)


Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley (D-Mason)

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg)

Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh)









The Wisconsin Idea at a


MILLION FEET U Students across the state connect with astronauts aboard the International Space Station How does it feel to fly through an aurora, or look down at a shooting star? Does a space station smell? Between gravity-defying somersaults, astronauts aboard the International Space Station addressed these and other questions from Wisconsin students during a riveting live video downlink on July 13. The real-time event was accessible to all families and K-12 students throughout the state and capped a series of summer camps and workshops hosted by Discovery Outreach, a partnership between WARF and the Morgridge Institute. A watch party at the Discovery Building on campus attracted dozens of curious spectators and NASA groupies alike. Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes kicked off the event, which is part of a statewide initiative to provide Wisconsin youth with authentic science experiences. Hurtling at 17,500 miles per hour through Earth’s thermosphere, the Space Station is a living laboratory, where the sun rises and sets 16 times a day. Continuously inhabited for 20 years, more than 240 visitors from 19 countries have called it home (average tenure is six months). Presently aboard, astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Aki Hoshide demonstrated for students the delights and challenges of living in microgravity – where juice turns into a floating blob, plant roots grow sideways, and sleeping bags must be lashed down. Participants learned how astronaut meals are prepared ahead of time by a forensically-gowned team of specialists who shop, cook and dehydrate the food (removing the water from a single spaghetti dinner, for example, can cut the transportation cost from $10,000 to $600). Interestingly, tortillas are preferred to bread (too crumbly). Tricked out with solar arrays the size of football fields, the Space Station has the volume of a five-bedroom house or two Boeing 747 jetliners. And not all the life aboard is human – current experiments here include a species of micro-animals called tardigrades (or water bears) as well as cotton plants.


The latter research is led (down on Earth) by UW-Madison botanist Simon Gilroy. His lab seeks to understand how root systems grow under the unique stresses of zero gravity. According to UW, the research, funded by Target, may help scientists learn how to more efficiently grow the crop (it takes up to 800 gallons of water to produce the cotton for one T-shirt). This research is also vital for understanding how to prepare for longer-term space missions with fresh foods grown in flight or on other planets. Biology gets lazy in space, explained Gilroy. “Plants lose their woody toughness.” Many of the students involved in the July 13 event participated in Discovery Outreach programs focused on STEM identity. The programs, which were based on the theme “There’s Space for Everyone in STEM,” highlighted the many ways we’re all connected to science and the opportunities in STEM.

Professor Simon Gilroy (center) and Team, Department of Botany and NASA research contributors from UW

Members of the WARF and Morgridge Discovery Outreach 35 Team

Wisconsin Science Festival Highlights UW Expertise with Fungi Fungi in Wisconsin go well beyond button mushrooms and meaty portobellos. They are important to our state in ways that range from posing serious threats to crops and ecosystems to being essential for numerous organisms and industries like brewing and cheese-making. They even hold promise for treating mental health concerns. “Science is all about the public. It’s really important for everybody to be part of it, to have a voice in it and know what it’s all about,” said Laura Heisler, Director of Programming. “Because fungi are found throughout Wisconsin and play such varied roles in our state, they offer a way for people to connect with science in their neighborhood and explore their curiosity.” Dozens of scientists across the UW-Madison campus study how fungi interact with us. The 2021 Wisconsin Science Festival spotlighted the depth and breadth of this expertise. At the ever-popular Science on the Square event, held this year in partnership with the Madison Night Market, outdoor STEM-themed activities mixed with vendor tents along State Street. Specimens of mushrooms and other fungi were on display, and visitors to downtown Madison could take advantage of activities from groups like the Wisconsin Mycological Society, as well as opportunities for conversations with campus researchers like Anne Pringle, a professor of botany who studies the ecology and evolution of fungi. They could even try a slice of ‘Mushroom Magic’ from Ian’s Pizza. “Science is everywhere, and the Night Market was the perfect place to showcase it,” said Sam Mulrooney, Program Manager. “Meeting people where they are and highlighting the science and art that happens all around us is what made this event so unique and accessible.” Two panel discussions at the Discovery Building focused on fungi. The first talk, Magic Mushrooms? Research on Fungus-Derived Hallucinogens at UW-Madison and Beyond, highlighted the new transdisciplinary center and master’s degree program launched by the UW-Madison School of Pharmacy to support research on the potential value of psychedelic compounds from fungi and other plant sources to address a range of conditions. The other talk, Fungi in Wisconsin: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, explored the roles that fungi play in supporting and threatening important Wisconsin habitats and industries.


Mesmerizing mushrooms and a world of wonder were featured at the second annual outdoor movie night at the Madison Mallards. Before the lights came down for showings of Fantastic Fungi and Alice in Wonderland, experts from the Madison Mycological Society were on hand to answer questions and identify fungal specimens, and students from What’s Eating My Plants? (WEMP, an outreach organization from UW-Madison’s plant pathology department), shared examples of fungi and fungal diseases. New this year was Science in a Bag, which offered free STEM kits for K-12 youth at libraries around the state. Among the variety of activities was an option to color a mushroom postcard, as well as an experiment from one of the UW-Madison groups studying fungi. In addition to the focus on fungi, the steering committee – led by College of Letters & Science Dean Eric Wilcots – encouraged an emphasis on the importance of evidence in advancing understanding. This year’s Big Ideas for Busy People event, How Do We Know What We Know?, took on that focus with wide-ranging flash talks featuring UW-Madison and Morgridge Institute faculty from six different disciplines. “The Wisconsin Science Festival has something for everyone,” said Mulrooney. “We encourage you to join us next year to see what the 2022 festival will bring.”





WARF staff and their families devote hundreds of hours to support and strengthen our community. From food banks to blood drives, our staff are coming together to make a difference.



Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation Investing in research, making a difference.


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