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Ninth annual Wisconsin Science & Technology Symposium improves on past events, looks to the future of innovation

Robert McGaff, UW-La Crosse, receives the first annual Carl E. Gulbrandsen Innovator of the Year award

The ninth annual Wisconsin Science & Technology Symposium (WSTS), held this year at UW Oshkosh, saw a record-setting attendance of 225 UW System students, staff, faculty, alumni and industry partners.

The conference kicked off with a keynote address by Daniel Burrus, one of the world’s leading futurists on global trends and innovation. Burrus is a UW Oshkosh alumnus. He invited the audience to look into the future and analyze “hard” and “soft” trends.

Burrus’ talk explored the value of personal and professional relationships in innovation, a concept that was echoed in the event’s theme, “Energizing innovation through meaningful collaboration.”

“WiSys started this conference nine years ago to bring together talented researchers at UW’s regional comprehensive campuses,” says executive director Arjun Sanga. “Over the years we have seen many meaningful collaborations spring from the event, resulting in exciting new innovations.”

This theme also inspired some changes to the conference programming, including a showcase on the impressive gaming projects being undertaken across the UW System and one session with parallel scientific and educational tracks. Also new this year was an award for the innovator of the year named in honor of a Trustee who deeply impacted WiSys since its creation: Carl Gulbrandsen.

The Carl E. Gulbrandsen Innovator of the Year award was created to honor the former managing director of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) who supported WiSys throughout his 16year tenure. Since then, his leadership and support have been invaluable to the rapidly growing foundation.Not only has WARF supported WiSys as an affiliate organization over its sixteen years of existence, Gulbrandsen has guided the strategic direction of WiSys through his service as Chairman of the board of trustees for the first 14 years and Treasurer for the past two years.

Dr. Robert McGaff, a UW-La Crosse professor of chemistry and biochemistry, took home the Innovator of the Year award for his long-running dedication to WiSys programs. He was selected by WiSys staff for embodying the ideals of a WiSys Innovator.

McGaff received three Applied Research Grants in a row, totaling $130,000, for his work on green chemistry involving environmentally friendly catalysts. He has disclosed twice to WiSys, with both inventions having commercial potential and one patent pending. McGaff has also been a strong advocate for the WiSys Ambassador program, working with and helping to recruit UW-La Crosse’s ambassadors.

The two-day symposium featured scientific presentations, panel discussions and networking activities to highlight the potential for partnerships across disciplines and across the state. An evening bowling event also allowed for friendly competition while getting to know other attendees.

The 2017 Wisconsin Science & Technology Symposium is scheduled for late July and will be held at UW-Platteville.

“UW Oshkosh was proud to host this important symposium and I look forward to attending next year's event hosted by UW-Platteville,” says UW Oshkosh Chancellor Andrew Leavitt. “Significant contributions to economic development are being made by the work of faculty across the system and WiSys, and this symposium brought out some of the best research from our great comprehensive Universities.”