AKRON—The University of Akron has received a $3 million gift that officials say will be used to advance research and development efforts by the school's polymer science researchers, especially with regard to medical devices.
The Knight Foundation announced Nov. 1 that it is funding the W. Gerald Austen Endowed Chair in Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering.
A Harvard professor, well-known surgeon and longtime Akron booster, Austen chaired the board of the Knight Foundation for 14 years before stepping down in 2010 at age 80. He also was a close adviser to the Knight family.
The chair is the largest at the university and will be held indefinitely by University of Akron professor Matthew Becker of the school's Polymer Science and Biomedical Engineering College.
Becker previously has garnered support from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and multiple industry sources. He and his research team are sharing a $6 million grant from the U.S. Army with two other institutions, to work on a bone-generation project that backers hope will provide new limb-saving medical techniques.
"The impact of this support extends far beyond the campus to the greater Akron community and beyond," said University of Akron President Matthew J. Wilson in announcing the gift. "Ohio is home to the largest polymer industry cluster in America, and many Akron-area businesses are part of this industry. The polymer research made possible at the university by this endowment will benefit the region on many levels."
Knight Foundation President Alberto Ibargüen said it's unusual for his organization to fund such work—it more typically funds projects related to arts and culture—but did so because of the importance of the university and its biomedical engineering work.
"Supporting the growth of The University of Akron—a center for learning and an anchor for the community — is essential to advancing the success of the city itself," Ibargüen said.
Funds derived from the endowment's investment returns will be used to pay for salaries and research efforts at Akron's College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering.
"By helping the university keep and attract high quality research faculty, the endowment will benefit Akron as a whole—working to raise the profile of the program further so that top students bring their talent to Akron and help contribute to the city's economic growth and development," said Kyle Kutuchief, Knight Foundation program director for Akron.
Austen urged Knight to support the school with the gift and expressed his appreciation as the new chair was announced.
"It's a great legacy, and very humbling to have an endowed chair bear my name," Austen said.
An Akron native, Austin received his bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his master's degree from Harvard Medical School.
In 1963, he led the development of modern heart surgery and went on to serve for 29 years as chief of surgical services at Massachusetts General Hospital.