Cluster Hiring Initiative

What if we could control the function and fate of our genomes? Find the keys to preventing obesity? Really understand how the brain is built?

These are some of the questions our faculty researchers are asking right now. These questions lead to another: What if we could recruit the world’s most accomplished researchers to work in areas where we have the greatest promise?

Our answer is the “Clusters of Excellence,” a plan to strategically hire top teachers in 10 specific fields. Donor investment is already helping us realize these plans and find better ways to address some of Oregon’s–and the world’s–most urgent and unrelenting challenges.

The UO will provide seed funding, but gifts from private donors will be essential in making this effort a success. The cluster hires will

  • dramatically expand the number of faculty engaged in cutting edge research
  • increase the impact of the UO's programs by addressing society's needs
  • advance the UO's commitment to educating the next generation of scholars
  • enhance the UO's ability to attract the very best faculty and students

Read more about each cluster below.

For complete details on the cluster proposals, see the provost’s website.

For information about investing in the Clusters of Excellence, contact:

Josh McCoy
Director of Campaign Projects

Energy and Sustainable Materials

The UO is a global leader in green chemistry education and basic research leading to the manufacture of sustainable materials. We’re also home to the acclaimed Center for Sustainable Materials Chemistry and CAMCOR, Oregon’s high-tech extension service. UO researchers are collaborating, crossing boundaries, and making discoveries about materials that will transform society.

We’re finding greener ways to teach chemistry and manufacture goods. For example, UO researchers are working on materials that will not only convert sunlight into electricity, but also store reserves of energy as a chemical bond for later use. That could lead to solar panels that work even if the sun isn’t shining. A UO spinoff company is developing sensors to help farmers avoid using excess fertilizer. The list goes on.

Another major selling point is our new nanoscience facilities, the best in the world for working with building blocks at the atomic level.

Building on this foundation of excellence, a cluster hire for the university’s Center for Sustainable Materials Chemistry will establish the university among the world’s top programs in sustainable and energy materials. The research, education, and partnerships that result will transform industry and society while creating new businesses and benefiting the economy.

Hires: 3


College of Arts and Sciences: Chemistry and Biochemistry; Physics

Materials Science Institute

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Sustainable Cities Initiative

The earth’s population is 7.1 billion, and more than half these people live in cities. By 2050, the UN estimates that 9.6 billion people will inhabit our planet, and more than 70 percent will live in cities. The rise of city populations represents the largest rural-to-urban migration in the history of humanity.

Addressing the world’s most pressing problems, such as food and water scarcity, energy, and climate change, will require rethinking how we build and manage cities. The UO is already leading this effort through our Sustainable Cities Initiative (SCI), an internationally-recognized program that wins awards, helps communities, and gives students hands-on experience creating better cities.

This cluster hire will leverage a well-established program, expanding our successful cross-disciplinary approach. It will transform SCI into an internationally recognized think tank for sustainable urbanism. This will lead to new solutions in planning, design, policy, and economics.  We will create new ways to link research with policy change and industry. The result? A world of sustainable cities.

Hires: 4


School of Architecture and Allied Arts: Planning, Public Policy and Management

School of Law

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Integrated Analysis of Biological Networks

Since the discovery of the basic DNA structure in 1953, scientists have been exploring the human genome with greater speed and accuracy. UO researchers helped spur this scientific revolution by pioneering research into the molecular basis of inheritance.

These historic milestones led to a global effort to unlock the genetic secrets of life. However, the impact of these discoveries has been limited because they only look at one piece at a time.

Think of the human genome as a car. So far, we’ve identified thousands of parts. But we don’t know how they work together, what causes breakdowns, or how to fix them. Currently, the UO is a world leader in systems biology, the effort to discover how all these parts work together.

Systems biology unites the analysis of many genes, microbes, or neurons to understand how complex organisms are built—for example, how cells form a brain. This cluster hire will leverage some of our greatest strengths and accelerate our efforts to answer fundamental questions about the nature of living systems. Ultimately, these will lead to novel solutions for medical problems and improve human health.

Hires: 5


College of Arts and Sciences: Anthropology; Biology; Chemistry and Biochemistry; Computer and Information Sciences; Mathematics; Physics

Institutes: Ecology and Evolution, Molecular Biology, Neuroscience

Read more
Sports Product Initiative

Oregon is quickly becoming the epicenter of sports products, with more than 800 athletic and outdoor industry companies and total employment of more than 14,000 (according to a 2010 study). Portland has the highest concentration of footwear distribution and manufacturing in the nation.

The UO is taking advantage of—and leading—this trend through the Sports Product Initiative (SPI). We benefit from access to industry leaders, internships, and job leads. Industry and the state’s economy benefit from the talent and new ideas being nurtured at the university.

Cluster hires will enable us to take advantage of this opportunity for tremendous growth and impact. The SPI will help unite the university’s Eugene and Portland locations and strengthen ties between the university and Portland, the state’s sports product hub. It will also leverage the university’s emphasis on sustainability, globalization, and innovation.

Hires: 4


Lundquist College of Business: Marketing; Management

School of Architecture and Allied Arts: Product Design

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Volcanology, Volcanic Hazards, and Geothermal Energy

At the UO, volcanology represents both excellence and tremendous potential. As one of only two AAU institutions in the Pacific Northwest—an area with abundant geological wonders and an active volcanic region—it stands to reason that the UO should be a national (and international) leader in this field. Volcanology also unites many different fields, which makes sense for a university that embraces collaboration and an interdisciplinary approach.

As the world’s population continues to grow and become more interconnected, it’s becoming more important to understand volcanoes. For example, the 2010 eruption in Iceland shut down European airports and cost an estimated $1.7 billion. The Cascade Range through Oregon and Washington has 21 major volcanoes, and that is not counting Mt. Shasta, which is just over the Oregon-California border. The US Geological Survey has placed eight of these on the listing of "most likely to blow and endanger people."

Rapidly evolving technology, advances in computer modeling, and the growing capacity to handle large amounts of data are transforming volcanology and its impact. Our research is already making a big difference for society, and we are well-positioned to compete for top faculty members and make this distinguished program even better.

Imagine having the ability to accurately predict eruptions within days or even hours. Or tapping into the potential of geothermal energy. With this cluster hire, the UO will lead these efforts and become one of the top volcanology programs in the world.

Hires: 5


College of Arts and Sciences: Geological Sciences

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Prevention and Intervention Sciences in Special Education

Special education is the UO’s highest-ranking program. Of all our schools and colleges, education receives the most dollars in federal grants, and special education receives the majority of this funding. Every day, the UO’s special education researchers are helping children, families, and teachers in tangible ways.

They develop innovative ideas that work, and the impact of their efforts spans the nation and the globe. They’re introducing scientifically-proven behavioral interventions and helping principals manage schools. These proven approaches are efficient, effective, and scalable.

This cluster hire will build on the university’s strengths in prevention and intervention sciences, double our research and scholarly productivity, and open new opportunities for external funding. It will transform UO special education into one of the world’s pre-eminent programs.

Hires: 5


College of Education: Special Education; Clinical Sciences

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Life at the Nanoscale

The science of the small is a pretty big deal. By looking at life at the nanoscale—think thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair—UO researchers are gaining some new perspectives.

For example, our structural biologists aren’t just looking at cells. They’re looking at the smaller parts that make up the cells, like proteins and DNA. And they’re looking at the atoms that make up those parts. Their efforts could reveal clues about how cells move, divide, and metabolize—and how disease results when these functions go haywire.

At the UO, we have the high-tech tools, expertise in structural biology, and a strong background in X-ray crystallography (a technique for looking at cells at the nanoscale). This cluster hire will leverage these strengths and accelerate our efforts to unlock the secrets of cells.

Hires: 3


College of Arts and Sciences: Chemistry and Biochemistry; Biology; Physics

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Neurons to Minds

Building on our strong foundation in neuroscience and psychology, the UO is launching a new initiative to unite different approaches to brain research. By looking at the brain in new, interdisciplinary ways, we will revolutionize brain research.

Psychologists and neuroscientists study human brains from the outside. Biologists study animal brains from the inside. We will unite these two approaches, encouraging collaboration, innovation, and discovery at an unprecedented level.

We will also combine different scales and perspectives—from the smallest, neuron-level processes to whole brain networks and human behavior. This integrated approach will bring together neuroscientists from different specializations who look at the brain from diverse perspectives. Together, they will examine fundamental questions about the human brain in novel ways. The results of this research could lead to new discoveries about mental illness, impulse control, and memory loss.

Hires: 4


College of Arts and Sciences: Psychology; Biology

Read more
Center for Genome Function

From the 1960s to the 1980s, the UO was an international leader in classic genetics, making major discoveries about the mechanics of how organisms inherit traits. We were the first to clone a vertebrate species (the zebra fish). This success was the result of a cluster hire.

Since then, we have retained this foundation in classic genetics.  However, developmental biology—the study of how organisms grow—has become more prominent. This cluster hire will re-establish the university’s preeminence in genetic research during an exciting time for this field.

Today, scientists are discovering new ways that cells and genes stores information. They’re using newer, faster tools that gather remarkable amounts of information. And they’re using computers that can crunch all that data.

The Center for Genome Function will engage in cutting edge research on fundamental genetic mechanisms. This is the ideal time for the UO to build on its strong foundation and assert itself, once again, as a global leader in this rapidly-evolving field.

Hires: 5


College of Arts and Sciences: Biology; Chemistry and Biochemistry; Physics

Institute of Molecular Biology

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Health Promotion, Obesity Prevention, and Human Development

In the US, two-thirds of adults and nearly one-third of children are obese. The current generation of children is expected to live five years less because of obesity. In response to this growing epidemic, the federal government has launched several initiatives to promote health and prevent obesity.

These have created tremendous opportunities for research partnerships and resources. For example, the federal government will spend $834 million in fiscal year 2014 on obesity studies. The UO has tremendous potential to play a key role in this important effort. We have long-standing strengths in several related fields, including genetics, prevention, education, biology, and human physiology.

However, we have yet to take full advantage of the expertise and resources on our campus. We have all the essential pieces. We simply need to start connecting them. This cluster hire will support distinguished faculty members who will unite multiple disciplines to focus on this pressing issue and join the nation’s efforts to prevent childhood obesity.

[Funded by a gift from Connie '84 and Steve Ballmer on Nov 12, 2014]

Hires: 5


College of Education: Counseling Psychology and Human Services (CPHS); School Psychology; Special Education and Clinical Services

College of Arts and Sciences: Department of Human Physiology; Department of Biology

Prevention Science Institute

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