Harvard, BASF to Start Joint Research

BASF, the world’s largest chemical company, officially launched a collaborative research program with Harvard yesterday.

Under the terms of the agreement jointly established by the University’s Office of Technology Development and BASF in October 2007, the German company will provide $20 million over the next five years to support Harvard researchers in areas including the applied sciences, engineering, and chemical and systems biology.

“As researchers, we are constantly looking for new, interesting problems to work on,” said physics professor David A. Weitz, who is co-directing the BASF Advanced Research Initiative. “The industry is a wonderful place to find and work on more problems that could make a difference for humanity.”

Weitz said that Harvard faculty will retain the right to distribute and publish research conducted during the five years, and BASF will have the opportunity to take the findings to a commercial level.

Jens Rieger, a researcher at BASF who will be co-directing the initiative with Weitz, cited the collaborative nature of this university-industry relationship as a unique strength.

Unlike most corporations that only provide funding to universities for research projects, BASF will be working closely with the professors and students at Harvard, Reiger said.

“We hope that this relationship will be kind of a paradigm for other relationships at Harvard and other universities,” said Michael P. Rutter, spokesman for the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).

Though the initiative is based at SEAS, Rutter said that the interdisciplinary nature of the research projects will necessitate interaction between departments and schools across the University.

The initiative will sponsor about 20 postdoctoral students, 10 of whom have already started working in Harvard labs since the initial announcement of the agreement in October.

Weitz added that the topics of all 20 projects under the initiative will be jointly agreed upon by Harvard faculty and BASF researchers.

“No one side can determine the project themselves,” Weitz said. “In the end, what BASF is interested in is the individual creativity of all the professors working with the company.”

Weitz said that the agreement will allow Harvard faculty to pursue their individual research interests, which coincide with those of BASF.

“It’s a classical win-win situation,” Rieger added. “Both partners get more out of the initiative.”

—Staff writer June Q. Wu can be reached at junewu@fas.harvard.edu.