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Some Thoughts and Remembrances on Faculty Entrepreneurship

Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications

Looking back on his career at the University of Virginia, George Gilles reflects on his impactful work with students and colleagues. Gillies is a research professor emeritus in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in UVA’s School of Engineering and Applied Science.


During my 35 years on the faculty, my primary research activities have focused on the creation of new medical devices and systems and on assisting with the technology transfer processes needed to bring them into the marketplace for the benefit of physicians and patients everywhere. The University has been a wonderful place to carry out this kind of work because of the broad base of expertise available across so many diverse fields like science, engineering, medicine, and commerce, and also because of the truly creative students that I have had the privilege of mentoring in the laboratory. In doing this kind of work, one quickly learns that innovation is central to success and that people love to solve problems in innovative ways. While students are always happy to score well on an exam, the pleasure of demonstrating mastery of textbook material is often eclipsed by the joy of seeing a new idea of theirs bear fruit during a novel experimental study.

The goal is always one of providing students with a quality educational experience that will help form the foundation for successful careers after graduation. Acknowledgment of their work via co-authorship on journal articles, conference proceedings, and patent applications provides tangible evidence of the value of their scientific and technical contributions and also forms a key part of their educational experience. As they gain insights and become ever more confident in their abilities, they learn that even the most challenging tasks become tractable when approached with patience and perseverance. These lessons are perhaps especially valuable for those undergraduate students who go on to graduate or medical school.

A key part of the University’s interface with industry is the Licensing and Ventures Group, which handles the patent filings for the many new intellectual properties generated at UVA each year and arranges for their commercialization. The goal is to bring new inventions to life within the marketplace and thereby realize value from them for all of the stakeholders involved including the Commonwealth, the University itself, and, of course, the inventors. It is important to note that such work is often done in collaboration with colleagues at partnering universities, federal laboratories, and industry, thus greatly expanding the scope of expertise available to solve difficult scientific and technical problems. The results of these efforts from our laboratory alone have led to over 40 patents, hundreds of scientific publications, and substantial royalty income being paid to the University by licensee companies over the years. Perhaps most gratifying to the workers in our team and our collaborators is that over 100,000 patients worldwide have been treated with FDA-approved technologies based on inventions that originated at UVA over 35 years ago.

It has been a distinct honor to work with the many talented individuals from all of these entities to create useful new medical devices over the years and I am certain that we will see many more exciting new developments from the UVA faculty and students in the years to come.