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Statement in support of innovation and entrepreneurship

In recent months, the University of Rochester has restructured the office devoted to technology commercialization and rebranded it as UR Ventures. We are focused on looking at ideas with societal potential from all disciplines, as technology continues to blur the lines between the disciplines. UR Ventures stands ready to assist you as your research work moves toward commercialization.

As Senior Vice President for Research and as General Counsel for the University, we are working in partnership to foster this culture, and we jointly chair the University's conflict of interest committee.

We want to make sure that members of our University understand our commitment to facilitate the translation of our innovations for the benefit of society.

We seek to promote an open and transparent environment for such work and ask that as you work towards moving ideas forward, you disclose any and all potential domains for conflict of interest as required under our policies.

We are committed to working with you to quickly and efficiently evaluate potential conflicts, and, as appropriate, implement a management plan to address the conflict. Our objective is to foster innovation and entrepreneurship and accelerate the translation of ideas for the benefit of society.

An open and transparent environment benefits all in this process.

We look forward to working with you.

Rob Clark. Senior Vice President for Research
Gail Norris, General Counsel

Reminder for faculty, investigators to file annual COI reports

Actual or potential conflicts of interest can arise when University faculty, postdocs, graduate students and other investigators embark on research when an outside financial interest may affect the results of the research. Investigators need not feel defensive about this: The University almost invariably finds ways to manage conflicts in ways that allow the research to continue. (Read more here.)

The first step is for faculty and other investigators to submit their annual reports of outside compensated activity, as required by the University of Rochester Faculty Policy on Conflict of Commitment and Interest and by their School/College. For most faculty, the deadline is March 1. However, for faculty and investigators in AS&E, the deadline is Feb. 16.

Faculty and investigators at the Eastman School, School of Medicine and Dentistry, School of Nursing, and Arts, Sciences and Engineering should use a web-based reporting system supported by their School/College. Links can be found at

Faculty and investigators at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics, and the Warner and Simon schools, should use this form.

Questions? Contact Gunta Liders, the University's Associate Vice President for Research Administration, or your School/College administrator.


From left to right, Frances Miller Seward, Augustus Seward, Elijah Miller and William Henry Seward. (From the collections of the Seward House Museum, Auburn N.Y.)

Letters open a window into 19th-century family life

Frances wished her husband would stay home more often. A witty, intelligent woman, with strong opinions, she resented the seeming endless rounds of social calls expected of a politician's wife, but dutifully performed them anyway.

Gus, the oldest son, never quite measured up to his father's expectations. The quiet, withdrawn army officer never married, but was devoted to caring for the women in his family.

Old Judge Miller, the father-in-law who shared his home with his daughter's family, was a successful businessman -- prominent in his community, but something of a fish out of water on the domestic front. He was scolded for hanging his socks to dry over a fireplace in the parlor where distinguished guests were entertained.

Welcome to the family of William Henry Seward, the 19th-Century upstate New York politician who gained prominence as the state's governor and U.S. Senator -- and as the secretary of state (for presidents Lincoln and Johnson) who brokered the Alaska Purchase.

The 12 students in Prof. Thomas Slaughter's class "Seward Family's Civil War" -- including a freshman in computer science, master's students in film and media studies and PhD candidates in history -- came to know the Sewards very well this past semester. Half of their coursework involved transcribing letters from the University's collection of more than 5,000 such items from Seward family correspondence. Those transcriptions will be part of an online archive that the University's Seward Project plans to launch as early as 2016.

The students are helping Slaughter pioneer new approaches and a novel pedagogy in historical editing, a field where such work is traditionally done by professionals who already have their PhDs. But the students' attention, first and foremost, has been riveted on the Seward family.

"I personally just really love Frances," said Demeara Torres, a freshman in computer science. "Here's this person you've never met, but after reading so many of her letters, you feel like you really know her."

Often the students find the strongest connections in the small but personal moments that resonate across time and distance. As when Gus, still a young boy, tries his best to write a very formal letter to his prominent father -- informing him that his turtles are still alive. Or when Frances, as any worried mother would today, writes to her son Fred to please tell her the details of an arm injury he mentioned in passing in a previous letter.

Slaughter also introduces his students to a wealth of scholarly textbooks, online databases and other secondary sources to help them understand the very different 19th-century contexts in which the letters were written -- the state of medical care, for example, or the dynamics of a Victorian household.

"We're always triangulating, trying to figure out the ways in which they are unique in their own time and ways in which they are typical, and also ways in which they are comparable to us and ways in which they differ," Slaughter explains.

This not only assists the students in transcribing and annotating the letters, but in preparing the 10-12 page capstone paper each student submits at semester's end.

"This is really exciting," explains Serenity Sutherland, a history PhD student who also works as the Transcription and Annotation Manager for the Seward Project. "A lot of our history has been told through men like William Henry Seward, but that is just a very small part of what was actually going on historically. By looking at the family, and the women, you get such a bigger picture of what life was really like; it changes your understanding of a given time period." That is especially true of the Seward family, where the major politics and events of the day were interwoven in family life. "It does increase knowledge that we didn't have before."

(Next: A trip to the Seward House Historic Museum in Auburn proves to be very "connecting.")

Do you have an interesting photo or other image that helps illustrate your research? We would like to showcase it. Send a high resolution jpg or other version, along with a description of what it shows, to

Online ads: The more views, the better for retailers, study suggests

(The first in a series of stories looking at how Simon School faculty use data science in their research.)

How many times can consumers see the same ad before they start tuning it out, leading to diminishing returns for the advertiser?

Apparently a lot more often than people have thought, says Garrett Johnson, Assistant Professor of Marketing at the Simon School and co-author of one of the largest studies to date of the effects of online display advertising on both online and in-store purchases.

The study, in collaboration with Yahoo! and an unnamed national apparel retailer, examined two weeklong ad campaigns that targeted 3 million joint customers of the internet company and the retailer. The experiment was designed so that one group of customers would be exposed to the retailer's ads, another to unrelated, control ads, and a third group to a mix of the retailer and control ads with equal probability.

Key findings:

1. Sales were 3.6 percent higher in the group receiving only retailer ads, compared to the control group.

2. Consumer response to advertising appeared constant even out to 50 ad exposures in two weeks -- a much larger number than the weekly caps of about three online display ads often favored by the industry.

3. The ads generated the largest sales lift among the retailer's best customers -- those who have purchased recently, spent heavily and are wealthy -- and among those who live near a store.

"We were really proud to be able to do this on such a large scale," Johnson said. "It is surprising, given how important this industry is, to see how few experiments like this have been conducted." Even with 3 million subjects, he added, the "signal to noise" challenges were formidable in trying to separate out the impact of the ads amid all the other variables affecting who makes purchases, how often, and in what amounts. "You're trying to find a really tiny effect in what is very, very, very noisy sales data."

Johnson collaborated with two other researchers at Yahoo! Labs. He worked there as a research scientist intern full time for two summers and part-time during the academic year in between, while pursuing the PhD he received at Northwestern in 2013. "I really pushed hard on including the proximity of customers to stores, and it turned out to be very important," he noted. The study inspired a new product at Yahoo! called Proximity Match, which enables advertisers to target consumers who live near their stores. "It's exciting to have contributed to something that was put into practice," Johnson said.

Click here to read more.

Basics of IP: Is it feasible? Is it relevant?

(This is one in a series of articles about the importance of intellectual property and its commercialization to the University and its researchers. It is based on a current UR Ventures lecture series, "Intellectual Property and Commercializing Technology" being offered by the office of the AS&E Dean for Research. The next presentation, "Working with Third Parties," will be at noon, Feb. 10, in the Gowen Room of Wilson Commons. Lunch provided. RSVP to

You may have a great idea to improve sanitation in Third World countries. It's definitely worth sharing. But you might not want to bother with a patent. Patents are only enforced in the specific countries in which they are issued, it is expensive and difficult to file for patents -- much less have them enforced -- in many Third World countries, and investors willing to pay royalties will be harder to come by.

In order to be approved for a patent, an invention must be new and not obvious. But there are other considerations that are weighed in determining whether a patent is worth pursuing, explains Reid Cunningham, IP attorney for UR Ventures, the office that helps University researchers apply for patents and license their innovations.

For example:

1. What advantages does the invention offer over already existing technologies? Is it faster, more cost effective, more reliable? Alternatively, "sometimes the main advantage is that it avoids other people's intellectual property," Cunningham added. "No, it's not faster. No, it's not as cheap. But it doesn't infringe (somebody else's patent), so at least it lets you compete."

2. Is it feasible? Would it involve costly changes in manufacturing processes? Is it dependent on new technologies that haven't been perfected yet, or on technologies that others have patented already, requiring cross-licensing? Does it require governmental approval that will involve years and years of costly testing?

3. How broad is its application? If you've come up with a neat way to improve a manufacturing process, but it's a process used only by your own company, there's no point in filing a patent because no one else would be interested in infringing.

4. Are there easy ways for a competitor to come up with an alternative, or "design around," to do the same thing? If there are, then a patent may not be worth pursuing. However, if there are only one or two alternatives, then mabye you should file for a patent on those as well, and block your competitors that way.

5. How hard would it be to detect infringement? It's one thing to come up with a better way to make aspirin, quite another to prove that a competitor has stolen the idea and is using it as well -- particularly if the competitor is in another country. Enforcement may require filing for a patent in that country as well. The tradeoff for disclosing an invention publically in a patent is the right to prevent others from using it. But if that exclusivity is hard to enforce, an alternative would be to try to protect it as a trade secret instead.

6. Is it marketable? Is it something a company would be willing to invest in, that would fit its business strategy? Will there be sufficient customer demand?

Next: What the UR Ventures specialists concluded when they examined whether to pursue a patent on the Rochester "cloaking" device.

Introducing a new faculty member

Richard M. Watson has joined the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics as a research assistant professor, after serving as a postdoctoral research associate in the department's William A. Bernhard Memorial Laboratory. His research focuses on the radical processes by which ionizing radiation, through direct effects, alters the chemical structure of DNA. He earned his PhD in Chemistry from Carnegie Mellon University in 2008.

Congratulations to . . .

Hani Awad and James McGrath, Professors of Biomedical Engineering, who were recently inducted as Fellows of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE) for their significant contributions to the biomedical engineering community. Read more . . .

Daniel Weix, Associate Professor of Chemistry, who has been named a recipient of the Novartis Early Career Award in Organic Chemistry. The award comes with a $150,000 grant over three years. Read more. . .

Paul Emile Rossouw who has been appointed chair of the Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics Department at the Eastman Institute for Oral Health. Read more. . .

University research in the news

A new study including Medical Center researchers suggests that the nutrients found in fish have properties that protect the brain from the potential toxic effects of mercury. The study, co-authored by Edwin van Wijngaarden, Associate Professor of Public Health Sciences, provides further evidence that the benefits of fish consumption on prenatal development may offset the risks associated with mercury exposure. Read more...

A new study led by Kevin Fiscella, Professor of Family Medicine, shows that personal letters from physicians plus automated phone calls work better than either tactic alone to increase screening rates among patients who are overdue on getting colonoscopies and mammograms, reports the Research@URMC Blog. The study also concludes that the combined intervention costs $5.11 per additional person screened for breast cancer and $13.14 per additional person screened for colorectal cancer. "These findings suggest the promise of a relatively inexpensive intervention to improve cancer screening, where the rates are low particularly among poor and minority patients," said Fiscella, who is also a researcher at the Wilmot Cancer Institute.

A study that included Catherine Cerulli, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Susan B. Anthony Center, and Diane Morse, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, as co-authors, reveals that justice-involved women with mental health diagnoses had larger general and mental health gains than their male peers when assigned to a mental health recovery court program in Kalamazoo County, MIch. They collaborated with Catherine Kothari, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Western Michigan University School of Medicine, who says the fact that justice-involved women have a higher likelihood of being in poor health and tend to commit less serious crimes than men, sets them up to benefit more from these types of programs. The authors say their findings suggest that gender-focused programming that integrates mental and physical health support could maximize the potential of mental health recovery courts. Read more . . .

PhD dissertation defense

Yuexin Xu, Microbiology and Immunology, "Optogenetically Engineered Chemokine Receptors in T cell Migration and Cancer Immunotherapy." 1 p.m., Jan. 27, 2015, Whipple Auditorium (2-6424). Advisor: Minsoo Kim.

Inna Vaisband, Electrical Engineering, "Power Delivery and Management in Nanoscale Ics." 4 p.m., Feb. 2, 2015, CSB 426. Advisor: Eby Friedman.

Dehua Zhou, Chemical Engineering, "In Search of High Energy Density Negative Electrode Materials for Sodium Ion Batteries." 10 a.m., Feb. 4, 2015, Gavett 208. Advisor: Jacob Jorne.

Steven Ivancic, Mechanical Engineering, "Channeling Experiments on OMEGA EP." 1:30 p.m., Feb. 5, 2015, Hopeman 224. Advisor: David Meyerhofer.

Click here for a chronological listing of PhD dissertation defenses since April 2014, by discipline.

Mark your calendar

Jan. 28: Optical Biopsy: Bringing Real-Time Cellular Imaging to Clinical Care. A Faculty Perspective webinar featuring James Zavislan, Associate Dean for Education and New Initiatives at the Hajim School and Associate Professor of Optics. 1 p.m. Free. Register here.

Jan. 30: Deadline for submitting information sheets for students to participate in the 2nd annual "America's Got Regulatory Science Talent" competition. Click here for more information. Questions? Contact

Jan. 30: Deadline to apply for Drug Discovery Pilot Awards to help drug discovery projects at the Medical Center overcome specific hurdles standing in the way of future research, funding, and commercialization. Click here for more information about submission criteria and guidelines.

Feb. 2: Applications due for PumpPrimer II funding to support AS&E innovative and high-risk projects that need proof of concept and/or pilot funding to get off the ground. Read more . . .

Feb. 2: Applications due for University Research Awards to support new research with a high probability of leveraging future external funding. Applications are due via email to Vini Falciano.

Feb. 10: "Working with Third Parties," part of UR Ventures lecture series, "Intellectual Property and Commercializing Technology." Noon, Gowen Room of WIlson Commons. Lunch provided. RSVP to

Feb. 12: "Integrity Matters: Protecting Patient Privacy is Everyone's Job," presented by Diane Healy, Privacy Officer for Research. A Study Coordinators Organization for Research & Education (SCORE) event. Noon to 1:30 p.m., K-207 Auditorium (2-7520).

Feb. 16: Deadline for AS&E faculty and investigators to file annual reports of outside compensated activity, as required by the University of Rochester Faculty Policy on Conflict of Commitment and Interest and their College. A web-based reporting system supported by the College can be found at

Feb. 20: Applications due from new investigators for pilot project funding from the University's Core Center for Musculoskeletal Biology and Medicine. Click here for the full RFA.

March 1: Deadline for most faculty and other investigators to file annual reports of outside compensated activity, as required by the University of Rochester Faculty Policy on Conflict of Commitment and Interest and their School/College. Eastman School, School of Medicine and Dentistry, and School of Nursing faculty and investigators should use a web-based reporting system supported by their School/College. Links can be found at Laboratory for Laser Energetics, and Warner and Simon school faculty and investigators should use this form. Questions? Contact Gunta Liders or your School/College administrator.

Please send suggestions and comments to Bob Marcotte. You can see back issues of Research Connections, an index of people and departments linked to those issues, and a chronological listing of PhD dissertation defenses since April 2014, by discipline.

Copyright 2013, All rights reserved.
Rochester Connections is a weekly e-newsletter for all faculty, scientists, post docs and graduate students engaged in research at the University of Rochester. You are receiving this e-newsletter because you are a member of the Rochester community with an interest in research topics.