Seattle’s winter was full of national focus and interest due to its politics, music, and sports. In February, over 700,000 citizens gathered in downtown to celebrate the Seahawks win in the Super Bowl. Two weeks later, in his first State of City Address, new Mayor Ed Murray proposed his vision for the city while noting Seattle’s celebratory good will spirit. One day later, at a standing room-only policy summit, the Seattle Chamber of Commerce likewise noted the ongoing positive vibes of the city, but focused in-depth discussion on substantial issues that dominate many local policy discussions.
It was remarkable, though not surprising, how many topics and issues discussed by both the Mayor and the Chamber intersect with the current education, research, and outreach of Washington State University. And, given the tens of thousands of WSU alumni who live and work in Seattle, the Puget Sound region is filled with graduates who give back, pay it forward, and help support the community’s quality of life.
The Mayor’s speech and the Chamber’s policy summit, while noting Seattle’s innovative spirit and can-do attitude, highlighted how the city needs to deliver vital services to its citizens. Topics included effective transportation systems, effective educational opportunities for all, affordable, safe, and livable communities, a vibrant economy that builds entrepreneurial strengths in technology and trade, a sustainable environment at both local and global scales, and a community that celebrates differences through recognizing our commonalities as human beings.
WSU embraces, and is uniquely prepared to help communities address these core issues, not only in Seattle, but also in every city and town in our state and beyond. Because of its land-grant mission, the University is already working with local government, business, and the non-profit sector to research the issues, propose collaborative solutions, and discover new innovative applications of technology.
For example, Mayor Murray shared his vision for Seattle’s role in addressing climate change. WSU researchers are currently pursuing new strategies to build a sustainable energy economy focusing on clean technologies. This includes research in biofuels and green building designs, longer-lasting batteries, green asphalt made of recycled cooking oil waste, and the integration of renewable energy sources into smart grid technology to help cities adapt to changing global demands and to reduce our carbon footprint.
These clean tech solutions dovetail nicely with the Seattle Chamber’s focus on transportation and trade challenges in the greater Puget Sound region. Civil and environmental engineering programs of WSU have long worked with our state’s transportation leaders and collaborated with other universities to propose sustainable transportation solutions. From developing tools for integrating transportation and land use planning, to improving road design, to researching the use of recycled material to address crumbling roadways, to seeking new biofuels that will lower the impact of transportation emissions on climate change, this research contributes to more climate-friendly transportation solutions for the future.
Other Seattle-relevant WSU research includes seismic vulnerability and the retrofitting of bridges, exploration of the most effective multimodal transportation systems to serve communities, and improvement in the environmental, economic, and safety performance of freight transportation. Such research is particularly important for Puget Sound ports, given the heavy reliance on trucking to move products to and from the docks.
Further, to reduce stormwater runoff from roads – one of the leading and most pervasive forms of water pollution in the region – WSU is testing the use of permeable asphalt and concrete, and how road-side native plants and soil composition can successfully mitigate the effects of road-based pollution and stormwater velocity.
The Mayor and Chamber both highlighted the need to support Seattle as an international home for emerging technology, particularly biotechnology. WSU is a key regional player in helping Seattle meet this goal with the formation of WSU’s Office of Commercialization. This new venture will translate result-oriented research into real-world applications, specializing in what the University does best: life sciences-based technology. WSU research has led to the launch of 10 different start-up companies including M3 Biotechnology, Phytelligence, and Food Chain Safety.
Additionally, WSU is collaborating with the Seattle-based Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in conducting life-saving cancer research for humans and the mammals we are linked to. The University is also actively engaged with global health partners in Seattle to address worrisome animal-to-human zoonotic diseases by enlisting the unique skills and expertise in animal-related research to better understand and protect human health. WSU’s Washington Center for Muscle Biology, is researching new treatments for muscle diseases ranging from muscular dystrophy to heart disease, and translating research discoveries into life-changing remedies while also preparing future scientists on both sides of the Cascades to continue the quest.
Seattle has a partner in WSU. Our state’s land-grant university is prioritizing research on those values most important to people with a shared goal of providing safe, livable communities, vibrant economies, good health, and opportunities for education and life-long learning. Today’s reality is that we are truly one State, one region when we celebrate good times and address challenges together. The adaptive education, research, and outreach programs of WSU will remain vibrant contributors to solutions moving forward.