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Jung to lead UA research institute

Biomedical engineer also an inventor in field of prosthetics by Jaime Adame | October 15, 2021 at 3:09 a.m.
Ranu Jung (Courtesy of University of Arkansas)

FAYETTEVILLE — Ranu Jung, a biomedical engineering researcher and inventor, has been named the founding executive director of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville’s Institute for Integrative and Innovative Research.

A $194.7 million grant from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation established the new research initiative, which will involve construction of a new research building — expected to be the costliest academic building in university history, a spokeswoman has said — and support for taking research to the marketplace.

Jung began in 2011 as head of the biomedical engineering department at Florida International University after previously holding faculty positions at Arizona State University and the University of Kentucky.

The National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering — a part of the federal National Institutes of Health — has spotlighted Jung’s work as an inventor developing neurotechnologies used in prosthetics for people who have lost function because of trauma or disability.

Jung’s work to develop new prosthetics that give users a sense of touch or feel has been featured in the documentary series, “Human: The World Within,” which aired on PBS and currently is available on the Netflix streaming service.

Last year, she became a fellow of the Biomedical Engineering Society, a nonprofit professional association. The distinction goes to those who have made “significant contributions” within the biomedical engineering community, according to the society’s website. She has also been honored as a fellow by the National Academy of Inventors.

In a statement, Jung said she is “deeply honored” to have been chosen to lead “a visionary, pioneering, trans-disciplinary institute.” The university last year announced the research effort as having five focus areas: data science, food systems, materials science, metabolic disease and integrative neuroscience.

“What appealed to me most about this position is the opportunity to be part of and contribute to a place that is taking a bold new initiative to create the future NOW, building on its founding principles,” Jung said in an email.

Jung will start in December, according to UA’s announcement Wednesday of her hire to lead the research institute, sometimes referred to as I3R.

“My first priority will be to meet and hear from many who will serve and be served by I3R as it becomes a beacon of excellence,” Jung said.

Andy Albertson, a university spokesman, said Jung will earn a salary of $350,000, with $197,000 of her salary coming from the Walton grant.

UA s p o ke s m a n M a rk Rushing, asked who made the hiring decision, in an email said that a search committee “facilitated the active national recruitment and review of potential candidates, leading to the final recommendation and hire.” Rushing said “active strategic recruitment” began in October 2020, resulting in 10 applicants.

Co-chairs for the search committee were John English, who began Nov. 1 as the university’s top research officer after serving since 2013 as UA’s dean of engineering, and David Snow, the university’s interim vice chancellor for economic development and executive director of technology ventures.

The committee group included Ross DeVol, president and chief executive officer of Heartland Forward, a Benton-ville-based research organization. A 2019 announcement from Heartland Forward at its launch described the organization as “a first-of-its-kind ‘think and do’ tank spearheaded by members of the Walton family and focused on advancing economic performance in the center of the United States.” DeVol, in a statement released by UA, said Jung “brings the perfect mix of skills for this critical position: passion, leadership, research prowess, collaboration across disciplines and engagement with industry.” I n te r i m C h a n ce l l o r Charles Robinson, who took on the role in August after the June resignation of Joe Steinmetz, in a statement praised Jung as “a world-renowned researcher and visionary.” The Walton family consists of relatives of Sam Walton, founder of retail giant Walmart.

The $194.7 million grant announced in July of last year includes $89 million for the new research facility, Rushing said.

Plans for a new campus building remain in the design phase, but the project has an estimated budget of $114 million, Rushing said.

The grant is not being used to pay for all the construction costs.

The University of Arkansas board of trustees in November approved the design and construction phrase of the project, with board documents stating that a grant match of $20 million from university funds as well as $30 million from a bond issue will help cover the research facility’s total cost.

Rushing said the new research building — with a site identified in board documents as being across West Dickson Street from White Engineering Hall — is planned to open by summer 2024.

Jung earned a bachelor’s degree from National Institute of Technology in India, then went on to earn master’s and doctoral degrees in biomedical engineering from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, according to her biography as posted on the Florida International University website.


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