Research Alliance Brings Two Bright Minds To Arkansas

Morton Olgaard Jensen, Jie Xiao and Gov. Asa Hutchinson pose for photos after Thursday's announcement.
Credit Jacob Kauffman / KUAR News

The Arkansas Research Alliance, a coalition of five research universities partnering with state businesses, announced today two $500,000 awards given over three years to a Chinese scientist specializing in energy storage and a Danish engineer focused on experimental cardiovascular surgery.

Created in 2010, the ARA recruits top intellectual leaders to Arkansas through its ARA Scholars Program, which with today’s announcement has awarded seven awards. Its board includes chancellors from the University of Arkansas, UALR, UAMS, Arkansas State University and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

Both of today’s new ARA Scholars, Jie Xiao and Morton Olgaard Jensen, will be based at the University of Arkansas. UA Chancellor Dan Ferritor described them as “rock stars in their field.”

Xiao has been a senior scientist from Pacific Northwest National Laboratories, where she led research and applications of energy materials and systems, specifically regarding the development of chemicals in batteries. UA Chancellor Dan Ferritor said she led a team that developed a battery the size of a grain of rice that was used to track the movements of salmon. As a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the UA, she will continue that kind of work in hopes of scaling it up for car batteries.

“She allows us to do what everybody wants to do,” Ferritor said. “It is what you really have to do to reach for greatness, and that’s to add strength to strength.”

Jensen researches medical device design and development and previously was director of research at the Scandinavian School of Cardiovascular Technology in Denmark. He researches experimental cardiovascular surgery. Earlier this year, he became Denmark’s third engineer since the year 1479 to earn the Doctor Medicinae degree for demonstrating significant clinical impact. At UA, he will conduct research and help the bioengineering department improve its curriculum.

Jerry Adams, ARA president and CEO, said afterwards that the awards bring not only ARA Scholars but also staff members. “We’ve had as many as eight or 10 people come with each ARA Scholar. … Sometimes they’re post-docs. Sometimes companies they’re creating are also moved,” he said.

Adams said that the $500,000 gifts are a “recruiting sweetener,” while “the host university takes 98% of the burden.”

“What we’re trying not to do is recruit a white knight into a program that’s not healthy, so there’s an evaluation of both the candidate but also the program they’re going into. And so the reality is, it’s they’re joining a strong program and making it stronger,” he said.

Through its Fellows program, the ARA also has provided four three-year $75,000 awards to Arkansas-based researchers and will grant another five awards this year.