The University of Akron's polymer program is losing a big-league researcher and his staff to Duke University, but officials vowed to continue investing in the school's College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering.
Matthew Becker announced March 5 on Twitter that he's moving to Duke, along with his lab and 13 staff members.
"I am excited to let you all know that the Becker Lab @MLBeckerGroup will move to Duke University @DukeU starting August 1, 2019! We are excited for the future and humbled by the opportunity to work with new colleagues in @DukeChemistry, @DukeMEMS and @DukeOrtho!" Becker wrote in a tweet now pinned to his lab's Twitter page.
Becker has been a standout researcher at UA in Akron, Ohio, a vocal supporter of the polymer college and a critic of losses in faculty and polymer researchers in 2017 and 2018.
He declined to be interviewed about the specific reasons for his departure, saying only in two brief emails that he's taking his lab staff, mostly graduate and doctoral students, with him to the North Carolina school because "I have decided the best path forward for me and my research team."
Becker and his group, who have been working on medical technologies such as a polymer-based delivery system to administer low doses of painkillers at the surgical site during operations, will work with Duke in the areas of chemistry, mechanical engineering, material science and orthopedic surgery, he said.
Becker brought both recognition and funding to Akron. At the end of 2017, he was awarded a $2 million grant from Ohio's Third Frontier program, its largest grant to a university at that time, according to the University of Akron's website.
Administrators said they're disappointed to see Becker and his team leave but happy that they are going to a prestigious school like Duke, which reflects positively on UA.
"It's always sad to lose a good colleague, particularly a colleague of high stature in his career like Becker," interim university President John Green said. "But people have to do what's best for their career and family, and he's been offered an incredible position — and a position he deserves."
Green continued, "Even though it's sad, it reflects positively on us that we have a person that a school like Duke wants to hire. And we remain strongly committed to the polymer department."
Polymer college interim dean Ali Dhinojwala said he, too, was saddened by Becker's departure but added that he's optimistic about the future of the college in light of recent investments by the university.
Dhinojwala said he's been able to hire three new doctorate faculty members in recent months and is in the process of hiring a fourth. They each will run their own labs and perform research at Akron.
"Three of them have already accepted and are going to join in the fall," Dhinojwala said. "We've put in all the investment that will be necessary for them to start here. … The fourth person is also very close to accepting, and we are finalizing the offer this week."
Green said that although the university continues to go through a restructuring — it recently put a reorganization plan on a temporary hold — it remains committed to funding its polymer college.
"When we finished our program review last summer, there was a lot of focus on the programs we decided to phase out, but I think an even more important part was that we designated areas for investments," Green said.
"And the polymer science and engineering colleges were both targeted for investments. … We really have to build on our strengths, and these are areas of strength. So supporting these colleges is certainly a priority."
In addition to hiring the new faculty members, the polymer college also received funding to hire five technical staff members, all doctorates, who will help faculty and researchers with labs and equipment, Dhinojwala said.
"We were successful in hiring all five of them, and the last one will be joining us in April," Dhinojwala said.