For 13 years, Robert Wilhelm, 45, has been a major player in the transformation of UNC Charlotte into a noted research center for technology. He helped start the university’s mechanical engineering program and contributed to the development of its doctoral programs in mechanical engineering, biotechnology and information technology (IT). He also played a part in the creation of the Charlotte Research Institute (CRI) in 2000 and was most recently the associate director of UNCC’s Center for Precision Metrology, which is affiliated with CRI.

Named executive director of CRI in November, Wilhelm is now at the helm of the joint university-business community efforts to make UNCC — and the Charlotte region – a national research center in precision metrology, optoelectronics, e-business and bio-informatics.

Wilhelm’s efforts focus on recruiting high quality faculty who are also innovative researchers, finding funding and other resources for their work (including government grants and business support), and building relationships with area businesses. But he is quick to note, “I will continue to work hard to keep UNCC a student’s university where they have a lot of contact with their professors and where we keep a sense of community.” His only regret in taking the new job is that he will no longer be able to teach and conduct research in his fields of mechanical engineering and engineering science.

CRI was born as a result of a recommendation by Advantage Carolina, a Charlotte Chamber of Commerce-sponsored blueprint for economic development in the region. Duke Energy jump-started the effort with an endowment of $10 million. Today, CRI continues to receive support from the business community and has set up partnerships with a number of firms. “Business support has been very significant, especially in the growth of research efforts,” Wilhelm said.

For example, regional companies can make use of the university’s facilities on a fee-for-task basis — that has included access to a clean room for semi-conductor and optoelectronic product design, software development, and computing capacity for biotech and bio-informatics firms. “We look for partnerships that are relevant to the university’s mission,” Wilhelm explained.

Three of CRI’s centers are well developed, and a fourth, in bio-informatics, has just gotten off the ground. The e-business focus began its work in IT, primarily for the financial services industry, but has now broadened its scope. The center has developed an expertise in information security and is one of the first centers to be named a Center of Excellence in Information Assurance Education by the National Security Agency.

In 2002, the optoelectronics center joined with Clemson and West Carolina universities to form the Carolinas MicroOptics Triangle, a full service research, educational and business development resource to the optics industry.

“The faculty is the engine driving these efforts,” Wilhelm says. “I am not in a command and control station. My job is to develop partnerships.”

Wilhelm is also overseeing an ambitious physical expansion of CRI. Some 100 acres have been set aside along Highway 29 as UNCC’s Millennial Campus. The first of UNCC’s two initial buildings (each about 100,000 square feet and costing about $30 million) opened in July and houses the metrology and mechanical engineering departments and motorsports/automotive research efforts. The second building opens this spring and will house the optoelectronics center, the physics and optical engineering departments and CRI administration. Ground will be broken on a $35-million building — for the bio-informatics center — later this year.

In addition to overseeing this expansion, Wilhelm has four main goals for his first year in the job: building on CRI’s results; more aggressively marketing the CRI and its successes; developing core infrastructure to make services more accessible to companies; and eventually making CRI financially self-sustaining.

Wilhelm was named interim executive director in June after the resignation of Deb Clayton, CRI’s first executive director, in early 2005. She is now commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Commercialization and Innovation. He spoke highly of the legacy she left. “Deb was phenomenal at creating a vision of the university and was energetic and tireless at promoting the university and its science and technology expertise, as well as the notion that it’s a good place for business,” he said. “She left me a lot to work with.”

Blue Diamond Awards Set

Mark your calendar: The Charlotte Chamber’s IT Council will hold its annual Blue Diamond Awards presentation the evening of Monday, March 27, at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. The awards have recognized the accomplishments of technology-based solutions and contributions made by Charlotte area companies and individuals since 1988. For details, e-mail:

Countdown to Five Ventures

The following week, on Friday, April 6, UNCC’s Office of Technology Transfer will hold its sixth annual day-long Five Ventures Entrepreneurial Event. Five entrepreneurs will compete for technical and financial support by sharing their visions for their businesses and demonstrating their knowledge of capital financing and their skills in sales and marketing in an interactive business acumen competition. For more details, visit:

UNCC Fares Well in Cyber Games

Congratulations to UNCC, whose student team from the College of IT — dubbed Miner’s Threat – placed first in the South, fourth in the US and 10th in the world in the 2005 International (cyber) Capture the Flag competition, considered the most prestigious international intercollegiate cyber game. Teams are judged on their defensive and offensive skills, and they also had to defend their computer systems against attacks from other teams while simultaneously trying to capture electronic flags from other teams