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Signed in September by UGA’s David Lee and BUCT’s Feng Wang, the agreement includes startup funding from BUCT for initial research collaborations and creates a mechanism by which UGA and BUCT can identify and cooperate in the pursuit of new research. (Photo courtesy of the Office of Research)

By Michael Terrazas

UGA has deepened its relationship with China’s Beijing University of Chemical Technology by signing an agreement that will establish a joint research center in biomaterials and bioengineering with the Chinese university.

Signed in September by Vice President for Research David Lee, the agreement allows for the two institutions to “develop new research and enhance existing research” through the creation of a joint center. In practical terms, the deal includes startup funding from BUCT for initial research collaborations and creates a mechanism by which UGA and BUCT can identify and cooperate in the pursuit of new research.

“Partnering with BUCT enhances our international reputation and helps increase our global visibility,” said James Warnock, professor and chair of the School of Chemical, Materials and Biomedical Engineering in the College of Engineering. “It also indicates how collaborative our faculty are and ­provides for both meaningful collaboration with colleagues on the other side of the world as well as a constant exchange of ideas. This partnership is very much based on complementary expertise—each university brings different areas of strength to the table.”

BUCT, which celebrated its 60th anniversary this year, enrolls more than 21,000 students, including some 6,300 graduate students, across its 14 colleges. It offers 35 Ph.D. programs and more than 110 M.S. degrees. The university recently has scaled up its research activities, and in 2016 it received nearly 727 million yuan (about $102 million) in STEM-related research funding.

“BUCT is highly thought of in China for its expertise in chemical engineering, advanced materials and biomanufacturing,” said Brian Watkins, director of international partnerships in the Office of International Education. “These sorts of initiatives are critical for UGA to tell our story in a global context—we’re collaborating with the smartest people around the world.”

The relationship between the two universities was sparked by one of ­Warnock’s faculty members, ­associate professor Yajun Yan, who earned both his B.S. and M.S. degrees in biochemical engineering from BUCT. Since coming to UGA, Yan has added partnerships with BUCT to a research portfolio in metabolic engineering that helped make him UGA’s 2018 Academic Entrepreneur of the Year. Yan also helped establish a dual-degree program with BUCT in 2017. That program allows for undergraduates to spend their first three years in Beijing, followed by two more in Athens, and emerge with both a B.S. and M.S. in bioengineering from BUCT and UGA, respectively. Currently four BUCT students are in Athens pursuing their dual degrees through the program.

“This partnership will further strengthen UGA’s study abroad programs and enrich the learning experiences of our students, will enhance the teaching materials and experiences of our faculty and will lead to more research opportunities for UGA,” Yan said. “The partnership will further enhance the student diversity at UGA and improve the international reputation and professional image of our College of Engineering.”