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Leading the state in research-based innovation: Elizabeth Glogowski

| Denise Olson (story); Glen Mabie (video)

It can be easy to forget that the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s often-celebrated faculty members once were eager new graduates themselves, searching for that perfect institution at which to build their careers.

Dr. Elizabeth Glogowski, associate professor in materials science and engineering, was a newly minted Ph.D. in polymer science and engineering in 2009 and knew that she wanted to work at an undergraduate university after completing a post-doctoral program. 

“I only applied to primarily undergraduate schools. I was really excited about the prospect of UW-Eau Claire, and what looked like a great opportunity for balance between teaching and research,” says Glogowski, who joined the faculty in the fall of 2011.

In just 10 years, Glogowski has proven to be a standout research mentor, not only on campus but across the state, garnering multiple awards as a teacher-scholar. She was recognized in 2016 with the Emerging Mentor Award from UW-Eau Claire's Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, and in March 2020 with the UW System Regents Scholar Award for her innovative student-faculty research into polymers used in architectural coating products.

Most recently, Glogowski was named the 2020 Innovator of the Year by WiSys, a nonprofit organization supporting the UW System, dedicated to academic technology transfer, intellectual property protection and commercialization of UW System-born innovations.

Glogowski has worked closely with WiSys in recent years securing intellectual property protection for innovations and discoveries made in her student-faculty lab. In her current ongoing project, Glogowski mentors a student team in polymer research aimed at decreasing the cost and environmental impact of architectural coatings such as paints, primers and stains.

“We filed a new patent for this work in summer 2020,” Glogowski says. “This will open the door to finding industry partners in the state or across the U.S., and taking next steps toward commercialization.”

Dr. Michael Carney, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs and professor of chemistry, knows very well how research mentors like Glogowski get results through innovation in relationship building as well as in science.   

“Liz is a shining example of our faculty’s commitment to providing students with world-class research opportunities,” Carney says. “Having shared a research lab with Liz for several years, I can vouch for her excellence as an innovator and a research mentor. Her ability to include large numbers of undergraduates in her research lab, and to engage with them in a way that allows them all to learn from each other and make meaningful contributions to research projects, is truly remarkable. She is an innovator in science and an innovator in how to engage undergraduates in faculty-led scholarship.”

Doing what she loves: Building next-generation engineers

Glogowski is honored to have received this latest award, even if the title brings her a chuckle.

“Honestly, I don’t think of myself as an ‘innovator’ exactly ─ I just love to do research, to explore new science in engineering,” Glogowski says. “It just so happens that the polymers we have created have led to technologies that are useful to the world around us.”

Being able to watch her student teams grow as scientists and scholars is what Glogowski sees as the biggest reward of her career and being recognized for this work is humbling.

“I really love seeing my students take their fundamental knowledge, the base in calculus and organic chemistry, and begin to develop the real connections,” Glogowski says. “They see how it all comes together in an application that makes a difference in the world. It’s exciting.”

Life-changing opportunities for students

Liz Glogowski and Hunter Koltunski on the polymer lab.

Dr. Elizabeth Glogowski and junior chemistry major Hunter Koltunski in the polymer lab, working on next steps to commercializing their polymers for exterior paint and stain products.

One of those students, Hunter Koltunski of Rice Lake, has spent several semesters in Glogowski’s polymer lab, and served as a 2020 student ambassador to the WiSys organization. As a student ambassador, he was able to learn about intellectual property in Madison, and bring that knowledge back to campus and to his research team. He also earned individual grant funding through WiSys in August 2020 to continue his role in the project as a paid researcher (see related story).

“As a freshman, I never imagined I’d end up doing this type of sophisticated research,” the junior chemistry major says, pointing out the long-term benefits of both his lab experience and the grant funding.

“This job changed my whole outlook on what I see in my future. I once assumed I would work in industry in some capacity. I now know that I want to earn a Ph.D. and be both a teacher and a researcher, maybe in materials chemistry.”  

Outcomes like Hunter’s are exactly why UW-Eau Claire and professors like Glogowski will continue to build relationships with WiSys and other campus and system initiatives in support of collaborative student-faculty research and new discoveries.

“Hunter’s role as ambassador and the grant funding he received are excellent examples of how WiSys supports research at the comprehensive universities, and the pursuit of innovation,” Glogowski says.