OSU To Launch Aquatic Technology Chair with $20 Million Gift

Weatherford Hall at Oregon State University.

The Gaulke Center for Marine Innovation and Technology will focus on an interdisciplinary approach, combining AI, robotics and oceanography to solve pressing climate challenges.

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Oregon State University has announced the creation of a faculty chair position to lead research and development of aquatic technology, made possible by a $20 million gift to the college from alumni Judy and Mike Gaulke.

The Gaulkes’ gift provides funds to establish the Michael and Judith Gaulke Chair in Ocean Innovation. The person holding this chair will serve as executive director of the center and hold a joint faculty appointment in the OSU Colleges of Engineering and Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

The gift does not include a new building space, but establishes the Gaulke Center for Marine Innovation and Technology which will be an organizational base under which to bring people together from multiple fields to collaborate on issues, including collaborations between oceanography and artificial intelligence, to support research and development of technology that “helps society better understand, protect and utilize the ocean and its environment.”

The center will help to accelerate Oregon State’s continuing research in the fields of oceanography and robotics. In September, the school announced researchers would undertake a three-year project to develop an unmanned robotic system that could independently explore under ice shelves using artificial intelligence, and design robotic boats that aid in measuring glacier ice melt.

“Our future lies in the ocean, and it’s very clear that we need to change how we care for it,” Mike Gaulke said in a press release. “Marine sciences can help, and it’s very exciting to see how advanced technologies can provide tools and approaches for addressing problems.”

In 2012, the couple gave OSU a $3.5 million donation to establish the Michael and Judith Gaulke Chair of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science endowed faculty position at OSU.

“We are grateful to the Gaulkes for their support as we boldly tackle some of today’s biggest challenges,” said Oregon State University President Jayathi Murthy, in the release. “What is so special about this gift is that it leverages OSU’s global distinction in oceanography with our extraordinary strength and depth in engineering. The Gaulke Center will inspire and enable greater collaboration and technological innovation in ocean research.”

The gift also includes startup funding for the new center, support for faculty and graduate students and funding for early-stage research or projects capable of having significant impact but possibly considered too risky to receive other types of funding. A representative from Oregon State University confirmed the space for the center had not been identified yet.

An endowment will provide long-term support for the center.

Mike Gaulke spent 13 years as CEO of California-based engineering consultancy Exponent Inc. He was inducted into the OSU Engineering Hall of Fame in 2008. Judy Gaulke is an artist, author of 16 cookbooks, and former editor at Sunset magazine.

According to the release, the Gaulke Center will also leverage research from the Jen-Hsun and Lori Huang Collaborative Innovation Complex, a $200 million research and education facility made possible by a gift from NVIDA founder and CEO Jen-Hsun Huang and his spouse Lori. The center will house one of the nation’s most powerful supercomputers and feature team-based approaches to solving global challenges in areas such as oceanography, climate science, and water resources when it opens in 2025.

“We have had the opportunity to sail, dive and swim in oceans around the world, and we have seen dramatic changes within our own lifetime – from the disappearance of sharks to coral bleaching,” Mike Gaulke said. “From the massive worldwide problem of junk in the ocean to the opportunity of harnessing sustainable energy, there are so many challenges to address. We believe OSU is the ideal place to invest in creating solutions, and we hope others will join us.”

A search committee is currently being formed to hire the Gaulke Center’s executive director, with the goal of having the position filled by summer 2024.