Penn’s Celebration of Innovation Features Silfen Forum With Amy Gutmann and Walter Isaacson

University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann and David L. Cohen, chair of Penn’s Board of Trustees, invite Penn students, faculty, staff, alumni, trustees and friends, as well as the region’s business and tech community, to a series of events from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 31, celebrating innovation at Penn and showcasing Penn’s South Bank, a hub for innovation and new business ventures.

The afternoon features the 2014 David and Lyn Silfen University Forum, “From Idea to Innovation: The Impactful University,” a conversation between Gutmann and special guest Walter Isaacson. Isaacson will draw from his new book, The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution. There will also be a series of “Pennovation Talks,” dynamic presentations by four Penn innovators; tours of the South Bank; and a ceremonial groundbreaking for the Pennovation Center (2016), which will be a central component of the South Bank’s mission to advance innovation at Penn and across the Philadelphia region.

"We are creating an innovation ecosystem at Penn that is expanding at an unprecedented pace,” said Gutmann. “The celebration at the South Bank is designed to highlight the impressive range of innovative activities already taking place on campus.

“The Pennovation Center will be a dynamic hub that maximizes Penn's impact by bringing together researchers, students and the private sector to foster innovation and development in the region. Our signature strength in integrating knowledge across disciplines gives this approach to innovation and technology transfer new muscle, and important new momentum."

Epitomizing the impactful and innovative research being done at Penn, four faculty members will give brief “Pennovation Talks.” The presenters are the School of Arts & SciencesA.T. Charlie Johnson, the School of Engineering and Applied Science’s Katherine Kuchenbecker, the Perelman School of Medicine’s John Trojanowski and the Wharton School’s Karl Ulrich. They will discuss topics such as robotic surgery, Alzheimer’s as an infectious disease and the importance of innovation.

“The research discoveries hatched at Penn are having a real societal and economic impact in our region, our country and the world,” said Vice Provost for Research Dawn Bonnell. “During this event, people can interact with thought leaders at Penn and see inspiring examples of innovation in a variety of venues. We will also be highlighting the infrastructure the University is creating to further support entrepreneurship, industry and community partnering and technology transfer.”

Penn’s investment in the campus expansion at the South Bank – a 23-acre development at 34th Street and Grays Ferry Avenue acquired by Penn in 2010 –  is focused on advancing innovation and supporting the rapid application of research discoveries into new ventures that meet society’s pressing needs.

The South Bank is being developed as a home to tenants from both the University and the private sector, with an emphasis on innovation-based economic development and entrepreneurial activities.

Already South Bank has attracted such innovators as the Penn School of Veterinary Medicine’s Working Dog Center, the School of Dental Medicine’s Research Greenhouse and Arts & Sciences’ Bio Garden; PCI Ventures and the UPstart company Novapeutics; KMel Robotics; Edible Philly magazine publishing; and The Philadelphia Free Library archives. And it will soon be home to the expansion of Penn Engineering’s GRASP Lab. As the University’s robotics research arm, its projects range from advancing a computer vision that will eventually inform self-driving cars to sensitive mechanical fingertips that can assist with surgeries to bacteria-powered nano-motors.

The celebration will include a ceremonial groundbreaking for the Pennovation Center, which will form a central part of Penn’s South Bank, repurposing 52,000 square feet of reinvigorated industrial space as a hub to facilitate and accelerate entrepreneurial activities, creative collaborations and new approaches to the commercialization of research discoveries at Penn.

The building will also house the Penn Ventures initiative of the Penn Center for Innovation (PCI). As part of the University’s focus on innovation, PCI is designed to help accelerate the translation of Penn discoveries and ideas into commercial products, businesses, and services.

The afternoon will culminate with a networking reception and tours of three of the facility’s current tenants:

• The Working Dog Center, founded and directed by veterinarian Cynthia Otto, works to determine how best to breed, rear and train dogs that aid humans with tasks as vital and varied as search and rescue, explosives or drug detection and diabetes alert. In partnership with researchers in Penn’s School of Arts & Sciences and Perelman School of Medicine, the WDC has also been involved in using dogs to sniff out ovarian cancer.

• KMel Robotics was spun off from Penn’s GRASP lab in 2011 by Alex Kushleyev and Daniel Mellinger, then recent Penn graduates.  KMel designs and builds high-performance flying robots for use in research.

• The Penn Dental Research Greenhouse, a high-tech, $2 million greenhouse purpose-built for Henry Daniell's plant-based drug delivery research system, which uses genetically engineered lettuce leaves grown to treat or prevent diseases as varied as Alzheimer's, polio, diabetes and hypertension.

RSVP required. Additional information is available at A live web stream of the Forum will also be available at

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