Zachary Holman has had an impactful career during his time as a faculty member in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. The professor of electrical engineering, who specializes in materials science and engineering for solar technology, has been involved in a variety of research efforts, helped broker agreements with industry and academic collaborators to expand ASU’s research impact and co-founded three startup companies in the materials science and photovoltaics fields.
Among his latest achievements is one of his startup companies, Swift Coat, receiving a grant to adapt a coating for a NASA space helmet to reduce fogging from astronauts’ breath. Holman and his co-founder, a former doctoral student who studied under him, invented the coating, which repels water droplet formation and dirt from surfaces.
Holman’s accomplishments have earned him another notch in his career belt: the title of vice dean for research and innovation, or VDRI, in the Fulton Schools. He plans to use the platform to maximize the impact of the Fulton Schools’ far-reaching research, for which he emphasizes the need for industry collaboration.
“Partnerships are critical to the success and growth of the Fulton Schools,” Holman says. “We want to solve problems that matter.”
Kyle Squires, dean of the Fulton Schools and ASU vice provost of engineering, computing and technology, believes Holman’s new role is well-deserved and that the Fulton Schools has a bright research future ahead.
“Throughout his time in the Fulton Schools, Zak has consistently demonstrated an ability to define and execute on solutions to research questions that add to foundational understanding while advancing real-world engineered systems, in turn embodying use-inspired research,” Squires says. “Zak’s entrepreneurial acumen has helped him build inclusive strategies for engaging stakeholders in ways that ensure solutions developed lead to the greatest societal impact. As the vice dean for research and innovation, we look forward to supporting Zak to grow our research portfolio in ways that align with university goals.”
A new name and strategy for Fulton Schools innovation
Though Holman has co-founded three companies, he says this is his first time coming into a leadership position working with an established team. His first goal: Observe how the team works to ensure processes and people already working well together continue running smoothly.
Spending the first few months in the role helped Holman identify what could be improved to help research in the Fulton Schools flow smoothly.
“I find that if you ask faculty what holds them back from growing their research, they don’t normally say, ‘There’ aren’t enough grant opportunities that are a good fit for me to apply for,’” he says. “It’s always things like, ‘I am not getting the equipment installed that I need in a timely fashion.’”
Holman aims to improve logistics efficiency wherever possible to help faculty continue developing their innovative new technologies and processes.
To organize his objectives for a new direction for Fulton Schools research, Holman came up with a new name for the office: the Office of Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, or ORIEN.
“Historically, the office didn’t necessarily have a name,” he says. “Most people were referring to it as the VDRI office, but I wanted a name that was inclusive of the full team, especially as we grow it.”
Beyond the name change, Holman also plans to hire an associate dean for research commercialization and research directors to represent each of the eight Fulton Schools. The new associate dean for research commercialization role will focus on translating research from the university setting to the marketplace, while the research directors will be faculty members who provide insight from their respective schools regarding research environments, areas and priorities.
All of these positions will focus on ensuring the Fulton Schools achieves maximal research impact. Along with the new positions, Holman laid out four Research Impact Themes to guide the direction of engineering research for the next five years where it matters most: Technology-Enhanced Health and Medicine, Competitive Manufacturing in an Advanced Economy, Climate Technology Solutions and National and Economic Security.
Each theme includes focus areas called Engineered Embodiments that describe specific examples of technology and processes within the broader themes.
The Impact Theme of Technology-Enhanced Health and Medicine aims to improve capabilities for health care and medicine through innovations in imaging, cell and tissue engineering and biosensors.
Through Competitive Manufacturing in an Advanced Economy, Holman sees Fulton Schools researchers pushing the boundaries of fields such as data, additive manufacturing and automation. Due to the revival of manufacturing in the U.S., the Impact Theme aims to gain an edge for the nation’s production of goods in a globalized economy.
With the world facing increasingly dire risks if climate change is allowed to proceed unchecked, the Impact Theme of Climate Technology Solutions seeks to make technology more sustainable in the fields of water, the power grid and solar-generated electricity and its storage.
The fourth Impact Theme of National and Economic Security aims to boost U.S. resilience against military and economic threats to health and safety through communications technology, microelectronics and the rapidly evolving field of artificial intelligence.
Becoming the best for engineering research
Holman has ambitious goals for the Fulton Schools.
“I want the Fulton Schools to be the best engineering college at a university in the U.S., if not the world, to do engineering research and achieve impact,” he says. “I want it to be the best place to get your research funded. I want it to have the best equipment and the best capabilities, and I want it to be a leader in using those capabilities to democratize innovation.”
Holman aims to use such high-quality research resources to produce ambitious alumni who, along with faculty members, write award-winning papers, start successful companies and patent innovative inventions.