Video: Law, engineering students learn together in UTRF internships

Students of the University of Tennessee College of Law and the University of Tennessee College of Engineering had a rare opportunity to work together as interns this summer at the University of Tennessee Research Foundation (UTRF).

The UTRF technology transfer internship program is in its fifth year at UTRF. The foundation facilitates the transfer of inventions from research labs to the private sector, providing public benefit of new products that result from academic research funding. This process, referred to as technology transfer, involves a combination of science, business, and the law. Interns assist UTRF’s licensing associates in screening, evaluating, conducting patentability analyses, and performing market research on new technologies developed throughout the statewide UT system.

While UTRF has primarily hosted law and business students in the past, the foundation decided to branch out to engineering students this year in order to experiment with an interdisciplinary team.

“We wanted to see what it would be like to have engineering students work with law students and have them bounce ideas off each other,” says Maha Krishnamurthy, assistant vice president of licensing at UTRF. “It has worked out really well. Having an interdisciplinary team has benefited everyone. They all bring different perspectives to the same technology transfer and licensing issues, which broadens everyone’s horizons.”

“What we are looking for in our interns is essentially open-mindedness, which you look for in any student when you are hiring for a research group. We want to know that a student is willing to learn and roll up their sleeves and do things outside of their comfort zone,” says Krishnamurthy. “We see technologies in areas ranging from nuclear to medical devices to novel therapeutics and everything in-between. The technology a student gets one day is going to be completely different from what they will see the next day.”

The dynamic nature of the work at UTRF has led to some exciting challenges for this year’s interns.

“There are a couple of really big court cases that have come down recently that have changed patent law and I’ve been able to  study them and see what effects these changes will have on some of the patents we have at UTRF,” says Joe Smith, who will graduate with a law degree in 2017 and a bachelor’s degree in physics in 2018.

“We’re really fortunate to be able to work on a wide array of research areas. Some that I have experience with, like nuclear engineering, and then others, which are completely foreign to me, like agriculture,” says Chris Andrews, who will graduate with a master’s degree in nuclear engineering in 2017. “The great thing is that we’re supported by phenomenal staff who are experts in their field and we get the opportunity to work directly with faculty, who are very open and excited to share their research with us.”

The interns will continue working at UTRF throughout the fall and spring semesters at reduced hours. To learn more about the interns and their post-graduate goals, read this Q&A conducted by UTRF at the beginning of the summer.