Long live bright ideas
Claus Bøttcher Jørgensen is a molecular geneticist at the Department of Veterinary Clinical and Animal Sciences. He is also an entrepreneur, an idea generator and a lifeline for students sporting an inventor's hat. A new professorship focusing on innovation in teaching is making for an extremely busy working life as Claus Bøttcher Jørgensen combines an active research career with new educational initiatives.
Claus Bøttcher Jørgensen holds an MSc in Agricultural Science from 1991 and was awarded a PhD in Molecular Genetics in 1997. In 2006, he was awarded the then Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University's innovation prize for the development, patenting and licensing of a genetic test for exposing E. coli susceptibility in pigs. Now, he is putting inventiveness and idea generation on the agenda. In collaboration with the other lecturers at the University of Copenhagen, the new professor is to promote innovation on the study programmes and breathe life into the good ideas that students come up with.
Why is your research area important to society?
I conduct research into molecular genetics and have spent most of my career producing results that can be applied directly in animal husbandry. My research has always been highly application-driven. With my innovation professorship, I would like to contribute to bringing about the cultural change that is necessary for the University if we are to promote innovation power, creativity and critical thinking among students. The lecturers at the University of Copenhagen are to lecture a little bit less and give students a little more space for independent and solution-oriented thinking. Students must be given better opportunities for applying their knowledge – offered half a chance, students represent a huge pool of energy and innovative thinking ready to be tapped into. I am going to contribute to ensuring progress and a contemporary agenda for any new teaching initiatives.
This is not just a matter of patents and entrepreneurial activity, but more about changing the students' mindset – motivating them and eliminating their fear of new and unconventional ways of thinking. But the same goes, of course, for the lecturers. Many lectures are purely one-way communication, but the world is hankering for interaction, for students to experience that something real is at stake. All courses involve lots and lots of reading – how can students sort out the relevant stuff? An innovation agenda makes it possible for students to contribute, thereby helping to create value for the outside world.
What specific initiatives have been launched?
I am in the process of establishing a lecturer network which focuses on innovation and entrepreneurship at the Faculty and across the University of Copenhagen. A growing number of lecturers are keen to integrate innovation in their teaching, and by meeting regularly we can inspire each other across academic boundaries. For my part, for example, I am lecturing on a combined biotechnology and patent course. On this course, students get plenty of input from the pharmaceutical industry from companies which are after solutions to very specific challenges. H. Lundbeck A/S, for example, is looking for a new way of diagnosing Alzheimer's disease, and students are asked to come up with a solution. This injects real dynamism into the teaching, which is missing if you sit with your nose stuck in a textbook and read the syllabus from a to z.
While integrating innovation into our own courses, we also need to explore opportunities for national and international education partnerships. We have established a good partnership with DTU (Technical University of Denmark) and CBS (Copenhagen Business School) – for example in the form of a Master's programme in bioentrepreneurship, and we are currently working on developing a Master's programme in health innovation.
What was a high point in your career?
My new professorship which combines molecular genetics research with a focus on new teaching initiatives is an exciting and groundbreaking idea. The professorship reflects a new way of thinking at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, which I am happy and proud to represent. At the beginning of the 1990s, I was fortunate to be granted a two-year research stay in Cambridge, England. Genome research was still in its infancy, and the ground was broken for the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute while I was over there. While in Cambridge, I participated in many exciting meetings and seminars, and I distinctly remember meeting Frederick Sanger – a British biochemist and one of a select few who have won the Nobel Prize twice. The first time for his work with proteins (particularly insulin), and the second time for his work with DNA sequencing. Spending time at the epicentre of genome research was a fantastic experience and highly inspiring.
What are your most important research results?
The discovery in 2002 of the gene that determines susceptibility to E. coli infection in pigs. It was an exciting laboratory race, with our research group at the then Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University working hard to identify the specific gene and soon thereafter developing this new knowledge further into a test. From the outset, there was a great deal of interest and support from stakeholders in the agricultural sector – and we ended up devising a genetic test that is still used by pig breeders today, both in Denmark and abroad. The actual patenting of the invention was a protracted affair, it took almost ten years, but the feeling at the laboratory of being on the right track during the early years of the project – that was really a high point in my career.
The professorship means that it may be difficult for me to find the time to conduct research – innovation is a far broader and more political agenda than the minute details of molecular genetics. Fortunately, the research group at Frederiksberg is providing excellent support, and I am sure I will find the time to cultivate my core expertise.
Why and when did you choose to become a researcher?
My father was a dentist and my mother a laboratory technician – so I got my interest in science and the inspiration for the laboratory work from my parents. When I was very young, I believed I was destined to save the world. At that time, famine was the big issue, leading to the large Live Aid concerts. My grandparents were from the country, and I have always been fascinated by farming – the lifestyle and the history involved. I therefore chose the agricultural science programme – probably because I thought, somewhat naively, that this was a way of helping to feed the world in this way. The programme offered many optional modules – molecular biology, genetics, animal husbandry – and I knew early on that was the path for me.
During my studies, I became involved in various research projects – for example a project on identifying hereditary defects in bulls. Later, I applied for and was granted EU funding for my research stay in Cambridge. While in Cambridge, I also started working on my PhD dissertation, and my research career slowly gathered momentum.
What do you do when you are not working?
I am married to Helle, who is a nurse. We have been married almost 20 years. We have three children – a boy aged 17 and two girls aged 14 and 12. We like sports and exercise – all three children do rhythmic and vault gymnastics; we are currently on our third trampoline at home. Running is my leisure passion. I have run a few marathons – together with friends as well as colleagues.