Former astronaut to join UT Southwestern's biotech effort

Contact: Steve O’Brien
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DALLAS – Dec. 26, 2002 – Dr. Mary Ellen Weber – former NASA astronaut, instrument-rated pilot, world-class skydiver and recent MBA graduate – has been named associate vice president for commerce and public policy at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

Weber, who was a mission specialist aboard two space shuttle flights before starting graduate business school at Southern Methodist University, will help UT Southwestern move its research projects from the lab to the marketplace. Her duties will include developing venture-capital support for the Metroplex biotech project and ensuring infrastructure is in place for the startup companies.

In her eight years at NASA, Weber helped identify areas of space research for commercial application and worked with a venture-capital firm to create Stelsys. The joint venture is developing a liver-assist device using space technology that allows tissues to grow outside the human body.

“Whether it’s space exploration or biotechnology, the promise of economic gain helps determine why our civilization pursues these endeavors,” said Weber, who earned a doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley in 1988. “You have to have altruistic goals, but economic gain by bringing these products to the marketplace is what keeps them going.”

Weber, who has orbited Earth 298 times and spent more than 18 days in space, helped build the International Space Station during her 2000 flight aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis. Aboard Discovery in 1995, she helped launch a NASA communications satellite. During that flight, she also performed leading-edge biotechnology experiments, including controlled growth of colon cancer tissue.

Weber worked as a materials engineer at Texas Instruments in Dallas before joining NASA. She researched new techniques in microelectronics manufacturing at TI. At SEMATECH, a U.S. semiconductor-manufacturing consortium based in Austin, she helped Applied Materials develop a landmark reactor for chip manufacturing in 1991. She has licensed one patent and published in various scientific journals.

“We view Dr.Weber as a great catch for UT Southwestern. She brings a set of skills we’ve never had before in one person,” said Dr. Dennis Stone, vice president for technology development. “She has credibility with scientists, and she understands the business. She’ll be a driving force in bringing together biotechnology and business in Dallas and throughout the state of Texas.”

In her new position, Weber also will serve as a UT Southwestern representative in dealing with government agencies and officials. “Dr. Weber has been an exceptionally effective public spokesperson for NASA, often testifying before Congress and interacting with federal agencies,” said Dr. Kern Wildenthal, UT Southwestern president. “We are very pleased that in addition to her role with the business community, she will now be actively involved in UT Southwestern’s interactions with governmental entities.”

In her spare time, Weber has logged more than 3,500 skydives since 1983. This month she was part of a world-record jump by more than 300 skydivers for the largest free-fall formation in history. Weber has also received eight silver or bronze medals in the U.S. National Skydiving Championships since 1991.

“I don’t view myself as a trailblazer,” Weber said. “But I do think role models are important, and if a girl or young person sees what I’ve done and decides to become a scientist, then that’s great.

“When I was growing up, there weren’t female astronauts. I only startedto dream about doing that when I was in graduate school. Then I just decided to shoot for it.”

Weber was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and grew up in Bedford Heights where she graduated from Bedford High School in 1980. She graduated from Purdue University in 1984 with a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering. During her undergraduate work at Purdue, Weber was an engineering intern at Ohio Edison, Delco Electronics and 3M. During her doctoral work at Berkeley, she explored the physics of gas-phase reactions involving silicon.


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