October 25, 2014

Marine Sciences

High-Water Mark

USF's Peter Betzer has used both academic and political acumen to build a powerhouse marine program -- and has capped his tenure with a big high-tech partnership with a Silicon Valley firm.

Amy Keller | 2/1/2007


The Dean and the Deal: Peter Betzer says the SRI deal came together just as his ocean researchers were getting frustrated over the difficulty of transferring their discoveries to the marketplace. [Photo: Mark Wemple]

Peter Betzer

  • Age: 64.
  • Hometown: Delavan, Wisc.
  • Education: B.A., geology from Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisc., 1964; doctorate in chemical oceanography from the University of Rhode Island, 1971.
  • Family: Wife, Susan Betzer, a family physician in St. Petersburg; two grown daughters.
  • Career: 36 years at USF as professor, department chair and dean of the school's College of Marine Science after it was officially created in July 2000.
  • Intro to oceanography: "I was fascinated by the ocean as a little boy. My aunt gave me a book about the sea when I was 8 or 9 years old."
  • Scariest moment at sea: Off Cape Hatteras in graduate school. "It was the perfect storm. The ship felt like it was going to break up."
  • Proudest accomplishment: Establishing the Oceanography Camp for Girls in 1991 to motivate young women to consider scientific careers. The three-week program takes 33 Pinellas County eighth-graders and teams them up with women graduate students, who take the students on a day at sea aboard a research vessel, on coastal field trips and into the laboratory for hands-on research experiences.

In a warm December afternoon in St. Petersburg, the Bayboro Harbor sparkles, the crowd sweats and Peter Betzer beams as he takes the podium before a group assembled outside the Knight Oceanographic Research Center on the campus of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

After two years of talks, SRI, the high-powered Silicon Valley-based research firm, is ready to announce a partnership with USF's College of Marine Science. Some 40 marine scientists will become SRI employees; the company, which gave consumers the computer mouse and high-definition television, will commercialize their discoveries and inventions. SRI "is a group that routinely takes technological breakthroughs and turns them into viable businesses," says Betzer, the school's dean. "We're thrilled to be attached to the tiger."

The tiger arrives with some heady advance billing. Former Gov. Jeb Bush says SRI will catapult Florida to the forefront of the nation's marine science research efforts. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker predicts the deal will create hundreds of high-paying jobs and lead to high-tech spinoffs that employ even more. The partnership will also lead to a new National Center for Marine and Port Security. Funded with $7.3 million in seed money from the federal government, the center will provide sensor and imaging technology for ports around the globe.

Tags: Tampa Bay, Education

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