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Following director’s departure, Virginia Tech Biocomplexity Institute to close, be absorbed

Virginia Tech’s Biocomplexity Institute is closing about nine months after its former executive director abruptly resigned to take a new position at the University of Virginia.

The institute will follow a “voluntary termination” procedure as outlined in university policy. The institute’s resources — including people, facilities and equipment — will then be evaluated and moved to the Fralin Life Sciences Institute on the Blacksburg campus, according to Tech spokeswoman Tracy Vosburgh.

The Biocomplexity Institute, which changed its name from the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute in 2016, studied the use of high-performance computing and mathematics to extract information from so-called big data. Tech’s institutes exist outside academic departments and are focused on grant-funded interdisciplinary research projects.

The changes come in the wake of former Biocomplexity Institute Executive Director Chris Barrett’s departure last fall. Barrett — along with 37 full-time research faculty — left the Tech Biocomplexity Institute to found a similar initiative at UVa. Officials in Charlottesville offered Barrett a 15 percent pay bump and a $30 million startup package.

“We did lose a lot of fabulous colleagues but we didn’t lose the infrastructure,” Fralin Life Sciences Institute Director Dennis Dean said. “This is a fresh start.

“Fresh starts are exciting.”

Dean, who will oversee the Tech transition, said he hopes to hire about 30 faculty as part of the new initiative. He will also be looking for his replacement to lead a newly competitive research institute into the future and he will return to his faculty position as a University Distinguished Professor.

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