Osborne: Spinning research into enterprise
Since Leon Osborne first arrived on campus more than two decades
ago, the work of the affable meteorologist has been cited as a
classic example of how research can be “spun off”
to the private sector, thereby benefiting the investigator, the
University, and the state.
His company, Meridian Environmental Technology, Inc., has operated
since 1996, commercializing the results of the weather-related
research work done in his UND lab. Specializing in a wide variety
of weather-related products and managed by his wife Kathy, the
business is about to move from UND’s technology incubator
to a nearby site.
Meridian’s staff totals about 40, including three UND professors
on a part-time basis. Its client list includes major companies,
state transportation departments, and other entities in 20 states.
Osborne remains a professor, however, in the Department of Atmospheric
Sciences and director of the UND Regional Weather Information
Center. There he has been successful in obtaining grants (worth
$28 million at last count) supporting the kind of basic scientific
research from which flow the practical applications that can be
developed and marketed by companies such as Meridian.
He also does missionary work among his colleagues, pointing out
that new technology can be created in fields such as music and
business as well as the sciences. He chairs the search committee
that will soon hire UND’s first full-time technology transfer
Despite the fact that his department is located in the John D.
Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, Osborne has become a national
authority on surface transportation. For one thing, he says, the
field is ripe with research possibilities. The Office of the Federal
Coordinator for Meteorology recently published a list of 126 weather-related
topics. It estimated that adequate research was being done in
about 10 of them.
Most of these 10 topics are being investigated in Grand Forks,
Wearing his faculty hat, Osborne is currently leading an effort
to secure matching funds from public and private partners (including
his own company) to land an $836,000 federal grant that would
create an institute to explore the interface between weather and
the decisions highway officials must make regarding road maintenance.
Meridian already sells a product in this area by providing detailed
site-specific weather forecasts. This enables transportation maintenance
crew chiefs to decide how best to deploy their snow plows.
Looking out his window toward the nearby UND research park, site
of a National Weather Service office, Osborne asserts that Grand
Forks is already on the national radar screen with respect to
transportation weather research.
But, he adds, it could be even better.