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Q&A: Meet François Baneyx, Director of CoMotion at the University of Washington

Written by Debra Bouchegnies / September 27, 2019

As UW announced in July, François Baneyx has been named Director of UW CoMotion and Interim Vice Provost for Innovation. We asked François to sit down with us to answer some questions that would help us get to know him better. We thought you’d enjoy hearing his answers too.


What other positions do you currently hold at the University of Washington?

In addition to my new role as director of CoMotion, I am the Charles W.H. Matthaei Professor of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering and the director of the Center for the Science of Synthesis Across Scales, an Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC) established in 2018 with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy.


What roles have you held at UW in the past?

I’ve held positions as chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering, director of the UW Center for Nanotechnology, site director of the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network, and co-director of the Genetically Engineered Materials Science and Engineering Center.

What year did you begin working at the UW? Why UW?

In 1992, as an assistant professor. It was an easy decision to come to the UW. I loved the department, the people were extraordinary, and of course I fell in love with the city, and the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest.


Where were you before coming to the UW?

I had a postdoc appointment as a visiting scientist at DuPont in Wilmington, Delaware. Before that, I was a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin where I earned a Ph.D in chemical engineering. Prior to that, I attended the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Ingenieurs Genie Chimique in Toulouse, France. The School Director had established a truly forward looking international exchange program that allowed a handful of students to complete their degree requirements while attending a U.S. university. I was one of the lucky ones.


Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Thenon, a small town in Périgord. This is the most beautiful part of France. OK, maybe one of the most beautiful parts of France but the food is definitely the best. The Dordogne valley has been inhabited for the past 30,000 years and it has everything from cave paintings to medieval and Renaissance castles.


On a related note – how exactly do you pronounce your name?

It has evolved over the past 300 years with the “x” coming and going, but today it’s bah-NEX—fran-SWAH bah-NEX.


Any startups?

Yes, I am the co-founder of Proteios, which provides innovative strategies for protein purification and therapeutic cell isolation. By the way, Proteios is the recipient of a CoMotion Innovation Gap Fund award. We also had support from CoMotion when we won SBIR phase I awards from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.


Why do you do what you do?

I love doing research at the intersection of disciplines and still marvel that I get paid to do something I enjoy so much. Academia appealed to me because I realized industry would not provide me with the flexibility and freedom to explore new fields in the way academia does. I also am passionate about bringing new, life-changing innovations to market and that’s why I’m so excited about leading the work that CoMotion is doing.


Where did you last travel? 

Alaska, France, Spain and China. I especially enjoy going back to France in the summer to spend time with family and friends.


Favorite sports and hobbies?

Like everyone who fell in love with the Pacific Northwest, I love spending time outdoors. I enjoy hiking, kayaking, and winter sports. Fun fact — in my earlier days, I was a rugby player. A forward, of course – I never ran very fast. I also enjoy gardening, working with my hands, and making improvements to our turn-of-the-century Craftsman.


Any quote you’d like to share that is particularly meaningful to you?

I love Mark Twain. His writings have the perfect mix of irreverence, humor and wisdom. One of my favorite quotes is: “Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” This is how I approach life and what I do. I think it’s very important to consider larger goals when making decisions. It’s about goals that are larger than personal or individual interests, and that are focused on the greater good.