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President's View

Staking a Claim in Biotechnology

Rensselaer is uniquely positioned to build a biotechnology program that will make major contributions to global health and safety.

A new era of research and discovery at Rensselaer

The morning of Sept. 10, a new era dawned at Rensselaer.

With the official opening of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, the Institute announced its arrival in a field of research that holds the promise to change the world for the better. This leading-edge facility will enable the biotechnology research program at Rensselaer to continue to grow and flourish. As the story, "Building the Biotech Future" attests, we are poised to make significant contributions to the advancement of science, health, safety, and security. This is an exciting time at Rensselaer, and the new center is tangible and concrete evidence of our commitment to strong leadership in this emerging field.

Four years ago, I put forward a vision of Rensselaer as a technological research university in the 21st century. This was embodied in The Rensselaer Plan. Key to this vision was an ambitious plan to grow a research program in biotechnology. This goal was set in recognition of the great promise this new field holds for the innovative application of scientific research to some of our most pressing challenges. Indeed, biotechnology is the true expression of our founding mission to instruct students “in the application of science to the common purposes of life.” The spirit of this simple dictum drove the tremendous advances in technology, industry, and medicine in the 19th and 20th centuries, which have increased health and life expectancy, raised standards of living, connected the world with ever-faster communication and transportation, and created vast wealth unprecedented in human history.

Today, biotechnology breakthroughs have the potential to yield cures for major diseases, such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, to keep us safer and more secure, and to increase the food supply worldwide, along with many more applications. True to our mission, Rensselaer has staked its claim in this field and intends to be at the forefront of biotechnology research and discovery.

The Rensselaer mission is perhaps even more relevant today, as the Institute addresses challenges that traverse disciplines, cultures, and geographic borders. Biotechnology itself is an inherently multidisciplinary pursuit, as it crosses the boundaries of science and technology, engineering, and the humanities and social sciences. With the “low walls” between the disciplines and a renowned engineering program, Rensselaer is uniquely positioned to build a biotechnology program that will make major contributions to global health and safety. For example, Ravi Kane, the Merck Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, is leading a multidisciplinary team that is developing an antidote to the potentially deadly anthrax toxin in humans. The compound being developed by the team could be injected into healthy humans as a preventive measure against anthrax exposure, or given to infected individuals as an antidote to anthrax toxin. This is the kind of groundbreaking research that is being advanced by the new center.

The biotechnology center and the program it houses form the cornerstone of the continuing Renaissance at Rensselaer. The transformation set in motion by The Rensselaer Plan in 2000 is intellectual, social, cultural, and physical in nature, as we honor our institutional legacy and fast-forward our achievements and aspirations into the future. Rensselaer is at a crossroads in that transformation. While many of the ambitious goals set forth in the Plan have been realized, there is still much more to do.

Therefore, the day of the opening of the biotechnology center, Rensselaer launched a campaign of historic proportions at a gala kick-off celebration on the Troy campus. We have pledged to raise $1 billion in this unprecedented campaign. It has been more than 10 years since the last capital campaign, and the challenges of the 21st century clearly call us to renew, and to invest in, the Rensselaer mission. We must build the endowment overall, add scholarships and fellowships to support students, and provide endowment backing for faculty chairs and constellations. We need to grow support for curriculum initiatives, student life, and research. We must garner the resources needed to continue to attract and retain talented students and leading faculty, and then to provide for them a world-class environment in which to live, learn, teach, and discover.

As the Renaissance at Rensselaer continues, I hope that you have the opportunity to see the new Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, and the many other changes that are transforming the Institute. Out of Rensselaer’s illustrious history, we are creating a new era for research and education, and realizing the vision of a university that is changing the world.

Photo by Lonny Kalfus

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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in March, June, September, and December by the Office of Communications.

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