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With capabilities in visualization, animation, simulation, acoustics, haptics, optics, and more, EMPAC also will be a rich environment for student research and learning. “EMPAC will prepare our students for global leadership roles,” President Jackson says, “by exposing them to experiences which will foster innovative problem-solving, multicultural sophistication, intellectual agility, and the ability to see connections between and among disciplines across a broad intellectual front.”

When President Jackson came to the Institute in 1999, several needs and goals converged to point the way to EMPAC. She led the effort to establish goals to expand the research enterprises of the Institute into 21st-century fields such as biotechnology, nanotechnology, and information technology, and to create a unique platform and set of activities at the nexus of the arts, science, and technology, which also could expand presentation and conference space for a variety of artistic, research, educational, and student life endeavors.

“We wanted to create a broader cultural dimension to the Rensselaer experience, blended with our approach to technologically based teaching, learning, and research,” recalls President Jackson. “And so the question was, how could we do that in a uniquely Rensselaer way?”

That way was to build a wholly new vision on the Institute’s traditional strengths. “As engineers and scientists become world leaders, there’s a need for a broadening of their education and we are doing it our way,” says Samuel Heffner ’56, chairman of the Board of Trustees. “We could have followed the model of other technological institutions, and put our money into expanding our music and arts programs. But this building is more than a concert hall. It’s a true laboratory and a significant move forward not only for Rensselaer but for the concept of arts and technology.”

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Heffner sees the marriage of arts and technology as both creative and valuable. “A lot of scientists say they’re enthralled with their work because there’s a beauty to it. Mathematicians say there’s a beauty to their work. Carrying that to the next step with the arts is a natural extension. DreamWorks [the Hollywood studio] is one of the most successful mergers of arts and technology and shows what’s possible,” he says. “EMPAC will have a long-term effect on the future of Rensselaer and will change lives.”

With EMPAC, Rensselaer also is supporting its long tradition of excellence in electronic arts. Rensselaer was one of the first universities in the world to develop and offer students a program in the electronic arts, now taught in numerous universities worldwide.

Begun in 1985, the integrated electronic arts program at Rensselaer (iEAR) offered students total interdisciplinary integration, a curriculum that continuously evolved to reflect technological advances, and a faculty made up of active artists with interactive portfolios.

In 2007, Rensselaer became one of the first universities in the nation to establish a Ph.D. in electronic arts. This year, the already established master of fine arts program was ranked sixth in the nation by U.S.News & World Report.

Students and faculty in Rensselaer’s electronic arts program have been producing volumes of work, and there has been limited space on the campus dedicated to large performances and gatherings. EMPAC will clearly address all of these needs and desires and more.

Building the Future

The launch of EMPAC was made possible through a landmark gift to Rensselaer in 2001. In order to enable the implementation of The Rensselaer Plan and to set the stage for the $1.4 billion capital campaign, President Jackson worked with a donor, who has wished to remain anonymous, on a $360 million contribution, which at that time was the largest gift ever received by a college or university. The historic gift, combined with other resources, enabled Rensselaer to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in new infrastructure, including EMPAC, the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, and the Computational Center for Nano-technology Innovations (CCNI), three signature facilities that would signal the emergence of the Institute as an academic and research leader in the 21st century.

Armed with extensive international experience in the highest levels of technology and the arts, Goebel arrived in Troy in 2002 to help oversee the design of the EMPAC building, and to launch its program. Since 1990, he had been the founding director of the Institute for Music and Acoustics at the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM) in Karlsruhe, Germany, having been deeply involved in the specification, design, and construction of ZKM’s new center for more than eight years. A trained musician and composer, Goebel was at the forefront of bringing digital technology to the German music scene in the 1980s. For a short period during the 1990s, while still at ZKM, he helped out by co-directing Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, where he had been a visiting composer since the late ’70s.

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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter by the Office of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180-3590. Opinions expressed in these pages do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or the policies of the Institute. ©2008 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.