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Rensselaer Alumni Magazine Winter 2005-06
Feature Articles President's View At Rensselaer Class Notes Features Making a Difference Rensselaer Milestones Staying Connected In Memoriam

Meanwhile, the parallel transformation of Rensselaer at Hartford continues. The refocusing of the Education for Working Professionals program, which is based at Hartford and includes distance components, involves the reshaping of course offerings and the strengthening of ties to business and industry.

To support these and other initiatives, the Institute publicly launched its largest fund-raising campaign in its history, Renaissance at Rensselaer: The Campaign for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Shirley Ann Jackson came to Rensselaer in 1999 with the belief that, based on its history, the Institute had the potential to change the world.

“Rensselaer is an educational institution whose mission sits at the very heart of what has changed the world for the last 100 years. Namely, it is a university centered around science and engineering,” Jackson says. “Many of the great discoveries, inventions, and innovations of the last century have completely transformed this country multiple times, and have made it the pre-eminent global leader that it is. If you look at those who have been connected to Rensselaer, they are people who have done just that in their time. That gives us a tradition to build upon.”

The plan has propelled Rensselaer to prominence in critical areas, including health, safety and security, the environment, and energy security, among others. Innovation and discovery in these largely have grown from the plan’s strategic research focus on one of the Institute’s significant strengths, information technology, and on an area in which Rensselaer was relatively unknown until recently — biotechnology.

In her inaugural address, Jackson challenged the Rensselaer community to take the bold step of investing in biotechnology, an area that, she said, “holds out great promise and great value to humanity.”

“[I]n the 21st century, genomics, combinatorics, and their marriage with information technology will impact the human condition as strongly as quantum science did in the 20th century,” Jackson said in her address. “This is a field whose impact is so great, so full of promise, so well-suited to Rensselaer, that we simply must drive our stake into the ground of this new frontier.”

Since then, Rensselaer has developed its own niche in biotechnology by combining research in the biological sciences with engineering and information technology. The result has been an explosion of new research, education, and technology commercialization that has fostered collaboration and innovation across all disciplines.

The Rensselaer Plan has given us the focus, vision, and investment necessary to put the university back on the map with respect to groundbreaking research and leadership,” says Omkaram “Om” Nalamasu, vice president for research.

From developing new methods to rapidly synthesize and screen new potential drugs to creating a living heart wall patch to treat congestive heart failure, Rensselaer faculty are increasingly being recognized for their work, attracting great interest — and funding — from government and the private sector.

The Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, which opened in September 2004, lies at the heart of the plan’s transformational research initiative. The 218,000-square-foot center houses faculty and researchers engaged in interdisciplinary research. Its core research facilities contain laboratories for molecular biology, analytical biochemistry, microbiology, imaging, histology, tissue and cell culture, proteomics, and scientific computing and visualization.

“This center is a cornerstone in realizing The Rensselaer Plan’s top priority of increasing the university’s research portfolio exponentially while improving the quality of education and expanding the Institute’s prominence and global impact,” says the center’s director, Robert Palazzo, a world-recognized cell and molecular biologist. “The building itself is the physical embodiment of Rensselaer’s commitment to create an atmosphere for transformational research endeavors that will generate new models for interdisciplinary research at the university.”

In addition to biotechnology and information technology, Rensselaer is pushing the frontiers of knowledge in other strategic research areas, including nanotechnology and advanced materials, microelectronics, and modeling and simulation of complex systems, among others.

“Discovery and innovation are critical to solving important problems facing humanity today, and multidisciplinary inquiry at new interfaces of any number of disciplines is imperative,” Nalamasu says. “For instance, we are looking at biotechnology and nanotechnology as important new toolboxes to work on crucial energy issues.”

Driving the research renaissance
Expanding the research enterprise required the university to make a significant investment in a critical mass of faculty to not only create the strength needed in focal areas, but to build up related areas in engineering, the sciences, and the arts. In the past five years, 150 new faculty members have been hired, 73 of them in entirely new positions.

Several of these new faculty members are part of the plan’s strategy to create “constellations” as a means to build new research programs from the ground up. Each constellation is focused on specific research programs and comprises a multidisciplinary mix of senior and junior faculty, postdocs, and graduate students.

Last year, Rensselaer completed the Future Chips Constellation, which focuses on innovations in materials and devices and in solid state and smart lighting, and extends to applications such as sensing, communications, biotechnology, and energy conservation. The Institute has developed seven constellations, including multiscale computation, and functional tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.


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