Office of the Vice President for Research
Signature Research Thrusts
In Energy, Environment, and Smart Systems, we explore renewable technologies, energy efficiency, and the understanding of global environmental change to preserve the bio-diversity of the planet.
In Biotechnology and the Life Sciences, we are creating new routes to drug discovery and development, and understanding the fundamental mechanisms of disease, from Alzheimer’s and diabetes to cancer.
Research in Media, Arts, Science, and Technology facilitates new approaches to networking, advanced visualization, sensor design, haptics, and multiscale modeling and simulation, which are supported by the core capabilities of EMPAC.
Enabled by the capabilities of the CCI, Rensselaer has developed important programs in Computational Science and Engineering focused on high performance computing, big data, and data analytics, which supports research and innovation across a broad front.
Our excellence in Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials builds from the fundamental understanding—experimental, theoretical, and computational - of the underlying atomic and molecular properties of a wide range of nanostructured materials. We now are developing robust, affordable, and sustainable methods for manufacturing new functional hybrid materials, and the hierarchical systems and products based upon them.
In the News
Improving a plastic-degrading enzyme for better PET recyclingMarch 5, 2018 -
Stabilizing a bacterial enzyme by strategically decorating it with sugars could help it to recycle one of the most widely used plastics and ultimately keep that plastic out of the landfill (Biochemistry 2018, DOI: 10.1021/acs.biochem.7b01189).
The Molecularium ProjectMarch 5, 2018 -
The Andromeda Galaxy Is Not Nearly as Big as We ThoughtFebruary 21, 2018 -
The closest galaxy to our own is the majestic Andromeda galaxy, a collection of a trillion stars located a “mere” 2 million light years away. New research suggests that, contrary to previous estimates, this galaxy isn’t much bigger than the Milky Way, and is practically our twin. This means our galaxy won’t be completely devoured when the two galaxies collide in five billion years.
Turning to beet juice and beer to address road salt dangerFebruary 2, 2018 -
Experiments at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute aquatic lab in Troy, New York, have found that higher salt concentrations reduced growth rates in rainbow trout and decreased the abundance of zooplankton — tiny animals or larvae that are critical to the aquatic food chain and play a role in keeping lakes and streams clean.
Other studies have shown that salinization of lakes and streams reduces the numbers of fish and amphibians, kills off plants, and alters the diversity of these freshwater ecosystems.
“At high road salt concentrations, you can see reductions in growth, reduction in the diversity of species within a system and you can also see effects on reproduction of certain species,” said William Hintz, of Rensselaer Polytechnic.
Inner Workings: Smart-sensor network keeps close eye on lake ecosystemFebruary 2, 2018 -
New York’s Lake George may be the most high-tech lake in the world. By year’s end, a network of 41 sensor platforms will monitor the 32-mile long body of water. Its tributary stations and vertical profilers measure the chemical and physical properties of water at varying depths. Acoustic sensors measure the direction and speed of currents in three dimensions. What’s known as the Jefferson Project, named after US President Thomas Jefferson who once marveled at the lake during a visit, is run by researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, NY. Started three years ago, the project is already collecting more data points in one week than Rensselaer researchers collected at the lake over the past three decades, says project leader Rick Relyea.
NPR's The Academic MinuteJanuary 19, 2018 -
From circadian rhythms to corporate financing reporting, Rensselaer research was featured all week on NPR's Academic Minute on WAMC.
A Greener, More Healthful Place to WorkJanuary 12, 2018 -
Good light also helps keep office workers alert and healthy, said Mariana Figueiro, the director of the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Too many offices are like floodlit caves, illuminated from above to cast light on the work surface of the desk, Dr. Figueiro said. We also need light from the side striking the back of the eye – preferably from a natural source like a window – to entrain our body’s internal circadian clock.
Can road salt and other pollutants disrupt our circadian rhythms?January 12, 2018 -
Every winter, local governments across the United States apply millions of tons of road salt to keep streets navigable during snow and ice storms. Runoff from melting snow carries road salt into streams and lakes, and causes many bodies of water to have extraordinarily high salinity.
At Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, my colleague Rick Relyea and his lab are working to quantify how increases in salinity affect ecosystems. Not surprisingly, they have found that high salinity has negative impacts on many species. They have also discovered that some species have the ability to cope with these increases in salinity.
The Remarkable Career of Shirley Ann JacksonDecember 21, 2017 - Shirley Ann Jackson worked to help bring about more diversity at MIT, where she was the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate. She then applied her mix of vision and pragmatism in the lab, in Washington, and at the helm of a major research university.
Despite a Small Staff, Tissue Engineering Lab Has a Broad Research FocusDecember 11, 2017 -
Despite its size, Dr. Mariah Hahn’s lab at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is an important part of the broader tissue-engineering research community. The lab has two main goals: creating disease models to more effectively screen potential therapeutics before they are tested in small animals and designing better materials to help organs and tissues repair themselves following injury or scarring.
The Jefferson Papers - Changing forests, insecticides, and wetland ecosystemsNovember 9, 2017 -
The Jefferson Project at Lake George is conducting research into how human activities may affect the lake, which include attached wetlands and the surrounding watershed. Here, we summarize research on the combined effects of changing forests and a commonly applied insecticide on wetland ecosystems, which was published recently in the journal Environmental Pollution.
The Jefferson Papers - Forests, Road Salt and Wetlands Ecosystem Research PublishedNovember 9, 2017 -
The Jefferson Project at Lake George is conducting research into how human activities may affect the lake. Here, we summarize research on the effects of road salt and changing forest composition on wetland ecosystems, which was published recently in the journal Freshwater Science .
Picture of the Day: Can environmental toxins disrupt the biological clock?November 7, 2017 -
Can environmental toxins disrupt circadian rhythms -- the biological clock whose disturbance is linked to chronic inflammation and a host of human disorders? Research showing a link between circadian disruption and plankton that have adapted to road salt pollution puts the question squarely on the table. The research builds on recent findings from the Jefferson Project at Lake George, showing that a common species of zooplankton, Daphnia pulex (shown here), can evolve tolerance to moderate levels of road salt in as little as two and a half months. That research produced five populations of Daphnia adapted to salt concentrations ranging from the current concentration of 15 milligrams-per-liter of chloride in Lake George to concentrations of 1,000 milligrams-per-liter, as found in highly contaminated lakes in North America.
WE’RE POURING MILLIONS OF TONS OF SALT ON ROADS EACH WINTER. HERE’S WHY THAT’S A PROBLEM.November 7, 2017 -
Despite the ever-greater use, road salt’s effects on streams, lakes and groundwater have been largely ignored until recently. As recently as 2014, when biologist Rick Relyea began studying the effects of salt-laden runoff at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, “the world of science didn’t pay very much attention to the impacts of road salt on water,” he says. “Now we’re paying much more attention.”
The scientific swerve: Changing your research focusOctober 10, 2017 -
Many scientists alter their research focus, at least slightly, over their career, according to studies by Boleslaw Szymanski, a computer science professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. Szymanski’s group followed the work of more than 14,000 scientists from 1976 to 2009, using data from American Physical Society journals. The results showed that most researchers tend to stay in their field, but that those who don’t progress along a related path. In describing their findings, Szymanski and colleagues use an analogy inspired by Isaac Newton’s reflection on his own research: They describe a scientific career as a walk along the beach, moving from one interesting shell (in this case a research topic) to another.
These findings support a similar analysis that Szymanski’s group performed on data from journals and from U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) grants in computer science. In this field, scientists tend to shift research focus roughly every 10 years. Some make once-in-a-career moves to substantially different areas. The field itself changes with technological advances, Szymanski says, so even researchers who stay in one area at least change methods over time.
Alexa, What's The Future Of AI?July 6, 2017 -
Once upon a time, we dreamed of artificial intelligence in outer space, in a sci-fi future, far from home. Now, we’re talking with computers in our kitchens. Asking them anything. “Alexa, what’s the Inaugural Oath?” “How big is a blue whale?” “What’s the square root of seven trillion forty two?” Does this ambient, ask-it-anything-anytime AI give us superpowers? Make us great? Make us lazy? And what comes next? This hour On Point, talking with Alexa, and humans, about the AI future. — Tom Ashbrook
The Internet of Things Needs a Code of EthicsJuly 6, 2017 -
In October, when malware called Mirai took over poorly secured webcams and DVRs, and used them to disrupt internet access across the United States, I wondered who was responsible. Not who actually coded the malware, or who unleashed it on an essential piece of the internet’s infrastructure—instead, I wanted to know if anybody could be held legally responsible. Could the unsecure devices’ manufacturers be liable for the damage their products?
Right now, in this early stage of connected devices’ slow invasion into our daily lives, there’s no clear answer to that question. That’s because there’s no real legal framework that would hold manufacturers responsible for critical failures that harm others. As is often the case, the technology has developed far faster than policies and regulations.
But it’s not just the legal system that’s out of touch with the new, connected reality. The Internet of Things, as it’s called, is also lacking a critical ethical framework, argues Francine Berman, a computer-science professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a longtime expert on computer infrastructure. Together with Vint Cerf, an engineer considered one of the fathers of the internet, Berman wrote an article in the journal Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery about the need for an ethical system.
One room seeks all the answers at RPIJune 1, 2017 -
Imagine being in a room to ask questions of one of the world's most powerful computers. An artificial intelligence containing more information than the largest library, it can recognize you, hear you, see what you are pointing at, and even notice if you might be perplexed or inattentive. It knows all of your earlier work and might even anticipate your questions.
The Hidden Dangers of Road SaltMay 30, 2017 -
“It has a really widespread number of effects on the whole food web or ecosystem,” says Rick Relyea, a professor of biological sciences at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Relyea has studied how road salt runoff impacts lakes as part of the Jefferson Project at Lake George in New York state. Recently, he found that road salt can reduce the size of rainbow trout hatchlings by about 30 percent, influencing their ability to elude predators and decreasing the number of eggs they lay. One experiment he worked on found that higher levels of salt could change the male-female sex ration of wood frogs.
Opinion: Saving Our HeritageMarch 28, 2017 -
The Trump administration's new budget blueprint proposes the effective elimination of the National Endowment for the Humanities, write Francine Berman and Cathy N. Davidson. Is that the value we place on our cultural inheritance and its future?
Experimental blood test could speed autism diagnosis-U.S. studyMarch 16, 2017 -
Developers of an experimental blood test for autism say it can detect the condition in more than 96 percent of cases and do so across a broad spectrum of patients, potentially allowing for earlier diagnosis, according to a study released on Thursday.
Road Salt Alternatives May Harm Environment, Researchers ReportMarch 13, 2017 -
Alternatives to road salt are markete as environmentally-friendly substitutes because they allow highway crews to maintain ice-free roads while applying less salt. But the alternatives and additives may not be without environmental consequences, according to Rick Relyea, the director of the Jefferson Project.
The Jefferson Papers - Road Salt and WetlandsMarch 13, 2017 -
The Jefferson Project at Lake George is conducting ongoing research into how human activities may be affecting the lake. Among its studies: impacts of road salt on wetlands. Here, we summarize recent research published in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.
Are Lake Species Becoming Salt-Tolerant?February 2, 2017 -
Among its many other products and by-products, the Jefferson Project is teaching scientists more than has ever been known before about the effects of road salt on fresh water ecoystems.
Indian Point Closure Won’t Leave New York in the DarkJanuary 23, 2017 -
Martin Byrne, the director of business development at the New York State Center for Future Energy Systems at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, said the output for Indian Point will likely be made up from numerous sources, including increased transmission capacity to bring in power from other regions like Hudson Valley and Central New York, and higher building efficiency programs.
The Future Called, it Wants its Cloud BackJanuary 5, 2017 -
“Cloud telephony is a new name for something called Voice Over IP, except in a business context,” said James Hendler, director of the Institute for Data Exploration and Applications (IDEA) and the Tetherless World Professor of Computer, Web and Cognitive Sciences at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. “It’s been used by consumers for 10 or 15 years,” he said, mostly by people who wanted to make long-distance calls on their computers to avoid phone bill charges.
New Boat Helping RPI Survey Lake George's Fish PopulationDecember 13, 2016 -
“The food web is a key to water quality,” says RPI professor Rick Relyea, the director of the Jefferson Project. And at the top of that web is the fish population, which shapes the size and the distribution of the organisms that sustain it.
Invasion of the Aliens: Body Snatching Worms, Cold Winters May Rout Lakes’ EnemiesNovember 30, 2016 -
Researchers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Darrin Fresh Water Institute (DFWI) in Bolton Landing, N.Y., are studying a worm, named Chaetogaster limnaei, that has a taste for Asian clams. It’s the first species in Lake George known to prey on Asian clams. The work is funded by the LGA and the LGPC.
Why Rensselaer's engineering dean wants to keep growing women's enrollmentNovember 28, 2016 -
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has more than 1,000 women enrolled in its undergraduate engineering programs for the first time in the school's history.
Study: Road salt skews future frog, amphibian generationsNovember 28, 2016 - Tainted water can skew population toward males, study reveals
RPI's Hendler On What We Are Learning From Election DataNovember 15, 2016 -
The numbers from the election are still coming in, but one analysis indicates that despite what many of the pundits believe, the Trump victory was not driven as much by the white working class, but more by the fact that Democrats stayed home. Jim Hendler is the Director of the Institute of Data Exploration and Applications at RPI. He says while the numbers are still preliminary, it is clear that the Clinton campaign failed to get enough Democrats to the polls.
Research pair outlines new field of 'web science'November 11, 2016 -
A pair of web scientists has written a Technology Perspective piece for the journal Science outlining the newly developing field of "web science." In their article, James Hendler with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Wendy Hall, with the University of Southampton, also offer some arguments for the importance of social sciences regarding the internet as technology continues to change our world and the way people interact.
Insight into Pseudomonas aeruginosa survival mechanismNovember 11, 2016 -
The bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa can thrive in environments as different as the moist, warm tissue in human lungs, and the dry, nutrient-deprived surface of an office wall. Such adaptability makes it problematic in healthcare.
Terms and Consequences: How a click could cost you moneyNovember 11, 2016 -
“For some folks, the convenience of targeted advertising is always going to trump the privacy for them,” said Kristine Gloria, PhD candidate of cognitive science at RPI. ... Who has been studying public policies and computer algorithm designs.
Five reality TV show strategies Donald Trump has used throughout his campaignNovember 8, 2016 -
In a recent article that appeared in Quartz magazine, titled: Five reality TV show strategies Donald Trump has used throughout his campaign, the article notes that Donald Trump is a political candidate unlike any other. But while his tactics are novel within the world of politics, in an interview with June Deery, media studies professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, she believes they should be very familiar to those who watch reality TV.
RPI researchers use nanoparticles to treat influenza in miceNovember 4, 2016 -
Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute demonstrated in a paper published last month how they successfully treated immune-compromised mice exposed to the influenza virus with a new nanoparticle drug.
Changing semiconductor properties at room temperatureNovember 2, 2016 -
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute researchers developed a method that changes temperature by one degree to alter the colour of light that a semiconductor emits.
Lake George Sensor Network to Be Completed With $917K National Science Foundation GrantNovember 2, 2016 -
A high-tech sensor network for Lake George is on track for completion with a $917,000 National Science Foundation grant.
Lake Science: Water Clarity As Important as Air Temperatures in Respond to Climate ChangeNovember 2, 2016 -
A new paper released this week demonstrates how even small changes in water clarity over time can have big impacts on water temperatures.
The Analytical Scientist - The Power List 2015October 27, 2016 -
The Analytical Scienctist has selected Linda McGown for the 2016 Power List of Top 50 most influential women in the analytical sciences.
The World's Smartest Lake is Getting SmarterOctober 27, 2016 -
A grant worth roughly $1 million has been awarded to the Jefferson Project to add more sensors to a network that is already giving scientists a remarkably detailed understanding of Lake George, an understanding that will help advocates and policy makers preserve its clarity and purity.
The grant was awarded by the National Science Foundation, a federal agency and one of thesingle largest sources of funds for scientific research, to a team of researchers led by Rick Relyea, an RPI professor who serves as the director of the Jefferson Project, a collaborative effort of RPI, IBM and The Fund for Lake George.
Heparin derived from cattle is equivalent to heparin from pigs, study findsOctober 6, 2016 -
As demand for the widely used blood thinning drug heparin continues to grow, experts worry of possible shortages of the essential medication. Heparin is primarily derived from pigs, and to reduce the risk of shortages, cattle have been proposed as an additional source. A new study by a team of researchers, including corresponding author Robert J. Linhardt, and nine co-authors from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. has found that heparin derived from cattle (known as bovine heparin) has equivalent anti-clotting properties to heparin derived from pigs (porcine heparin).
The Smartest Lake on EarthOctober 6, 2016 -
Can technology keep Lake George pristine? Bill McKibben explores the Jefferson Project.
Comet may have struck Earth just 10 million years after dinosaur extinctionSeptember 30, 2016 -
Some 56 million years ago, carbon surged into Earth's atmosphere, raising temperatures by 5°C to 8°C and causing huge wildlife migrations—a scenario that might mirror the world's future, thanks to global warming. But what triggered this so-called Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum (PETM) has remained a mystery.
Glass bits, charcoal hint at 56-million-year-old space rock impactSeptember 30, 2016 -
A period of skyrocketing global temperatures started with a bang, new research suggests.
Too little is known about the newfound impact to guess its origin, size or effect on the global climate, said geochemist Morgan Schaller of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. But it fits in with the long-standing and controversial proposal that a comet impact caused the PETM. “The timing is nothing short of remarkable,” said Schaller, who presented the discovery September 27 at the Geological Society of America’s annual meeting.
Will robots help or harm? It's time for 'big thinking,' AI experts warnSeptember 22, 2016 -
“The bigger issue is that humans and AI will outperform humans working alone—that’s the one we need to pay attention to,” said Jim Hendler, professor of computer, web and cognitive sciences at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “The existential threat is not AI, it’s not using the AI we have correctly.”
Rensselaer Receives $2.2 Million DOE Grant to Develop Ion Conductive Alkaline Membrane MaterialsSeptember 19, 2016 -
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has been awarded $2.2 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) to develop innovative ion conduction materials for next-generation renewable energy conversion and storage technology.
Ask The Experts: A Bit about BitcoinAugust 9, 2016 -
In an era dominated by digital technology it should come as no surprise that someone has developed a digital currency. Paypal is a digital payment system but Bitcoin, developed in 2009, is an actual digital currency that, in the last several months, has generated excitement and interest – and yes, a little concern -- in the financial services industry.
After the quake — data can help predict consequences of the next eventAugust 2, 2016 -
Later this year, seismology geophysicist Steve Roecker will travel to Illapel, Chile, to remove instruments which have been tracking the struggle between two tectonic plates that caused a magnitude 8.3 earthquake on September 16, 2015. While areas to the north and south of Illapel — where the Nazca plate dives beneath the South American plate — have been studied, until now the complexity of the boundary in the area of Illapel has deterred research.
How A 'Nightmare' Law Could Make Sharing Passwords IllegalJuly 15, 2016 -
People share passwords all the time. A husband might give his wife his bank account login so she can pay a bill. A professor might ask a secretary to check emails. Comedian Samantha Bee's segment on Syrian refugees featured her teaching them essential phrases in U.S. culture, including "Can I have your HBO Go login?"
But a recent federal court ruling has advocates, researchers and the dissenting judge worried that sharing passwords, even in seemingly innocuous circumstances, could be considered illegal. That's because the anti-hacking law used is so vague that Columbia law professor Tim Wu called it "a nightmare for a country that calls itself free."