As I write this brief update, the holiday season has passed and we are deep into our strategic planning for the next year and beyond. This is, therefore, a good time to update readers with advances made throughout a growing and vibrant Rensselaer research enterprise driven by our faculty, students (both graduate and undergraduate) and research staff. Our overall research expenditures once again met our core target of $100 million and we have seen research awards climb over 10% in FY2016 and into the first third of FY2017. This bodes very well for increased research activity across campus over the next several years.
Our sponsored research expenditures continue to fall under our five Signature Research Thrusts - Biotechnology and the Life Sciences; Computation Science and Engineering; Media, Arts, Science, and Technology; Energy, Environment, and Smart Systems; and Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials. Emanating from these pillars of the Rensselaer research ecosystem are broad research platforms that have resulted from the nearly $1.25 billion investment by the university since 2001. As in previous years, well over half of the research expenditures are currently generated through the Institute-Wide Centers (IWC) and Institute-Wide Research Initiatives (IWRIs). The IWRIs continue to grow and mature.
Our newest Institute, the Cognitive and Immersive Systems Laboratory (CISL) at EMPAC under the direction of Dr. Hui Su, has begun to link cognitive computing with physically immersive environments that drive multi-individual decision-making in complex situations ranging from cognitive boardroom to a cognitive classroom. The Center for Materials, Devices, and Integrated Systems (cMDIS) under the direction of Dr. Robert Hull has built an extensive faculty membership, currently number ~90 and this augments an active student and postdoc program. "Research Nucleation Workshops" are defining new areas of research with critical mass at Rensselaer, including workshops being jointly sponsored by major companies. Such interaction with major corporate research institutions will enable preferential access to major equipment not available at Rensselaer.The cMDIS continues the longstanding excellence of nanotechnology at Rensselaer. As part of the inaugural class of NSF-funded Nanoscale Science and Engineering Centers in 2001, Rensselaer has continually advanced both fundamental and applied research in directed assembly of nanoscale materials, which links basic principles of materials, biological and computation sciences to generate new materials and devices that impact human health, energy efficiency and manufacturing technologies.
As I indicated back in 2013, and as espoused by President Shirley Ann Jackson, we live in a data-driven, web-enabled, supercomputer-powered, globally interconnected world. This is a world that Rensselaer has helped to create. It is a world in which Rensselaer is uniquely positioned to help humanity use the remarkable technological tools at its disposal to answer the grand challenges surrounding energy, water, food, and national security, human health, climate change, and the allocation of scarce natural resources. Guiding us through these myriad challenges is the Rensselaer Institute for Data Exploration and Applications (IDEA) uder the direction of Dr. James Hendler. Research contracts have been established or expanded with a large number of companies, medical centers, and government agencies. Groundbreaking work on healthcare data analytics resulted in a joint NIH center grant on child health and development with our partners at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, as well as potential expansion of multi-hospital predictive data analytics. The Jefferson Project at Lake George, led by Dr. Rick Relyea plays into the heart of IDEA, wherein the first wave of advanced sensors was deployed, enabling data acquisition of the lake's food web, creating physical models, and conducting a wide range of laboratory and outdoor mesocosm experiments that will elucidate the underlying natural and anthropogenic causes of changes in water quality and ecosystem resilience.
The Rensselaer research enterprise is buoyed by an immense computational platform through the Center for Computational Innovations (CCI) led by Dr. Christopher Carothers. The CCI is powered by IBM BlueGene/Q supercomputers that now provide over 1.2 pflops of computational power that enables high-end modeling and simulation studies to be performed. This predictive and prescriptive analytics infrasture is further advanced through access to the IBM Watson cognitive computing engine, both in house at CCI (Rensselaer was the first institution that housed a Watson computing system) and in the cloud.
Within the expansive Center for Biotechnology & Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS) led by Dr. Deepak Vashishth, growth of large-scale translational research has occured leading to new tools and knowledge at the biomolecular, cellular and organismal levels that will ultimately impact the design of new products and processes that will benefit society. Indeed, the intersection of life sciences with the physical sciences, computational sciences and engineering brings together a growing cadre of interdisciplinary biotechnology researchers, supported by the world-class CBIS infrasturcture that has led to an increase in federal and industry research funding. From complex biological networks to nanoscale assemblies that mimic biological processes, scientists and engineers in CBIS have elucidated the molecular basis of biological mechanisms and disease, exploited biological systems for the discovery and development of new therapeutics, and developed new cellular niches critical to advance tissue regeneration. As a result of basic research that flows into societally important applications, the CBIS serves as the founding partner in the Rensselaer Applied Research Institute at the Tech Park Campus for an applied research center in biomanufacturing, Beyond the CBIS, a second applied research center is being devleoped in the advnaced manufacturing arena focused on Smart Manufacturing that builds across multiple signature thrusts at Rensselaer.
As a comprehensive research univeristy, Rensselaer strongly adheres to the notion that research and pedagogy potentiate one another. This potentiation has been advanced through two programs run through this office. The Knowledge and Innovation Program (KIP) provides teams of researchers from multiple schools at Rensselaer with sufficient support to spur the development of new ideas, collaborations, and scienctific and humanistic contrabutions to society. KIPs are intended to initiate and accelerate impactful research at the interface of science/engineering and humanities and social sciences. a total of 10 KIP awards have been made in the past two years, with funding of up to $139K per award. Augmenting the KIPs is the Presidential Graduate Research (PGRF) Fellowship Progtram, which provides a mechanism for doctoral students to get a head start on their dissertation research and at the same time accelerate strategic research and/or pedagogical initiatives at Rensselaer. In the past two years, 22 PGRFs have been awarded for graduate stipend and tuition support for up to two years per fellow.