Looking Back at 2010 at Rensselaer

December 20, 2010

Looking Back at 2010 at Rensselaer

For many of us here at Rensselaer, December brings with it an onslaught of year-end reviews, top-10 lists, “best-of” compilations, and a host of other collections of newspaper, magazine, broadcast, and online articles that attempt to capture important events and accomplishments from 2010. If anything, the growing use of social media and the rapid expansion of the World Wide Web has accelerated the trend. Looking at these lists gave us pause, and led us to peer back at the year that was at Rensselaer. While there is always some risk in assembling such lists, we put our heads together and created our own inventory of top stories. It certainly does not touch on everything that went on here in 2010 — we published more than 130 news releases alone on various stories during the year — but it’s an attempt to take a moment and reflect on some interesting and important stories, ranging from research to student life to higher education to Institute business. So here, in no particular order of importance and drawing upon our roster of hundreds of events, news releases, and internal stories, is our own “best of” list for 2010:

Rensselaer Researchers Send More Stuff Into Space: Building on the space successes from a year earlier, 2010 saw another Rensselaer experiment launch into the final frontier aboard a space shuttle. This time it was the work of Professor Cynthia Collins, who sent bacteria into space to gain a better understanding of how the germs develop and form biofilms in the microgravity of space. (This year, we also got an update from Professor Joel Plawsky on his experiment on the International Space Station.)

Mapping Our Galaxy : Enthusiastic and inquisitive volunteers from Africa to Australia are donating the computing power of everything from decade-old desktops to sleek new netbooks to help computer scientists and astronomers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute map the shape of our Milky Way galaxy. The project, MilkyWay@Home, is among the fastest public distributed computing programs ever in operation.

Rensselaer Board Invites President Shirley Ann Jackson To Lead for 10 More Years: As the Institute paused to reflect on accomplishments during the first 10 years of The Rensselaer Plan under President Jackson, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to invite her to serve for 10 more years.

Samuel Heffner Retires as Board Chairman: After more than three decades of service on the Rensselaer Board of Trustees, including 15 years as chairman of the board, Samuel Heffner Jr. ’56 announced his intent to retire from the board at the end of the year.

White House Cabinet Member Speaks at 204th Commencement: Peter R. Orszag, then director of the Office of Budget and Management under President Obama, delivered the main Commencement address and urged some 1,400 Rensselaer graduates to be “empirical and resilient.”

Rensselaer Celebrates 175 Years of Civil Engineering:  In October, Rensselaer celebrated its place in history as the first university in the United States to issue a degree in civil engineering, and feted the world-changing successes and innovations of many of its civil engineering graduates and professors. Icing on the cake: As part of the fun, the Institute was named a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.

Rensselaer Alumni Earn National Medals: Two Rensselaer alumni have become the ninth and 10th graduates to earn national medals. Steven Sasson ’72, and Dr. Marcian E. “Ted” Hoff Jr. ’58, were each selected to receive a National Medal of Technology and Innovation at the White House.

Open Government and the Web: Web scientists within the Tetherless World Research Constellation here are teaming up with the White House and the world’s largest scientific publisher to enhance hundreds of thousands of raw government datasets on the Data.gov website with Semantic Web technology. Their work is bringing scientists and the public important, relevant, searchable, and easily replicable data on topics from climate change to public safety to the federal deficit.

White House Recognizes Engineering Professor: The White House bestowed one of its highest research awards — the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) — upon Professor Matthew Oehlschlaeger for his fascinating research into better understanding jet fuels and improving jet engines.

Rensselaer Launches the Nation’s First Undergraduate Degree in Web Science: This new undergraduate degree program in the Institute’s Tetherless World Research Constellation is devoted to the emerging interdisciplinary field of Web Science. The program expands the current Information Technology degree program to create both a bachelor’s degree, and a master’s concentration, in “Information Technology and Web Science.” The students in the interdisciplinary degree program will investigate issues on the Web related to security, trust, privacy, content value, and the development of the Web of the future.

MRSA-Killing Paint: Building on an enzyme found in nature, researchers at Rensselaer created a safe, durable nanoscale coating that kills methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), the bacteria responsible for antibiotic-resistant infections. The coating could be used on surgical equipment, hospital walls, and other surfaces that are known to harbor the bacteria.

A Top Video Game Program: Today’s video games serve a multitude of functions beyond entertainment, including exercise, education, and a host of other useful applications. The Princeton Review named eight game design programs for top honors as the “best of the best,” and Rensselaer came in at number five.

Former Star Trek Writer Lands in Game Design Program: Fiction met fact as Star Trek screenwriter Lee Sheldon took the helm as co-director of Rensselaer’s top-rated Games & Simulation Arts and Sciences (GSAS) program. Sheldon, who holds more than 200 television screenwriting and producing credits, crossed over to the video-game industry in the 1990s and has written and designed more than 20 commercial video games and massively multiplayer online games.

Going Green: David Hess, professor of science and technology studies, led a national study that identified the best practices and policies for state and cities that are focused on building clean energy industries and green jobs.

Graduates Make a “Green” Statement and a Gift: Closer to home on the Rensselaer campus, members of the Class of 2010 presented the Institute with a unique and spirited gift: a “green roof.” This plant-based multipurpose roofing choice is capable of rain water filtration and collection, thermal energy improvements, and cleaner and cooler ambient air.

Supporting STEM Education: Rising concern about America’s ability to maintain its competitive position in the global economy has renewed interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. To provide a solution, Ron Eglash, associate professor of science and technology studies, received a five-year, $2.9 million National Science Foundation (NSF) research grant to support the development of “The Triple Helix” project that is dedicated to producing “civic scientists.”

Opening Doors for Young Students in STEM: Within the community, Rensselaer continued to offer a plethora of interactive programs designed to spur young people’s interest in pursuing careers in the STEM fields. This year, more than 1,000 students and their families participated in the 12th annual  Black Family Technology Awareness Day, while area high school girls spent the day designing their future, and elementary school students explored engineering.

Another Record Year for Applications: Teenagers across the world continued to beat down the doors of the Admissions Building here to secure their enrollment at Rensselaer — and we have the numbers to prove it.

Using Science to Decode the Secrets of Olympic Skeleton Sliding: In the lead-up to the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, a team of students led by Professor Timothy Wei developed new flow measurement technology that helped the U.S. skeleton team trim track times and gain an edge over the competition.

The World Cup and Predicting the Direction of Penalty Kicks: A study by a Rensselaer Ph.D. student revealed early clues to the direction of soccer penalty kicks. The research in Rensselaer’s Perception and Action (PandA) Laboratory revealed that, in the split second before foot meets ball, a soccer player’s body betrays whether a penalty kick will go left or right.

Nano, Nano:  Rensselaer researchers continued their innovative investigations into the infinitesimally small world of atoms and molecules. From creating new ways to make graphene and gold nanocoatings, to graphene band gaps, glancing angles, and a key concession from NASA that Rensselaer’s darkest dark is darker, it was another stellar year for world-changing nano research at the Institute. Also important, Rensselaer debuted the 3-D version of its spectacular “stealth education” animated film, Molecules to the MAX!

New Frontiers in Alzheimer’s Treatment: Professor Pankaj Karande is working to develop new drugs that cross the amazingly tight barriers into the brain. This targeted delivery of drugs could result in exciting and entirely new methods to treat some of the most complex brain illnesses, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, traumatic brain injury, and brain cancer.

When Good Communication Goes Bad: Using statistical physics and computer science, researchers at Rensselaer found something very fundamental about communication: if there are sustained delays in communication between just two or three parts of a system, performance of the entire system will always eventually collapse. The findings apply to everything from a flock of birds to online social networks.

Understanding Social Networks: Business, government, and military leaders joined with Rensselaer officials in May to launch the new $16.75 million Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center at Rensselaer. Funded by the Army Research Lab, the new center will study the fundamentals of network structures and how those structures have been altered by technology. The goal will be a deeper understanding of social cognitive networks and a firm scientific basis for this newly arising field of network science.

Understanding Earthquakes: In the days following the devastating Feb. 27 earthquake in Chile, a team of geophysists led by Professor Steven Roecker rushed to the country to study the resulting aftershocks. The work is providing important data for studies on the potential for other earthquakes in the region, the development of seismic images of the fault zone and how that is changing over time, the identification of stress patterns in the surrounding portions of the fault zone, and comparisons between other active geologic zones in the world.

Artificial Intelligence and Music:  Artificial intelligence researchers at Rensselaer have joined with musicians in an unlikely project: building a digital conductor of improvised avant-garde musical performances. Advances in artificial intelligence — systems that employ elements of human cognition like perception/action, reasoning, decision-making, planning, and memory — could lead to more robust computer systems patterned on the versatility of human thought.

The Classroom of the Future: Efforts to establish electronic classrooms at Naval ROTC units across the country made their way to Rensselaer. The new state-of-the-art naval classrooms will provide junior naval officers with the necessary skills to operate in the electronic shipboard environment.

Making a Difference in the Community: Extending the university’s reach beyond the borders of its campus is evident in the various community service projects that Rensselaer students pursue.  For the past five years, for example, Rensselaer students have participated in the annual Relay for Life overnight event, coordinated by the American Cancer Society. Since its inception, Rensselaer has raised nearly half a million dollars to support patient services, research, education, and advocacy.

Supporting Rensselaer Students: Starting classes, meeting peers, and exploring a new geographical area all at once may seem intimidating for many first-year students making the transition to college/campus life. But it doesn’t have to be that way — at least that’s what staffers in Rensselaer’s Office of the First-Year Experience (FYE) believe, as first-year students at Rensselaer participate in the annual Navigating Rensselaer & Beyond program.

Contact: Mark Marchand
Phone: (518) 276-6098
E-mail: marchm3@rpi.edu


For general inquiries: newsmedia@rpi.edu

About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Founded in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is America’s first technological research university. Rensselaer encompasses five schools, over 30 research centers, more than 140 academic programs including 25 new programs, and a dynamic community made up of over 6,800 students and 104,000 living alumni. Rensselaer faculty and alumni include upwards of 155 National Academy members, six members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, six National Medal of Technology winners, five National Medal of Science winners, and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With nearly 200 years of experience advancing scientific and technological knowledge, Rensselaer remains focused on addressing global challenges with a spirit of ingenuity and collaboration. To learn more, please visit www.rpi.edu.