An Update on Sciences at NYU
Date: May 9, 2019
TO: THE NYU COMMUNITY
FROM: President Hamilton
Dear Members of the NYU Community,
Time moves fast for all of us. For me, the beginning of 2019 meant the start of my fourth year at the University. That strikes me as an opportune moment to take stock of the past three years and also look forward.
I spent the first few months after my arrival listening carefully to all of you, and thinking through how to sustain NYU’s impressive momentum. At my inauguration, those priorities formed the basis of the talk I gave.
In the time since, I have continued to listen to faculty, students, deans, administrators, alumni, donors, and others who are observers and advocates of NYU’s continued success and advancement. So, over the coming months, I would like to revisit those priorities, sharing my thoughts about where we are, how we can move forward, and new developments that I think may be of interest.
I would like to begin today with science.
Science at NYU – A Progress Report
Growing Research Strength -- A Foundation on Which to Build
NYU’s reputation and ranking across nearly all of our areas of research have grown notably over the past decade. That positive trajectory of our research enterprise, thanks to a dedicated effort by our NYU faculty and Provost’s office, includes remarkable 14-fold increase in the number of faculty submissions for large, collaborative grants. Our volume of funded research proposals has increased by 32%, and the dollar value of that portfolio has risen by 43%. NYU competes for grants with a success rate of 29%, consistently beating national averages of 23%. NYU’s increase in R&D investment that pushed us from being ranked #55 in the US by the National Science Foundation just 10 years ago to being ranked #18 now (among private institutions, we are ranked #9). Last year, when NYU improved its rank to #18, it was the only University in the US to ascend more than three places.
Our innovative culture is more apparent than ever. We have created more than 50 start-ups in the past five years – that is 78% more start up activity per research dollar than the national average. We remain #1 in licensing with revenues in excess of $2.3B. Our patent generating activity places us #17 in the US and #20 in the world.
All this provides a solid basis upon which to make further improvements and investments.
Our renowned strengths in the humanities, social sciences, computational sciences, biomedical sciences, arts, and the professions allow us to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the top universities in the world in these fields. My goal is to maintain a focus on those fields, while also concentrating on the opportunities I believe we can realize in the physical and applied sciences at Washington Square and in Brooklyn.
Building the physical and applied sciences requires a substantial commitment of space and money, both of which are special challenges for NYU in a neighborhood as dense, historic, and pricey as Greenwich Village. Still, we have research momentum on which to build, and we know from creating the Center for Genomics and Systems Biology on Waverly Place that it can be done and is well worth our while, allowing us to recruit new faculty and increase scientific activities.
Science at the Intersection
The most strategic academic investments are those where the whole will prove greater than the sum of the parts and we can shrewdly bridge schools and disciplines to increase the competitiveness of our scientific portfolio. Making use of both NYU’s academic breadth and its entrepreneurial spirit, we shall focus on areas of scientific intersections: physical sciences and life sciences; engineering and health; technology and new media and arts. Across each of these “areas at the intersection” we have additional opportunities to pull in AI, computing, data science, and entrepreneurship.
It is at these areas of overlap that some of the most interesting scientific problems will be pursued in the decades to come: new therapeutics, new materials, new technologies.
Key Initiatives and Examples
Chemical Biology: NYU has launched a new Chemical Biology Initiative in the Faculty of Arts and Science (in collaboration with the School of Medicine and the Tandon School of Engineering). Its aim is to study the chemistry of biological processes, to design new molecules to help probe living systems, and to bring forth new drugs to address major health issues. We have already begun hiring tenured and tenure-track faculty – many of them joint appointments between departments and disciplines – to bolster the talented faculty who are already delving into this area.
A new Department of Bioengineering: Approved last June by the Board of Trustees, this new department in Tandon will work closely with our School of Medicine, our College of Dentistry, and other departments to harness advances in engineering, materials, and processes in the service of human health.
High Performance Computing Center: As recently as 2005 NYU had the fastest supercomputer in New York. In the intervening years, even as the needs for high performance computing grew dramatically (not just in fields that one might expect given NYU’s prominence – mathematics and mathematical modeling, data science, virtual and augmented reality, AI – but in many research areas) our computing resources did not keep up. In line with that, our IT division has worked with deans and schools on a project to create a Center for Research Computing, which will involve both a petascale supercomputer and a dedicated, high-speed, low-latency, research network for our scholars.
The Center for Quantum Phenomena: This newly established center – which is based largely in the Physics Department but that will also involve the Tandon School of Engineering and a partnership with the Flatiron Institute of the Simons Foundation -- will focus on quantum materials, quantum computing and hard condensed matter physics.
Our Teaching Mission, and an AAU Grant to Support Improvements in STEM teaching: Every major undertaking at NYU must be in service of our core research and teaching missions, and we must maintain focus on the teaching of science. We have an obligation to ensure that the thousands of students aspiring to have careers in medicine, engineering, and the sciences, including data science and AI, are educated in modern facilities that are on par with the demands of 21st century STEM education. In line with that, NYU was one of just 12 institutions to receive an Association of American Universities grant to improve undergraduate STEM teaching. In the coming months, we will be developing a Faculty Innovators Network to pilot and evaluate new techniques in STEM teaching, laboratory instruction, and redesign of our teaching labs.
Ongoing Research Support for Faculty: The Provost Office’s effort to support faculty in applying for large, complex, collaborative grants – our “mega-grants initiative” – proved not just successful, but instructive. Our Vice Provost for Research is focusing on strategic efforts to support the growth of our research portfolio.
The NYU Holodeck: The NSF-funded NYU Holodeck was the only Major Research Instrumentation grant awarded in 2016 and prototypes a multimodal, experiential supercomputing infrastructure that advances the transition from visual projection to functional AR, MR and VR simulations with a particular focus on the healthcare education. It exemplifies the power of interdisciplinary research and collaboration at NYU, led by the Rory Meyers College of Nursing and involving researchers from Courant, Tandon, Steinhart, the School of Medicine, and other programs.
The MRSEC is a highly prestigious, cross-college and cross-department interdisciplinary center focusing on materials research and supporting faculty in a variety of departments (currently: FAS-Chemistry, FAS-Physics, FAS-Courant, Tandon-Chem. Eng. and Elec. Eng., FAS-Biology/Data Science, and the Medical School). NYU’s MRSEC is one of the largest federally- funded centers on campus, performing cutting edge research, as well as extensive STEM education and industrial outreach.
New Facilities and Investments
We are creating spaces for science using NYU’s well-established, innovative mix of bringing on some new space, repurposing and renovating some existing space, and making the most of what we have. Capital planning for the 10-year period that began in 2016 includes:
370 Jay St: The renovation of a nearly 500,000 square feet building in Downtown Brooklyn that has been designated LEED Platinum. It will house – in addition to Tandon’s Computer Science and Engineering Department and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering –programs that foster collaborations between disciplines and emphasize the intersection of science, technology, engineering, media, and the arts, including
- Tisch’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, the Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, and the Games Center
Steinhardt’s Educational Communications Technology program and its Music and Audio Research Lab, and
- The Center for Urban Science and Progress, MAGNET (our cross-school gaming initiative) and the Games Innovation Lab, and the Integrated Digital Media program
- Three Tandon incubators: the Digital Futures, Urban Futures, and Data Futures lab
Rogers Hall: 200,000 square feet of laboratory space at the engineering school’s principal lab building are receiving much-needed renovations and a major investment in infrastructure. New labs are being built for:
- Chemical and Biological Engineering
- Biomedical Engineering
- Civil and Urban Engineering, and
- Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering
The Silver Center: Several renovations are underway in the academic complex on the east side of Washington Square in support of the physical sciences.
- The renovation of 50,000 square feet of space to create new lab space for the Chemical Biology Initiative (made possible by the relocation of 34,000 square feet of non-lab program).
- Planning is underway for the much-needed phased renovation of some 54,000 square feet of teaching labs for students
Biomedical Engineering: The new Department of Biomedical Engineering will be located both in the area of the 1st Avenue Health Corridor – where we have our Medical, Dental, and Nursing schools -- and in Rogers Hall in Downtown Brooklyn. New labs in the latter will be undertaken in the next phase of renovations.
Neural Science in the Meyer Building: The University will continue the renovation and expansion of space for the Center for Neural Science and the Psychology Department, furnishing an additional 55,000 square feet and the capacity to hire new researchers in an expanded hub for brain and cognitive sciences.
726 Broadway: Renovations of 100,000 square feet in 726 Broadway completed in 2018 provided a brand new location for the entire Physics Department. The new location increases their space by approximately 70%, substantially decompressing and expanding their research labs.
- The renovations permit the recruitment of new physicists in the area of quantum materials and hard condensed matter physics, and free up additional space in Meyer for Neural Science.
- Our longer-range plans for 726 Broadway involve moving additional administrative offices out of the building and renovating some 100,000 square feet of space for additional research.
These efforts represent an academic investment of approximately $1 billion over the ten-year period ending in 2025, providing NYU with considerable opportunities to expand and improve our scientific enterprise and increase our overall research footprint.
From Here to 2025
Here are my hopes for NYU -- that by 2025 we have set in place a creative strategy that leverages our strengths, adds new faculty lines, and makes effective investments in facilities that enhance faculty members’ ability to carry on research; that we improve science education and inspire more undergraduates to pursue a lifelong career in science, medicine, and technology and engineering; and that our University emerges as a leader in areas of intersectional opportunity that not only will attract and inspire talented faculty and students, but yield important discoveries and breakthroughs that positively affect humanity.
I hope this update is helpful. Your feedback is welcome. I look forward to sharing updates on some of the other University priorities over the coming months.