Our NYU: November 20, 2020
A Note from President Hamilton
I’ve held many roles in academia throughout my career, but at heart I’m a research scientist. I was drawn to the pursuit of knowledge when I was at university myself, captivated by the beauty of chemistry as a young student, then as a professor with a lab and the privilege of leading a team of students and postdocs. To me, there is nothing more exciting than the prospect of being party to the improved understanding of the workings of the universe. It is in this search for discovery that research universities have their most profound impact — on our students and the world at large.
When COVID-19 upended nearly all aspects of University life back in March, I admired the nimbleness with which our students, faculty, and staff responded and pivoted — in instruction, operations, and research. Our research enterprise was particularly affected, and I want to take a moment to focus on it, as our researchers made significant adjustments when nearly all of our non-essential operations went remote. Their efforts deserve to be highlighted so everyone in the NYU community can justly take pride in their work.
Far from pausing our research, we doubled down. NYU faculty quickly began to tackle COVID-19, and their work was deemed essential, carrying on when other activities were halted at the direction of public health authorities. Other scholars shifted their work and carried on remotely. And research was among the first enterprises to begin ramping up after the implementation of NY State’s “Pause.” Since then, we have been safely reconstituting in-person research, with nearly 80 percent of researchers currently working on-site (the remaining continue their work remotely) — within all applicable safety and health protocols (masked-up and six feet apart!).
I couldn’t be prouder of the work in which our remarkable researchers are engaged. Our scholars and faculty continue to study a cross section of areas that remain vital to our understanding of science, health, the economy, racial and social disparities, technology, and, indeed, our political system. Research expenditures are on the rise, and we are now ranked No. 11 among private universities. Our researchers are submitting more proposals, receiving more federal funding, and seeing increases in areas such as mega-grants and interdisciplinary collaboration.
We recently announced the acquisition of a new energy-efficient supercomputer, Greene, which has the capability to do four quadrillion (4 x 1015) calculations per second. It is the fastest computer in the metropolitan area, and will provide the power we need to continue our important research in a variety of areas — from artificial intelligence to genomics to social media behavior analysis — while also meeting the need to reduce reliance on fossil fuel consumption.
NYU researchers continue to endeavor to understand the complex ways that COVID-19 is affecting our world, garnering $8.7 million in funding for such studies. A team at NYU Langone Health has been working on a vaccine that is showing remarkable success, with a 95 percent effective rate according to early data. And one of our doctors, Celine Gounder, is playing a key role in COVID-19 prevention and containment on a national level, and was recently appointed to President-Elect Biden’s COVID-19 advisory board. Our researchers are also examining ways that the pandemic is likely to shape paths of scholarship in the future.
COVID-19 notwithstanding, NYU researchers are doing important work by studying critical issues in society through a variety of lenses. Stern researchers, for example, recently studied a law that provides social media companies immunity from liability for disinformation and other harmful content that is posted on their sites by third parties. A team of researchers, led by Sam Bowman at the Department of Linguistics and Center for Data Science, authored a study on stereotyping in AI language technologies. NYU Law Professor Michael Ohlrogge has a forthcoming paper examining how cohorts of White and Black Americans fared after experiencing foreclosure in 2008.
This year has seen many challenges: a global pandemic, the continuing impact of climate change, an increasing racial divide and economic disparity, civil unrest, and, now, the aftermath of the elections. Knowledge and understanding help us navigate our way through difficult times such as these; never has there been a more urgent need for scientific inquiry and scholarship to guide us in our search for clarity and solutions. Here at NYU, this pursuit is a cornerstone of our mission.
As we near the Thanksgiving holiday, Jennie and I wish you all well and hope you have a restful break.
I’m happy to report that our research enterprise is by all measures on the rise, including proposal volume and dollars awarded — two important benchmarks.
Malaria is a stubborn disease that has confounded scientists while it continues to kill hundreds of thousands of people each year — many of them children. That’s why it’s particularly exciting that NYU Abu Dhabi researchers examining children’s blood in rural Burkina Faso have discovered a certain class of genes that avoids immune response to the parasite that causes malaria. This research could explain why it takes years for children to develop immunity and why vaccines do not provide long-term protection (above, a river in the Comoé province at the southwestern part of Burkina Faso where malaria is endemic).
We all are aware that pain relievers such as opioids have significant side effects and notorious risk for addiction and overdose. Researchers at the College of Dentistry, led by Nigel Bunnett (left) and Brian Schmidt (right), have come up with a promising new option: using nanoparticles to more accurately deliver drugs, which they described in Nature Nanotechnology.
Throughout my career, it’s been my experience that organizations that solicit honest feedback from members at all levels are stronger and more successful, and now there is a new study by Wagner Assistant Professor of Management Patricia Satterstrom (above) that proves exactly this. Satterstrom and her colleagues showed that “upward voicing” of ideas can be key to an organization’s success and identified ways to ensure that ideas expressed by “lower-power” employees can be heard by those with more authority.
It’s hard to overestimate the allure of YouTube for young children (even my 2-year-old grandchild!). That’s why it can be particularly concerning when wildly popular YouTube influencers (such as Ryan of Ryan’s World, above) promote unhealthy food and drinks, according to our researchers at the School of Global Public Health and the Grossman School of Medicine. A new study in the journal Pediatrics found that more than 90 percent of the food-and-drink-related products promoted were unhealthy branded food, drinks, or fast food toys.
There’s so much to be learned in the months following the initial outbreak of the coronavirus, and one of the best places to look is Wuhan, China, itself. Assistant Professor Faculty Fellow of Sociology Miao Jia at NYU Shanghai studied how China’s neighborhood committees (juweihui in Chinese) helped each other through some of the mental health challenges of Wuhan’s 70-day lockdown. What they found was that trust and support between neighbors — “social cohesion” — were essential to blunting the mental health impact.