Our NYU: October 28, 2019
A Note from President Hamilton
Serving as NYU’s president is a job I love, but I could never give up being a working scientist. While most of my travels are on behalf of NYU, occasionally I am able to attend chemistry conferences: Recently I was in Strasbourg at a symposium for a Nobel Prize-winning chemist who studied with one of my first mentors, and over the summer I was able to get away to attend a conference in Colorado. The summer’s meeting was on a seemingly straightforward but, in fact, fascinating topic—water—and its role in molecular forces. It was a wonderful deep dive, as it were, and a reminder of the beauty of chemistry.
One of the privileges of being at NYU is getting to see the great science happening in all corners of the university, and the public impact that the work of our faculty, researchers, and students has around the world. A researcher at NYU Abu Dhabi’s Center for Global Sea Level Change and Courant, for example, found that warm ocean water, exacerbated by warmer air, is melting of one of Greenland’s largest glaciers. And a team of chemists recently re-discovered a fast-acting mosquito pesticide—developed by German scientists during World War II. Lastly, an inspiring citizen science project, led by CUSP , is underway to help address New York City’s noise issues (those of us who live in the city that never sleeps can relate to that!).
NYU’s reputation and ranking in nearly all of our research areas have risen in recent years. More faculty are submitting research proposals, more are getting approved, and with a new emphasis on “mega-grants,” successful proposals are getting funded at higher levels. We are prioritizing important areas such as artificial intelligence, bioengineering, data science, and chemical biology, among others, and we recognize how critical teaching STEM is to our students and local communities. And of course there is so much funding and activity in the humanities and social sciences throughout NYU. The scope of research across the University is outstanding.
Here at NYU, I also maintain a lab on campus, where I work with a fantastic team of students on molecules that mimic protein surfaces, including those involved in diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.
The life of a scientist is quite different today from when I first began my studies some four decades ago. At that time, scientific research was embraced and the pace of new discoveries was thrilling. But now, as I see my students embark on their careers and I grow closer to the end of mine, I find myself dismayed by this era in which the conclusions of science are questioned in the most unscientific ways, where the results of careful evidence-based work are greeted as though they have no more value than opinion.
This climate only reinforces why NYU continues to show fierce dedication to research and rigorous scientific methodology as a key part of our mission, and why it’s so important to continue to do the hard work of educating and persuading others about the importance of science and the delivery of truth.
While we’re obviously proud of the work our researchers do here at NYU, we’re also getting an increasingly strong vote of confidence in terms of research dollars. One example is funding from our nation’s largest supporters of scientific research, including the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and other federal agencies, which has increased steadily over the last five years, creating enhanced opportunities for our faculty and students.
We have wonderful programs to help a thriving entrepreneurship ecosystem here at NYU. Stern’s Endless Frontier Labs program, for example, just admitted 50 start-ups into its new cohort. With tracks in life sciences and technology, members get coaching from serial entrepreneurs, technical advice from prominent scientists, and support from Stern MBA students.
To investigate the impact of different environments on a patient’s balance, Steinhardt professors Anat Lubetzky (above, right) and Agnieszka Roginska, and Courant professor Ken Perlin developed a virtual reality application for people with vestibular disorders—those that affect the inner ear and can impair sense of balance. A clinician can show different virtual scenes, such as a city street, to mimic conditions and potentially use them for therapeutic treatments.
Precision health, which considers factors unique to an individual (such as genetics and environment), is emerging as a strategy in chronic disease management. It's also the focus of the NYU Meyers Center for Precision Health in Diverse Populations. The center uses genomic and biomarker research to study metabolic syndrome—conditions underlying diabetes and heart disease—and other chronic diseases.
AI has tremendous promise—and risks. The Center for Bioethics at the College of Global Public Health, under director S. Matthew Liao (above), hosted a workshop earlier this year on the ethics of AI in healthcare. Scientists, bioethicists, and philosophers discussed patient privacy, algorithmic biases, regulation and oversight, and whether morality can be programmed into AI.
Our alumni make an impact around the world, but next year New Yorkers will see it underground: Sigi Moeslinger (TSOA ’96) is a co-founder of Antenna Design, a firm behind the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s current ticketing machine, the LinkNYC kiosks, and now, the next fleet of NYC subway cars, scheduled for delivery in 2020. The new cars include assistive elements for the visually impaired and innovative digital displays, creating a coherent user experience and improving people's everyday interactions with their surrounding environment. Photo credit: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin.
Zhong-Lin Lu, associate provost and chief scientist at NYU Shanghai, as well as a professor of neuroscience and psychology, is challenging a familiar tool: the eye chart. Recognizing that they are imprecise and can prevent early detection of debilitating eye afflictions, he and his colleagues are using AI and machine learning techniques to develop more sophisticated vision screenings.
A new study in Nature is the first to show that the mycobiome, or fungal community, in the pancreas can trigger changes that turn normal cells turn into pancreatic cancer cells. The research is a collaboration between NYU College of Dentistry's Deepak Saxena (above, right) and NYU School of Medicine's George Miller (above, left) and their labs.
3D printers are largely limited by the stationary boxes in which they are enclosed, but a multidisciplinary team at NYU Tandon, hosted by CUSP, is working on autonomous systems for 3D printers, using robotic arms attached to roving platforms. The setup would allow robots to use 3D printing to repair bridges and tunnels; work under the sea and in disaster zones; or even in space!
When I’m not wearing my President of NYU hat, I duck into my chemistry lab where I work with my dedicated team of undergrads and post-docs. The NYU News team recently paid us a visit to learn more about what we do to design molecules that interact with proteins in disease.