Message from President Berkey

The Elements of a Successful Research Enterprise

“We’re defining a clear research mission; we’re attracting bright, productive scholars; and we’re providing a research environment that supports faculty work and encourages collaboration.”

While research has always been a cornerstone of academic achievement, today it carries a greater responsibility. Our society faces problems and opportunities of large scale — clean energy, affordable health care, cybersecurity, making the most of our natural resources, and revitalizing the economy—that call for innovative solutions and new ways of organizing our research efforts. Most of today’s complex problems require the collective ingenuity of many bright minds, often from diverse disciplines, working together in an environment that focuses, facilitates, and supports their work. 

At WPI, we have been working to advance our research enterprise along these very lines — developing our purpose, our people, and our place. We’re defining a clear research mission; we’re attracting bright, productive scholars; and we’re providing a research environment that supports faculty work and encourages collaboration. 

At the heart of research at WPI is a goal that is simple to articulate but hard to achieve — to focus on solving important problems that contribute value to society. The remarkable work of Tanja Dominko, featured in this report, exemplifies vividly the value of this approach. She has found a novel way to transform adult skin cells into stem-like cells that may one day be used to replace tissue lost to injury, grow new organs, or cure degenerative diseases like diabetes. On completely different but equally important tracks, Diran Apelian is at the forefront of national efforts to save energy and our natural resources by reusing metals and other materials more efficiently; and Dalin Tang is employing mathematical modeling techniques to help physicians diagnose and treat arterial plaques, a chief cause of stroke. 

WPI researchers are as diverse as their work. Some are driven by the discovery of scientific knowledge; others by the solutions they see on the horizon. Some have been part of the Institute for decades; others have joined us recently as part of an investment that has brought 36 new full-time faculty members to WPI over the past two years. But all are focused on doing important work. 

That work moves more quickly and often takes valuable new directions when faculty members collaborate with researchers from different disciplines and from other organizations. Fostering those connections is another important facet of the WPI research enterprise. We are a small enough university to be free of barriers among the disciplines, but large and complex enough to have the richness of resources and intellectual capacity to make substantial contributions to important problems. But we also have developed a culture and designed research spaces that facilitate collaboration. One promising fruit of this culture, detailed in this report, is the joint work of Luis Vidali and Erkan Tüzel in the exciting new cross-disciplinary field of biophysics. 

In the pages that follow, I invite you to get to know the faculty and students who make up our research community, to visit the places that bring them together to pursue important work, and to learn more about what drives them in their pursuit of new knowledge and solutions that will enrich and improve our lives.

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