RESEARCH FUTURES TASK FORCE
PHYSICAL and BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES and ENGINEERING
The purpose of this document is to provide a framework to ensure that Cornell, in an era of eroding financial resources for research, retains its position as a world-class research university. The Research Futures Task Force was charged by President Rawlings to outline research goals for Cornell, set forth research priorities, make recommendations and suggest a strategy for allocating limited resources within the physical and biological sciences and engineering.
Methodology: The Task Force members, half of whom were selected by the Faculty Senate and the other half by the co-chairs, met at least every other week over the summer, under the co-chairmanship of Norm Scott and John Hopcroft. The Task Force also used as input the responses from over 70 Cornell researchers identified as principal investigators of sponsored research projects during the past two years.
Research Goals for Cornell: Cornell is a research-intensive educational institution with goals shaped by intellectual diversity as the product of Ezra Cornell's original vision. Our research goal is to establish Cornell as the preeminent institution in research and education in those areas which emerge from a diversity of intellectual disciplines while maintaining our acknowledged strength in core disciplines.
Research Priorities: The Task Force developed a conceptual topography or taxonomy for use in mapping research efforts and designating priorities. We reiterate Cornell's strong commitment to basic research in all sciences and express the importance of interdisciplinary (cross-disciplinary) research.
We focus much of the report on areas which are characterized by a breadth of impact in basic and applied research throughout the sciences, the social sciences and the humanities, with an importance over decades. To this end the Task Force suggests that the following broad research themes are likely to strongly influence future scientific research: (1) genomics and integrative molecular biology, (2) information sciences, and (3) advanced materials. Cornell currently has enormous faculty resources in or directly related to these three strategic enabling areas. These resources are dispersed across many of the departments and all of the colleges of the University. Within this broad, loosely connected community of researchers, we need to develop a strategy for enhancing the effectiveness of resource commitments.
We provide examples of exciting research possibilities that capitalize on Cornell's existing strengths that could provide a focus for efforts in these areas. The faculty will determine actual implementation and directions within these areas.
Strategies: The University's task in marshaling the resources supporting scientific research is to focus the efforts in each of the strategic enabling areas to ensure a high level of excellence for the long term.
Given the enormous faculty investments already made it is appropriate for the University to commit substantial resources to foster this effort.
Resource reallocations are proposed to come primarily from within the areas of the physical and biological sciences and engineering through a joint process of administrative and faculty interaction. To retain our leadership position we must make strategic investments through a collaborative process. We suggest there be a call for initiatives in the three strategic areas. A detailed organizational structure is provided in the Task Force Report for evaluation of initiatives and for subsequent re-evaluation of the entire process after its first three years.
Recommendations: The Task Force recommends:
* Increasing emphasis on the recruitment and retention of the very best faculty.
* Enhancing our competitiveness to attract the best graduate students.
* Maintaining a commitment to the basic research in the sciences.
* Developing a process to focus research efforts in the key strategic enabling areas of biology, information sciences, and advanced materials.
* Improving Cornell's research infrastructure.
* Encouraging increased cross-disciplinary research.
President Rawlings and Provost Randel asked Dean of Engineering John Hopcroft and VP for Research and Advanced Studies Norman Scott to convene a small group of faculty members to articulate a position about the future of research at Cornell. The administration's assumption is that Cornell must have a more focused strategy for investments in research in order to retain its position as a world class research University. The charge of the group,the Research Futures Task Force, whose membership is listed in Appendix A,was to:
* Outline research goals for Cornell,
* Suggest research priorities,
* Suggest a research strategy with models for allocating limited Cornell resources.
The report was to deal only with the physical and biological sciences and engineering, and it was to be completed at the beginning of the fall semester so that it could be discussed by the faculty during the fall semester.
From the end of the Second World War until very recently, the scientific and engineering research enterprise of American universities grew tremendously. Periods of slow growth or recession were soon overtaken by the exponential rise in research funding. All highly rated research intensive universities began expanding their research enterprises at the earliest possible opportunity, and those that started later have, by and large, not made it into the first tier. In the last few years budgetary constraints, popular disenchantment with universities, and the disappearance of visible foreign enemies have begun to erode the financial resources available to support university research. Cornell's research environment reflects these national trends, and an analysis of Cornell's research performance-as measured for example by research expenditures-shows that Cornell has reached a plateau.
In addition to these changes in resources, other changes are taking place. Breakthroughs in technology and profound new insights have led to significant advances in some areas, redefining the relative importance of fields and opening new areas for study. As an example, during the past century, physics has played a prominent role as we learned about the nature of matter and time and about the creation of the universe. Biological sciences are likely to play a similar role in the next 50 years owing to the tremendous increase in our ability to understand and control biological phenomena.
These changes in available resources and intellectual structure pose challenges to Cornell's research future. The University must develop a strategy that is flexible and insightful enough to allow its research enterprise to prosper under shifting conditions, and aggressive enough to recognize opportunities for making a major impact and take advantage of them.
This report, which is designed to stimulate a discussion,
* attempts to articulate a research vision and goals for Cornell
* describes a strategy for setting research priorities with the goal of reaching acknowledged research leadership and quality.
* outlines three broad areas in which resources should be better focused to take advantage of Cornell's uniqueness, build on its strengths, and influence scientific, technological and societal changes, and
* suggests strategies by which the administration can facilitatereaching these goals.
II. CORNELL'S RESEARCH GOALS
* We embrace Cornell's intellectual diversity as the product of Ezra Cornell's original vision.
* We reaffirm a vision of an institution that supports both the pursuit of fundamental knowledge and its application for the betterment of humankind. In this vision we recognize that these activities are mutually reinforcing and are conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect.
* Our research goal is to establish Cornell as the preeminent institution in research and education in those areas which emerge from a diversity of intellectual disciplines while maintaining our acknowledged strength in core disciplines.
III. RESEARCH PRIORITIES
III.1 WHY DEVELOP RESEARCH PRIORITIES NOW?
The dwindling federal resources available for research have put increasing pressures on Cornell's resources. For example, expectations of matching funds by federal agencies, increasing levels of start-up funding for new tenure track and senior faculty appointments, the significant increase in graduate fellowship support by our competitor institutions, support of the research infrastructure such as libraries, expensive shared equipment, and information services and reduced indirect cost recovery force us to make critical judgments on where to place our limited resources. The harsh reality is that we cannot fund every worthy claimant. With these realities in mind, we face a research environment where greater collaboration is necessary between researchers and the administration. A joint process, not heavy handed or bureaucratic, but one which acknowledges the need for collaboration among the parties is needed. Circumstances require that resource reallocation must be considered within physical and biologicalsciences and engineering.
The Task Force sent an electronic message to over 500 researchers, identified as principal investigators of sponsored research projects during the past two years. The e-mail message informed the recipient of the existence of the Task Force and asked for input as the Task Force addressed issues of defining Cornell's research future and strategic research choices. Specifically we also asked, "What areas do you perceive will be of research importance over the next ten years and why?"
We received over 70 responses. The replies are summarized in Appendix B. Two overwhelming responses were: (1) that the most important investment Cornell could make in research consists in appointing and retaining faculty of the highest quality and (2) that in proposing research priorities for the University at large the Task Force seemed to be engaged in a very dangerous exercise of university-wide selection of important research areas and centralized planning. Quoting from one colleague--"To the extent that we have not always been as successful as we could have been, it is due to our not insisting that all our appointments be of the highest quality, to academic units being too narrow and inward-looking in their perspectives, and to the central administration not making critical, leveraged investments in research support when required."
The Task Force subscribes wholeheartedly to the primacy of faculty quality and shares the faculty's concern about "top-down" or centralized management of research priorities. However, the majority of its members recognize that Cornell can not do everything, and that we must have a strategy ensuring well informed and wise resource commitments. Numerous faculty members have expressed the opinion we must step up to the changing research environmentor lose our leadership position.
III.2 CORNELL'S STRENGTHS
Because we cannot do everything, the research community needs to decide what we will and will not do on the basis of a broadly-based set of research priorities. In order to succeed in a highly competitive arena, any strategy for setting research priorities must build from the current strengths of the institution.
The Task Force has identified several major strengths that can anchor a base of excellence for productive and high-quality research programs.
* The most important element of the research program is that Cornell has broad strength in the basic sciences at the departmental level, extending throughout all colleges of the University. A measure of the quality of Cornell's graduate programs is the number of fields that are listed in the top 10 of the most recent NRC 1995 survey (see Appendix C ). In addition Cornell is consistently ranked as one of the top ten universities in the world.
* Another major strength of the Cornell research program is that barriers to interdisciplinary collaboration are low. Collaboration is facilitated by Cornell's graduate fields which in some cases createextended departments and in other cases exist independently of departments.
As the intellectual structure of many disciplines evolves, suchinterdisciplinary collaborations will be essential if we are to stay at the forefront. Cornell has successfully organized a variety of interdisciplinary areas into centers such as the Material Sciences Center, Biotechnology Center for Advanced Technology, Center for the Environment, etc.
* Cornell is home to two national research facilities: the NS/CHESS/MacCHESS facilities at Wilson Laboratory, and the Cornell Nanofabrication Facility. These facilities provide resources to researchers across the United States, as well as providing a focus for much research done on campus. In addition, Cornell manages the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center --Arecibo Observatory--in Puerto Rico which attracts researchers from Cornell and around the world.
III.3 DEVELOPING RESEARCH PRIORITIES AND RESOURCE ALLOCATION STRATEGIES
In thinking about research priorities at Cornell, it is useful to discuss the different basic classes of research, and then develop an investment strategy appropriate for each class. The investment strategies of the University must be based on the recognition that the University will not grow in the coming years. The size of its faculty will be the same or smaller, and hence, any faculty investment in new areas must come by reassignment, not addition of faculty lines. An enlightened management of faculty retirements is an opportunity to alter the research landscape.
(1) As is befitting to a great University, Cornell has a strong commitment to basic research in all the sciences. From the University's inception, Cornell faculty have sought to understand nature and the human condition.
Cornell investigators have advanced this understanding through creative and rigorous fundamental research, which has produced new knowledge and opened additional doors for exploration and discovery. Cornell's achievements in fundamental research in many fields of science have earned world-wide recognition. In areas that capture the public's imagination such as cosmology or high-energy physics, the breakthroughs and their importance are easily and vividly grasped by the general population. Furthermore, the achievements in basic research underlie progress in all areas of science.
Efforts in basic research may span departments and the ultimate importance or time scale may not be clear. However, it is essential to create an environment supportive of excellent work, which will enable us to develop a number of opportunities commensurate with an institution of Cornell's stature.
Cornell's strategy has been to hire and support superb faculty and let them make the strategic choices on what intellectual problems to pursue. Our day-to-day operations need to be structured so that researchers make bets and move into new areas by its ordinary processes. While it is important that Cornell be world class in some areas of basic research, it need not be world class in all areas.
(2) Every century is marked by a handful of what we shall call strategic enabling research areas. A University must sponsor world class research in these areas in order to remain top ranked. Strategic enabling areas are characterized by the breadth of their impact in basic and applied research throughout the sciences, the social sciences and the humanities, and a sense of their importance over the next thirty to forty years. A University needs to be world class in these areas because the science developed in these areas supports so many other disciplines across the entire University. Biology is joined by information sciences and materials sciences as the three strategic enabling areas of the next decades.
The large investment of resources necessary for achieving and maintaining world class excellence in these broad areas require a high level of institutional commitment. Although it is faculty leadership that must drive the research directions within the strategic themes, only the senior administration and the trustees can make such commitments. It is moreover the ability and willingness to make such commitments that define a pre-eminent research university.
The research activity of more than half of the science faculty at Cornell can be associated with the three strategically enabling areas we have listed. The enormous base of resources is spread across many of the departments and all of the colleges in the University. It is in these strategically enabling areas that Cornell needs a new strategy to enhance the effectiveness of its resource commitments. The administration needs to work with the faculty to focus priorities into well defined clusters of effort and find ways that Cornell can be uniquely strong in areas where every major research University is going to be investing for its future.
(3) There are other broad interdisciplinary areas that are also characterized by a breadth of impact but which we do not classify as strategic enabling. The impact in these other interdisciplinary areas does not come from fundamental scientific breakthroughs in a discipline but rather from the importance of the area to national concerns or fromscientific synthesis achieved by inter-comparisons. These interdisciplinary areas rely on a broad range of sciences and technologies and thus are important to researchers in many different disciplines. Examples of important interdisciplinary areas are environment, energy, health, earth systems science, etc.
The University can be catalytic in encouraging faculty leadership in important interdisciplinary areas and by disseminating information which supports those areas. However, leadership in the interdisciplinary area must emerge, from the scientific work of the faculty; the administration's responsibility is to support, not trying to create it. The administration should encourage each interdisciplinary area to elaborate a vision and identify gaps in the disciplines supporting it; administrative leadership can help departments and faculty overcome procedural and territorialboundaries that inhibit collaborative research and teaching efforts.
Across all disciplines we need to make sure that the existing resources are wisely invested. This consideration applies especially to faculty recruitment. The overall quality of the faculty (and hence of the university ) can improve only if the new people we hire are better than we are. The governing assumption should be that it often takes several years to find such candidates. Hiring committees, departments, department chairs, and deans will all have to make the tough call of rejecting good candidates in the belief that outstanding ones will emerge in subsequent hiring cycles. Accordingly, each college dean must guarantee that once a department is authorized to search for a position, the line will remain available to that department until it is filled.
Our chances of attracting excellent applicants will also increase if each search is broadly defined. In a period when the current size of the faculty is likely to be reduced, at least in some areas, the rationale for niche appointments is weaker than ever. Similarly, all faculty search committees should include wide representation from thediscipline, including members from outside the academic unit. A department should systematically mentor each junior hire and, well before the tenure review, should be required to report to the larger disciplinary grouping on the new faculty member's progress and how well that individual has fulfilled the programmatic expectations of the search. Finally, by improving the faculty through these mechanisms, the university would gain instructional flexibility: teaching could often be carried out in a discipline by a broader set of faculty than those in the corresponding academic department.
Cornell must attract the best graduate students. The gap between our support packages for graduate students and those of our peers has become a problem that demands urgent attention. We need fellowships that will enable our graduate fields to be competitive with other institutions, and we need incentives that will entice students and faculty to compete for external training resources. Faculty should be assisted in advertising the intellectual breadth that Cornell offers its students.
Pressures from the increasing cost of new faculty startup funds, rising costs of state-of-the-art instrumentation, increased demands for matching funds on equipment grants, increased time spent on writing proposals (in the very competitive funding environment), and time spent building relationships with corporations to fund laboratories and research, suggest a need for a more comprehensive and unified approach.
IV. STRATEGIC ENABLING AREAS: CORNELL'S FOCUS
We have identified three broad areas that will impact research in many areas of science, the humanities and social sciences in the next decades. Cornell has tremendous resources invested in these areas and needs to focusits efforts within them by building on current strengths. In addition very important synergies exist between these areas.
The Task Force recognizes that in identifying strategic enabling areas we may be accused of trying to pick winners and losers. The track record onpredictions is not particularly impressive. However, we believe acampus-wide discussion of strategic enabling areas as they impact the long term strengths of Cornell's research leadership will be both a stimulus to suggest alternative options and to better understand the major strengthswhich exist both within and between these strategic enabling areas. An agreement on strategic areas on-campus can provide Cornell with the focus necessary to enhance its position with our competition through increased funding from our many sources of support.
It is anticipated that the faculty will determine actual implementation and directions within these areas. The role of the administration is to provide mechanisms to foster faculty collaborations. Faculty must provide leadership, and as leadership develops, the colleges should support it,particularly in hiring decisions which will support the strategic enabling area.
IV.1 GENOMICS AND INTEGRATIVE MOLECULAR BIOLOGY: The increasingly sophisticated tools of molecular biology have taken us to the threshold ofa new era in biology. For many years the ability to accumulate data wasrate limiting for biologists. Now large scale DNA sequencing will soonreveal all the genes required to encode most major life forms, including humans, microbes, plants and animals, leading us into an unprecedented era of discovery.
Underlying the birth of this "new biology" will be a major shift in theparadigm of biological research from a reductionist approach, which focuses on individual phenomena, to a high level approach that integrates themolecular information for whole organisms, physiological systems, andbehavior. The major tasks for the "new biology" over the next 30-100 yearswill be: 1) to associate DNA sequence data with biological function and todetermine how sequences have changed through evolutionary time to create the diversity of life forms that now inhabit this planet, and 2) to understand the flow and control of information from the genome and theinteraction of that information with information from the environment. The ensuing discoveries will revolutionize our understandings of the originsof life and the molecular processes that underlie life. They will also leadto many revolutionary discoveries in engineering, medicine, the environment and agriculture.
Cornell is in a unique position to assume world-wide leadership in this "new biology." Unlike many of its peer institutions, Cornell has a broad range of life sciences. It is renowned for its studies in molecular and evolutionary biology across a wide range of organisms; it is an international center for agricultural research (both plant and animal)and has top-rated engineering programs. It is also the birthplace for much of the research now being conducted on crop plant genomes. These factors when marshaled collectively make this area at Cornell much more than the sum of its individual parts. It transcends rankings of our separate programs and builds a major integrated area of phenomenal strength.
Cornell can combine its expertise in plant, animal, microbial, and human biology/genetics (at CUMC) to address issues that could not be approached by studying a single organism. For example, unlike human systems, plant and animals have been bred for specific multigene traits, and this process iswell-documented -- especially in Cornell's agricultural disciplines. These systems provide an exceptional resource from which to discover underlying principles that govern complex genetic systems. Further, researchers studying these systems should join forces with engineers, computer scientists and researchers skilled in systems integration and systems dynamics. Work pursued on this horizon in Ithaca should, moreover,complement work in the strategic areas (Genetics and Genetic Medicine,Structural Biology and Neurobiology) identified by Cornell University Medical College. The impact of the research of each campus would be enhanced through research exchanges. This approach would integrate knowledge (and therefore discovery) horizontally across species by using a functional perspective as a common unifying theme.
This integrative approach to biology could be initiated in several different content areas, such as: a comparative genome project (comparing genomic information across species) that would put the results of the human genome project in a much broader and more interpretable evolutionary context; an integrative neuroscience project that would consider cognition,perception and action across all species and at multiple levels ofanalyses; and a developmental biology project employing a comparative perspective that considers common problems of development and how they are solved in convergent ways across different evolutionary taxa.
Another exciting aspect of integrative biology is the possibility of chemical prospecting--research that integrates chemical ecology with molecular biology and chemistry to discover potential pharmaceutical or agrochemical agents in natural occurring compounds.
Biological data are accumulating at a rate that exceeds the ability of biologists to digest it. Bioinformatics, "data base mining" and computational biology will be critical in the "new biology". It is likely that new and very fast algorithms will be required for comparing and culling interpretations from vast amounts of data. Cornell, with its top rated Computer Science Department, Theory Center, Applied Mathematics and Statistics Center, is ideally positioned to lead the field of computational biology and bioinformatics.
Perhaps less obvious, but no less important, is the human impact that will result from a better understanding of genomics. Ethical and legal issues are apparent. A more fundamental understanding of genomics and what it means for both the origin and nature of humankind will have repercussions throughout the humanities and social sciences. We will ultimately perceive ourselves differently because of this biological revolution. We need to beprepared to deal with the consequence of our increased understanding of the mechanics of life.
Initiatives such as those outlined here require significant intellectual flexibility on the part of the participating faculty as many biologists adjust to a systems approach and as non-biological scientists and engineers learn both biological concepts and vocabulary. If Cornell students are to be leaders in the upcoming biological revolution, they must have an opportunity to learn in this integrative mode of thought.
IV.2 INFORMATION SCIENCES: The onset of the "Information Age" is transforming academic disciplines. The trend is apparent in the foregoing discussion of Genomics and Integrative Molecular Biology, and which will also be apparent in the section on Advanced Materials. The Information Age is transforming the methods of research and the process of education by creating new information resources and providing collaboration unconstrained by physical location. The impact on the core function of universities will be so pervasive that any leading institution must be engaged in the field. Cornell created one of the first (and best) Computer Science Departments in the United States, and that early lead has helped the University build exceptional strength in the Information Sciences across several departments. This strength will enable Cornell to provide the education and research partnering necessary in the next few decades across virtually every academic discipline.
The Information Sciences are concerned with the recognition of relationships, the imposition of structure on information, and the development of new thought paradigms and theories that can be validated by experiments upon information archives and on information systems.Relationships between information and explanations of information are emerging as the intellectual currency of this new era.
A salient feature of the "Information Age" is the rapid growth of information repositories. Questions arising from them illustrate the scope and role of the Information Sciences. For example, as described earlier,biological research on the human genome is creating massive gene sequencing databases that are shared by thousands of researchers worldwide. These databases are today enormous, largely unstructured, collections of "raw" information. To impose meaning upon them, and to relate genes to proteins and proteins to function, and then to identify relationships that span species, will require a massive investment not just in a pure intellectual sense, but also in a practical sense, through the construction of new devices for accessing and manipulating genetic data. These resources must be easily accessible and network capacity must be adequate to support necessary applications, such as three-dimensional visualization. We will need radically improved methods to represent relationships among andbetween data items, to structure the data, and to query within these large databases. Progress in computational biology will thus be limited by, or fueled by, basic advances in the subject of information retrieval (IR). Fortunately, Cornell was an early leader in IR and today is a major player in related areas such as multimedia databases, natural language processing and the cognitive aspects of user interfaces to information. Few universities are better positioned to exploit this opportunity.
More broadly, fundamental research aimed at improving the Internet is recognized as a national priority. The current Internet will need significant extensions to succeed in the real-world settings where the new technologies are likely to have their most significant socio-economic impact. For example, medical information networks and remote monitoring of patients could reduce costs, improve medical care, and permit people with chronic medical problems to live at home rather than in nursing homes. However, such uses of the Internet demand a much higher standard for security, privacy and availability than is required for commercial transactions. This also applies to other emerging networked applications,such as air traffic control systems, software to manage the national electric power grid, and so forth.
Cornell is a major center for research on reliable network communications.We have strength in both theory and practice, and we are leaders in setting the research agenda in the area. This expertise will make it possible for Cornell to exploit the information technologies at the cutting edge. For example, although the US air traffic control project faltered and became a visible fiasco, Cornell technology now underlies an apparently successful project of a similar nature in France. If this project advances as expected, it will be the world's first demonstration of a next-generation air-traffic control computing and communication system, and Cornell research on reliable, secure networks will have made it possible. Cornell software plays a key role in the new Swiss Electronic Stock Exchange and the New York Stock Exchange trading software, both considered leading-edge efforts that are breaking new ground in stock market functionality. Few, if any, academic programs have had comparable impact on these kinds of emerging critical uses of network communications.
Plans to increase quality of service and provide more capacity are part of the Next Generation Internet (NGI) initiative being shaped at the presidential level. Here, Cornell has positioned itself to be a major player through strategic hiring in the Engineering College and by the installation, maintenance and continual upgrading of state-of-the-art network services in the University's communications infrastructure.Investment in information technologies, throughout Cornell, will enable diverse researchers to exploit these tools in teaching, collaboration and research. Indeed, this is already happening through projects like the Nilesystem, a computational engine for the CLEO particle physics group, and the seismic events database being developed by the Geology Department.
Finally it should be noted that the Internet has changed basic notions of how we compute, stressing the importance of mobile agents and giving rise to languages such as Java. New computing paradigms will affect all of the computationally intensive areas of science from "bio-informatics" to the computational physics and chemistry that underlie materials science. Just as computers themselves have had pervasive impact, new computational paradigms may trigger a further revolution in the types of research we can undertake. As the Cornell research community learns these new paradigms, we will see a wave of applications that, if managed carefully, will translate to visibility and impact on a national scale.
Connections To Computational Science. The field of computational science is in a tight symbiotic relationship with computer science and the information sciences, much like the relationship between mathematics and physics in the nineteenth century. Increased computing power has made it possible to simulate certain physical events with enough precision to reveal new understanding of the details of interactions at the molecular level. This has already led to new industrial practice in drug design and materialsdesign. One major part of computational science is seen in discretesimulations of continuous phenomena, as in protein folding. Underlying this kind of scientific computing is a combination of numerical analysis and general algorithmic and data structure analysis --- an area in whichC ornell is exceptionally strong. Large scale optimization when thousands of variables are involved can require a clever data structure to represent sparse interconnections and/or a graceful interface with a complicated database. Through such optimization schemes, the Information Sciences can greatly widen the class of solvable numerical problems in science and engineering.
In the field of material sciences, discussed in the section that follows,computational models of materials and simulations are used hand-in-hand with experimental studies of real materials. Computational science is today inextricable from progress in other sciences, and this is true throughout Cornell. Since progress in computational science will enable advances in many disciplines, by investing in computational science, the University will both strengthen a major field of scientific inquiry and provide infrastructural support that will serve many areas of research.
Another major role of Information Sciences in the traditional sciences is seen in the study of complex systems. In this role, information systems are seen as generalizations of "living systems". Indeed, the study of finite automata (a fundamental notion in computer science) arose out of study of the brain as a complex computing system. One can indeed see information science as the study of "information processing systems" in all their variety, from computers to organisms. Fifty years ago, before the discovery of the molecular structure of DNA, few would have suspected that the storage, transmission, and duplication of information lay at the heart of all biological processes. One of the major achievements of our age is the realization that the nature of the living world is determined in large part by the information content of the underlying DNA. Thus the purview of information science, which deals with abstracted information, extends beyond the not only design and use of computational machines, to the very processes of life itself.
IV.3 ADVANCED MATERIALS: Cornell is famous for its research on equilibrium phase transitions in matter. The subject has been a major research theme here for at least 60 years. Our scientists defined the important concepts, produced the central theories, and performed the seminal experiments. The work has been widely recognized with major international prizes including two Nobel Prizes. Ken Wilson's renormalization group theory was the rosetta stone for predicting everything about phase transitions. Today, the materials research field faces an equally exciting challenge - the Cornell understanding of non-equilibrium states of matter. The topic is ripe for rapid development. New theoretical and experimental tools can be used to develop a similarly complete understanding of some of nature's most important materials.
Almost all of the objects around us were formed while out of equilibrium. They did not pass through a phase transition in a controlled manner to end up in a nearly perfect state. Nearly perfect crystals are very rare in nature. Instead, most of the matter around us has been trapped in a non-equilibrium condition - sometimes through rapid quenching to the final state and other times through natural (and even biological) growth processes. The equations describing such growth are usually nonlinear and the final state depends upon the particular path taken through environmental conditions of temperature, pressure, and chemical composition. Many of the materials important for their strength,lightness, flexibility, or electronic properties burst into existence in a chaotic condition. The recipes for their fabrication have come through empirical accident.
The important general concepts for materials research have probably not even been discovered. Even as we grope for the general theory we can make rapid progress through a partnership of theorists armed with powerful computer simulation techniques and experimentalists equipped with the remarkable modern analytical tools. Accurate simulations of very complex processes can be computed countless thousands of times to focus on the important initial conditions and rates of environment change. On the experimental side we can use modern analytical equipment to study structure and composition of newly invented matter on every useful size scale - even to the final arrangement of each atom!
Advances in materials are responsible for the rapid progress in micro- and nano-devices in electronics, for enormous improvements in data storage capacity and for self-eroding polymers for drug delivery. Other institutions and nations are placing increased emphasis on materials research, which is now widely recognized as a strategic discipline.
Cornell has an extremely strong foundation on which to foster excellence in research in materials. This base includes the Materials Science Center(MSC), highly rated departments and many world class research facilities. Among the unique capabilities at Cornell are the Cornell Nanofabrication Facility which enables processing on the nanometer level, MSC Facilities and the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS) which permit detailed studies at the molecular level. Biomaterials research is carriedout through the Biotechnology Center and elsewhere at Cornell.
Modern materials research spans a broad spectrum of topics, ranging from the manipulation of individual atoms in computer chips to the creation of large scale systems such as bridges and buildings, from the physics and chemistry of complex fluids to the synthesis and study of biological materials and from nanoscale technologies for microelectronics and sensors to new alloys and ceramics for extreme conditions. Macromolecules are ubiquitous; they comprise the bumpers of cars, liquid crystal displays of lap-top computers, hip implants and even stabilizers in food.
One of the most exciting areas of materials science and another in which Cornell is the leader is nanotechnology. As microelectronic devices move to smaller and smaller dimensions, bulk properties vanish and unusual properties are obtained. Nanodevices, sometimes only tens or hundreds of atoms in size, move toward the realm of one-dimensional properties, exhibiting unusual electronic, magnetic and quantum phonon effects. Advances in nanotechnology have been aided by our ability to manipulate and probe materials, one atom at a time. By combining the excellent selectivity of biological systems it may be possible to produce self-organizing nanodevices as well as ultra sensitive biosensors. Recent Cornell contributions include pioneering work in microelectromechanical systems using Cornell capabilities not available even 10 years ago. From this work, small scale devices ranging from automotive air bag sensors to scanning tunneling microscopes to artificial ears, all smaller than the head of a pin, are being developed.
In other realms of materials research, biomaterials and polymers are becoming increasingly important in many technologies. The sophisticated use of self-organizing macromolecules which include liquid crystals, block copolymers, hydrogen- and ¼-bonded complexes and many natural polymers mayhold the key to developing new structures and devices in many advanced technology industries. Combinations of both complementary and antagonistic molecular interactions in macromolecular systems can create order in materials over many length scales. This ability to tailor function may lead to ready processing of polymers into light emitting structures, extreme performance non-wetting coatings, organic transistors or new display materials, for example. Even though we are just now beginning to be able to predict complex and non-equilibrium materials properties, further progress will require enhanced computational approaches, including both hardware and algorithm development.
Today materials research is rapidly evolving and increasingly interdisciplinary, where progress is dependent on overlap between biology, chemistry, physics and engineering. This interdisciplinary aspect of materials research is a hallmark of the Cornell research environment and has enabled Cornell to thrive as one of the earliest and most productive centers of materials excellence in the country. New abilities to predict,create and synthesize "designer materials" are being developed. The changing nature of materials research is involving researchers and research until recently not considered part of materials science.
V. STRATEGIES FOR STRATEGIC ENABLING AREAS:
Within the three broad strategically enabling areas of genomics and integrated molecular biology, information sciences and materials science, Cornell has the opportunity to achieve distinction in a wide variety of basic and applied research areas. There are many possible strategies forusing University resources to focus efforts and foster growth: hiring a few senior faculty "superstars", building up a large core of younger faculty, building a critical common facility that will provide unique support for researchers, enhancing graduate support, among others.
We do not believe that a single standard mix of these strategies will work best for all areas. Each case calls for strategic analysis by the facility already in place. At the University level, initiatives that focus on interrelations between the three areas and take advantage of the breadth of Cornell's faculty and resources will presumably have priority. Given the enormous faculty investments already made in the three strategic enabling areas we have emphasized, we feel it is appropriate for the University to commit substantial internal resources to foster this effort. We are cognizant, however, of strong sentiments against increasing square footage of the current physical plant as opposed to renovations and reallocations of existing space.
Specific content areas and strategies should therefore be considered as coherent packages on a case by case basis. Such packages should emerge in the form of research initiatives proposed by groups of faculty that cut across several departments. We suggest that there be a call for initiatives in each of the three strategic domains that this report recommends for development. These initiatives should present a plan for developing a broad area of research and should not only argue its scientific merit and significance but also explain how Cornell can become pre-eminent in that area and how this will be accomplished by capitalizing and leveraging on existing strengths. Initiatives should also consider relevant curriculum development at both undergraduate and graduate level, as such a component is likely to greatly enhance the long term viability of any initiative. Links to off campus facilities, such as the Medical College, should also be considered as additional Cornell resources that might be used to justify an initiative.
The Task Force faced a significant challenge in suggesting a plan of implementation. Departments have been and are key, but we also need to engage a broader set of individuals and groups, without increasing bureaucracy, to contribute to decision making. We suggest an organizational structure for evaluating the process and initiatives within the strategic enabling areas in Appendix D. The only reasonable way for Cornell to foster research growth in these general domains is to provide a way of supporting the passion and excitement that is present in interdisciplinary clusters of faculty already at Cornell. No amount of funds distributed in atop down manner from the administration can substitute for a program that taps into the creativity, collegiality, and enthusiasm that exist among our faculty.
Cornell as a research-intensive educational institution is at an important time in its history. Cornell's research performance, whether measured by research expenditures, faculty quality or faculty morale has reached a plateau. The Task Force believes that it is appropriate for Cornell to articulate a broadly based set of research priorities, and through empowering the faculty to exert research leadership, we will advance Cornell as a leading institution into the next century.
We recommend that Cornell:
… Increase emphasis on the recruitment and retention of the very best faculty. All faculty searches should include broad representation from the discipline, including members from outside the academic unit.
… Enhance our competitiveness to attract the best graduate students. There is an urgent need to address this lack of competitiveness immediately. We recommend the appointment of a Task Force to develop actions to restore our strong graduate student environment.
… Maintain a commitment to basic research in the sciences and continue the current investment strategy of hiring superb faculty and letting them make the strategic choices of what research directions to pursue.
… Develop a process to focus research efforts in the key strategic enabling areas of biology, information sciences, and advanced materials, in order to take advantage of Cornell's unique strengths. We have proposed an organizational mechanism to foster this process. The faculty will determine the actual implementation of the process and the particular foci that will orient research initiatives.
* Improve Cornell's research infrastructure. Increasing expense of new faculty start-ups and senior faculty appointments, rising costs of state-of-the-art instrumentation, and increased demands for matching funds for research equipment proposals require a more comprehensive and unified approach.
… Encourage interdisciplinary research. Barriers to interdisciplinary collaboration at Cornell are minimal. Cornell has a strategic advantage of strength in broad areas, but we need to develop new approaches in order to enhance and improve the process to capitalize on Cornell's inheren tadvantage in interdisciplinary research in comparison to other institutions.
Research Futures Task Force Members
John Abowd, Professor or Industrial and Labor Relations, 259 Ives Hall
Neil Ashcroft, Professor of Physics, LASSP, 529-A Clark Hall
Jon Clardy, Professor of Chemistry, 560 S T Olin Lab
Walter Cohen, Dean, Graduate School, 384 Caldwell Hall
Robert Constable, Chair, Computer Science, 4130a Upson Hall
Persis Drell, Associate Professor of Physics, LNS, 118 Newman Lab
Peter Gierasch, Associate Chair, Astronomy, Director, CRSR, 318 Space Sciences
John Hopcroft, Dean, College of Engineering, 242 Carpenter Hall
Peter Hurst, Planning Research Associate, Institutional Planning Research, 440 Day Hall
Lynn Jelinski, Director, Center for Advanced Technology, 130b Biotech
Frank Keil, Professor of Psychology, 228 Uris Hall
Douglas McGregor, Associate Dean of Research, Veterinary Administration, S3 016 Schurman Hall
Christopher Ober, Associate Professor of Materials Science & Engineering, 327 Bard Hall
Robert Richardson, Professor of Physics, LASSP, 607 Clark Hall
Norman Scott, Vice President for Research & Advanced Studies, 314 Day Hall
Michael Shuler, Professor of Chemical Engineering, 340 Olin Hall
Steve Tanksley, Professor of Plant Breeding Biometry, 248 Emerson Hall
Faculty Response to Research Futures Survey
On July 21, Vice President Norm Scott, on behalf of the Research Task Force, sent an electronic message to more than 500 faculty members announcing the task force charge and a request for input. All faculty who had received $100,000 or more in research grants over the prior two years were selected from the Sponsored Programs database to participate. The question that was put to them was, "What areas do you perceive will be of research importance over the next TEN years and why?" Seventy-two individuals responded, approximately 15%, an excellent response rate for a "dear colleague" letter in the middle of the summer.
While most of the respondents addressed the above question directly, many of them made additional comments about the work of the task force and things that the University could do more generally to strengthen our research profile. This summary of responses will present a listing of the research areas mentioned and the frequency with which they were mentioned as well as a condensed list of the more general comments.
Biological research, molecular biology, interface with solid state, biochemistry, biophysics, biomedical, bioengineering, cell biology and ecology, agricultural biotechnology, health and biotechnology, living systems (molecular level), microbiology, diseases, medicine, molecular tech. to animals, neurobiology, neuroscience. Computer and information science, computational biology,computational modeling of engineering problems, digital futures, digital imaging, intelligent transportation systems, computer vision, artificial intelligence. Earth system and environmental sciences, global env. change,energy, hazardous waste. Astronomy, space science, space physics, cosmology, planetary science, relativistic astrophysics. Genomics, gene function, gene expression, genetic engineering, genetic molecular biology, genetic engineering of metabolic pathways, comparative genomics, artificial genes. Food production and safety; interface of food systems, health, andthe environment; nutritional science; post-harvest losses, soil health. Advanced materials, polymers, hi-temp. super conductors, ceramics. Physics, high energy physics, particle physics, photonics, optics. Social issues, e.g. the working poor, urban blight, homelessness,crime, drug use, impacts of diversity on American culture, role of voluntary organizations in civic like, etc. Nanotechnology, nanotechnology for micro-organisms. Teaching and learning (improve education). Mothers and babies, women's health. Remote sensing, Chaos, Chemistry, Control, Gender research, Public health threats.
Many faculty members were concerned about the appropriateness of the University attempting to focus its support on pre-determined areas. These responses ranged from a few that were purely negative to many that offered thoughtful analyses and constructive suggestions for how the University could enhance its support for research without setting an actual research agenda. In addition, numerous others provided general suggestions along with suggested research areas. Those who objected to the task force focus on important research areas gave the following reasons (much of the wording in the following two sections is taken directly or paraphrased from the faculty responses):
*A predetermined research agenda will stifle initiatives that do not fit in.
*The University should be involved in primarily basic research and agenda setting is more relevant to applied research.
*Unpredictable forces operate outside of the Cornell community at state, federal and global levels and individual faculty or consortia can respond to those changes more readily than the administration.
*Committees are notoriously poor at predicting future scientific directions.
*In any 5 year period in one field there can be several discoveries that change the whole direction of research. There is no predicting any of this.
*The payoff from basic research is over a much longer time period than ten years, more like 20-30 years.
*It's presumptuous for researchers to comment on each others' areas of expertise.
*We will end up competing in "trendy" areas with every other major university and we may not be suited for some of these areas. Meanwhile our traditional strengths in less trendy areas will be allowed to wither away.
*This approach is a recipe for doing good work on old problems.
*It's a meaningless exercise without some parameterization of the problem from above--what resources will the University contribute to strengthen our position?
Suggestions that focused on the enhancement of Cornell's overall research performance are summarized here:
*Invest money in exciting new faculty.
*Define tangible goals for Cornell research beyond support of infrastructure.
*Focus on research that emerges as outstanding through faculty efforts rather than embryonic efforts.
*Centers work when they are based on one or more motivated faculty and do not work when they are based on administrative structures.
*Trade quantity for quality in the faculty; disconnect the size ofdepartments as much as possible from undergraduate demand.
*Remove structural obstacles to strong social sciences.
*Need more Cornell matching funds for equipment. Funders' expectations of institutional equipment matching funds has moved up from 25% to 50%.
*Build on our strengths; it's harder to come from behind. Modest investments in already strong areas will yield disproportionately large results. Cut weak areas.
*Our strength is in our large number of world class faculty who are so good that they don't need centers. Maintain that quality. Inventory clusters of faculty, many of whom never join a formal center, e.g., Chaos, Simulation in Applied Science and Engineering, Material Processing.
*We need to compete more vigorously for graduate students with multi-year fellowships.
*Support bottom-up initiative and drive; see to it that the very best individuals are appointed to available positions and provide them with the minimum necessary means and motivation to succeed.
*Establish a competitive fund for the support of start-up expenses of new tenure track and senior faculty appointments of the highest possible quality.
*Investigate how research is carried out in all areas of academic endeavor and see what is most critically needed to support those needs(procedures and needs are different in different areas).
*Balance excellence as broadly as possible across pure and applied research.
*Be quick to realize and support opportunity; don't be a follower. Need venture capital for risky ventures.
*What's important is the basic structure of the research university(that sees research as a central part of its faculty's work) as well as the infrastructure (libraries, labs, etc.) that allows research and its integration with teaching to happen.
*State schools have become increasingly competitive in attracting research funding, partially because of their lower tuition for graduate students. This competition will force us to look at ways to drive the cost of research down.
*Administrative structures should be erected that permit fairlyrapid changes in direction, so that we are not tied to technologies that will change over night.
*Institutional resources should follow the intellectual rather than the financial whims of the faculty. New hires should be smart, articulate, energetic, interested in education, good at teaching and interested in getting better, broad minded...Their present academic interests are almost irrelevant.
*Support interdisciplinarity so that researchers across campus, interested in the same broad area, are not separated by departmental parochialism.
*Fund facilities that can be shared by many, rather than benefiting a few, e.g., Theory Center, libraries, multi-purpose facilities for experimental science.
*Explore new funding sources along with looking at reallocation. For example, look at professional master's programs and reward faculty for engaging in them.
*Must sell ourselves to the public more effectively. It is not enough to just do good work. You have to let people know about it beyond technical journals.
*Increase inflow of indirect cost recovery $ to faculty.
*We need stronger rewards and incentives to attract and hold faculty. Need to change the compensation base for existing faculty who are getting increasingly interested in shopping themselves around when they compare their salaries to peers in other institutions.
*Need to focus our resources to have an impact. If you spread across too broad an area it won't even make a ripple.
*Don't support national user facilities unless Cornell faculty research groups get preferential treatment at these facilities.
*Look at how faculty use their time and find ways to use these expensive resources more effectively, i.e. do you really want to pay someone $100,000/yr. to copy course materials and do administrative work that could be done by
*Look at quality and effectiveness of deans and department chairs. Give the best leaders a chance to lead - at all levels and don't turn them into paper pushers by loading them with relatively trivial administrative chores.
*We need strong core facilities, particularly in the biological sciences.
*Set aside a large pool of funds to which assistant professors can apply for research support.
*Assist faculty in taking advantage of new funding opportunities that come along and in developing new ones.
*Cornell is a system and we need to make it easier to find the "right people" and create the "right atmosphere." We must also be able tofind and keep the "right people" and use imagination and fairness in getting rid of the "wrong people."
*Set aside money to which previously externally funded faculty can apply for bridging funds to maintain continuity for strong research programs between grants.
1995 NRC RANKINGS OF RESEARCH-DOCTORATE PROGRAMSBASED ON FACULTY QUALITY RATINGS
ARTS AND HUMANITIESGerman Language & Literature 3
Comparative Literature 6
English Language & Literature 7
French Language & Literature 8
Spanish & Portuguese Language & Literature 8
Art History 23
Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior 4
Biochemistry & Molecular Biology 22
Molecular and General Genetics 23
Cell & Developmental Biology 35.5
Pharmacology (Engineering) 48.5 (Veterinary Medicine) 65
Materials Science 3
Aerospace Engineering 6
Civil Engineering 6
Electrical Engineering 7
Mechanical Engineering 7
Chemical Engineering 13
PHYSICAL SCIENCES AND MATHEMATICS
Statistics and Biostatistics 4
Computer Sciences 5
Astrophysics and Astronomy 9
SOCIAL AND BEHAVIORAL SCIENCES
Political Science 15