Yale's academic strategy update emphasizes science and engineering – Yale Daily News


Lukas Flippo, Photo Editor

On Oct. 13, University President Peter Salovey announced Yale’s fall 2020 academic strategy update, which emphasized science and engineering in the classroom and beyond. 

The update, sent in an email to the Yale community, included the University’s plans for five multidisciplinary areas of focus: data science and computer science, neuroscience, inflammation science, planetary solutions and quantum science, engineering and materials. The areas are reflective of the “five ideas for top-priority investment,” as described in the University Science Strategy Committee’s May 2018 executive summary. These ideas include data science, engineering and materials and neuroscience, among others. In his announcement, Salovey also discussed progress on the Kline Tower Project, neuroscience institute at 100 College Street and the investment in the new physical sciences and engineering building.

“Across our campus, we are emphasizing Yale’s commitment to sciences and engineering to spark discoveries that can improve lives,” Salovey wrote in the email update last Tuesday. “Our strategy is targeted and reflects some of Yale’s particular research strengths from Science Hill to the School of Medicine, from central campus to the West Campus.”

The proposed academic strategies involve extensive collaboration between departments, as all five of the focus areas span multiple schools and departments. According to Dean of the School of Engineering & Applied Science Jeffrey Brock, “virtually all of the identified priority emphases in the sciences had a role for Engineering to play.”

According to Deputy Director of the Yale Quantum Institute professor A. Douglas Stone, one goal of these collaborative initiatives is to reorient research in chemistry and engineering toward quantum information science. Most of the prior physics research at Yale was not geared toward engineering, but the proposed quantum initiatives will be strongly linked to the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

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“It could really be something very important for SEAS, for engineering,” Stone said.

Stone added that the initiatives will involve hiring new faculty in the fields of quantum technology, computer science, engineering, math and the physical sciences. He also noted that the hiring of a new faculty member in the sciences is a multimillion-dollar commitment on the University’s part.

The University’s choice to focus on quantum science did not come as a surprise to Stone, given the cutting-edge nature of the field. He said that Yale pioneered one of the primary approaches to quantum computing and is “the world leader in academia in quantum information technology and physics related to it.”

Initiatives in data science and computer science have a collaborative focus as well. The departments aim to become more interdisciplinary and strengthen their focus on machine learning. The University is hoping to pivot towards “data-intensive social sciences” and plans to create a database to securely handle data used in these fields. 

“The enormous amount of data generated in all disciplines are having a powerful impact on all the sciences and society,” Professor Harrison Zhou, chair of the Department of Statistics & Data Science, wrote in an email to the News. “I expect now is just the beginning of a new era to revolutionize many traditionally less quantitative fields.” 

The University is also building academic bridges between the School of Architecture, School of Environment, Department of Economics and Department of Sociology to research and create strategies targeting local and global environmental perils, such as climate change. University Provost Scott Strobel is set to meet with faculty across arts, humanities, social science, science and engineering to discuss implementation of the strategies. 

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Similarly, Strobel and Dean of the School of Medicine Nancy Brown will be facilitating the formation of multidisciplinary faculty teams to develop the new inflammation sciences academic focus. The goal of this initiative is to improve overall understanding of fundamental causes of inflammation and the condition’s role in a variety of illnesses, including COVID-19, arthritis, cancer, depression and multiple sclerosis.

“This requires multi-disciplinary teams that include immunobiologists with a basic science background, and also those with disease-specific knowledge,” Brown wrote in an email to the News. “We are actively recruiting scientists with expertise in these areas and envision that they will be part of an intellectual home focused on inflammation.”

In his email, Salovey also provided an update on the Kline Tower project — a 186,000-square-foot renovation of the building, which formerly housed Yale’s biology departments. The departments of Statistics and Data science, Mathematics and Astronomy are slated to move into the newly renovated Kline Tower by 2023. Work on the building is set to begin this October and will culminate in a new institute for fundamental research in mathematics, computation and data science on the penultimate floor of the tower. According to Zhou, the move to the building “will [facilitate] more collaborations with departments in science.” 

The Kline Tower project is not the only infrastructural investment the University is making in science and engineering. Yale has also planned for the creation of a new Physical Sciences and Engineering Building, or PSEB, at the North end of Science Hill, which is slated to open in 2026.

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The building is currently anticipated to be 370,000 square feet and will accommodate 45 research labs and faculty from applied physics, chemical and environmental engineering, computer science, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, materials science and physics.

“Yale’s investment in Science and Engineering through these priorities represents a truly historic moment of investment in Yale’s history,” Brock wrote. “The PSEB, in particular, will be one of [Yale’s] most financially ambitious projects … I can say there has never been a more exciting moment to be a scientist or engineer at Yale.”

Although the building is still in the planning phase, Stone noted that it will help fulfill the need for specialized lab space and facilities necessary to conduct quantum science research “at the cutting edge.” The departments currently involved in quantum science research operate primarily out of Becton Center, which Stone noted is over 50 years old. 

The PSEB will include a new Advanced Instrumentation Development Center. The center, according to Brock, will serve as a hub for all members of the Yale community to convene for designing scientific instruments.

“In many ways this new lab will mimic some of the lessons learned with community-based discovery and creative collaboration that we have seen in the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design,” Brock wrote.

The University is aiming to begin construction of the PSEB in 2023. 

Maya Geradi | maya.geradi@yale.edu







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