We are in the early dawn of a fourth industrial revolution. To explore the societal implications, and the opportunities that this revolution opens for Purdue, I want to start by borrowing the words of Cathy Engelbert, CEO of Deloitte LLP, who recently wrote:

 “The first three [industrial revolutions] unlocked the power of steam, electricity, and information technology, and in the process reshaped the way we live and work. Now we see the convergence of the physical, the digital, and the biological— a fusion revolution—and the implications will be no less sweeping.”

Engelbert suggests that as analytics, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, blockchain, robotics, quantum computing, and 3D printing all rapidly advance, nearly every facet of the human experience will be dramatically altered.

In fact, I would go even further, and argue that the convergence of these and other technologies will impact not only where we live and how we move, but how we protect the environment, how we prevent and cure disease, how we feed the world, how we educate future generations, and how we work.

Convergence is already affecting critical fields such as the health sciences. In a recent report authored by three MIT leaders titled, Convergence: The Future of Health, the authors argue that, “convergence is already showing dramatic progress toward more powerful imaging technologies; nanotechnology for diagnostics and drug delivery; ‘silencing’ cancer genes; re-growing injured body parts, and unraveling the complexity of diseases.” They also caution that despite tremendous progress, “delivering on the full promise of Convergence is hindered by federal research funding practices that often reflect a classical, disciplinary-based structure. This structure harkens back to a time when life science, physical sciences, and engineering were viewed as separate activities…”

However, that threat to progress resides not only with Federal funding agencies locked into models rooted in the past, it also lies within universities vested in the same classical, discipline-based, siloed academic models that have changed little over time. As traditional models of education and research get disrupted, embracing the concepts and power of convergence will be key to making universities truly relevant to society in the future.

At Purdue we are very fortunate. We already have a number of interdisciplinary undergraduate and graduate programs. In addition, President Martin Jischke’s vision that created Discovery Park about 15 years ago, provides us with a foundation to lead from the front in the fusion revolution.  At Discovery Park–the place where disciplines converge to solve global challenges–we are focused on a series of initiatives that aim to position Purdue as a global leader in the development of the scientific basis, the engineering and technology solutions, the understanding of the social and policy dynamics, and the future talent that will make this fusion revolution a benefit to all of humanity.

In this blog, I will provide you with a glimpse into the various initiatives that faculty across campus are catalyzing here at Discovery Park to realize this vision of convergence. Our strategic themes capitalize on the core competencies of Purdue in the STEM disciplines, in nanotechnology and advanced instrumentation, big data, entrepreneurship, the social sciences, and understanding complex systems.

By 2050, the global population is expected to reach 9.6 billion. Global megatrends indicate that our planet will need to produce 70% more food by 2030, serve a  40-60% increased demand for energy resources by 2050, and have the infrastructure, technological and dynamic policy solutions to house, protect, and sustain our planet and its people.  Within that framework, Discovery Park seeks to advance research across, and at the intersection of, three main thematic areas:

  • Global Health
    • From innovative new treatment methods to game-changing healthcare delivery systems, Purdue scientists and researchers at Discovery Park are advancing efforts aimed at improving the health of people across the globe.
  • Global Sustainability
    • A global population explosion and the subsequent need for more food, the rise of the middle class and the growth of urban areas – these are global challenges shaping our future and guiding the research in Discovery Park.
  • Global Security
    • Convergence of knowledge is a central tenet of Purdue’s impact on the nation’s defense and security community. Our goal is to provide integrated, world-class scientific, engineering, policy, economic and social science problem-solving capabilities and solutions.

I look forward to sharing our initiatives and the impact that our teams are having in these areas. I invite all of our readers to follow this blog for updates and for information on how you can take part and engage in the exciting things happening at Discovery Park.

Tomás Díaz de la Rubia
Chief Scientist and Executive Director
Discovery Park