June 27, 2019

What will the next 150 years bring for the College of Science?

Patrick J. Wolfe Patrick J. Wolfe, the Frederick L. Hovde Dean of the College of Science and the William F. and Patty J. Miller Professor of Statistics. (Purdue University photo/Charles Jischke) Download image

The sesquicentennial celebration marks a time for Purdue to renew its commitment to growth, discovery and innovation. What giant leaps will the next 150 years bring as Purdue continues its drive to meet the world's future challenges? In this monthly Purdue Today series, Purdue's deans will share their thoughts on the future of their college over the next 150 years. The series continues with Patrick J. Wolfe, the Frederick L. Hovde Dean of the College of Science.

What will the next 150 years bring for the College of Science?

Looking back 150 years and considering the vast scientific discoveries that have occurred to date makes looking forward 150 years seem preposterous. The most educated visionaries of 1869 didn’t have the audacity to imagine splitting an atom, walking on the moon, landing on Mars, curing polio, mapping DNA or carrying a powerful computer in the palm of your hand. 

While predicting specific discoveries and advancements of the next 150 years seems a fool’s errand, there is one thing I can offer with confidence: Scientific discoveries will continue to amaze us and make our lives better – and many of those discoveries will be made here at Purdue.

To that end, the college will continue to teach basic science and foster the joy of research and the impact of discovery in our undergraduate and graduate students. We will continue to develop the fundamental mathematical and scientific knowledge that is at the root of innovation in engineering, design and technology.

Higher education undoubtedly will assume new dimensions. Virtual environments will coexist with in-person interactions making collaborations stronger and learning deeper. We are already taking steps toward this transformation with the new STEM teaching facility. With collaborative workspaces and wet and dry labs that use data science technology to enhance learning, undergraduates from all majors will experience the joy of research and impact of discovery. As innovative as it seems now, students in 2169 may regard the STEM building with the same sense of historical significance that University Hall enjoys now!

Since the 1950s, every individual field of scientific study has become more narrow in focus. Yet the rate of change and pace of discovery suggest that it is time to reverse that trend. Scholarship and research must be more horizontal and cross-cutting than vertical and siloed. The complexity and scope of the challenges facing modern science will require collaboration that brings more people to the table. Our leadership in forging collaborations around data and computational sciences exemplifies the value of working across departments and disciplines. Diverse perspectives and experiences contribute to better, faster discoveries.

In the future, as throughout the ages, scientific discovery will continue to be driven by the challenge of improving and advancing the human experience. I am confident Purdue scientists will continue to identify big challenges and project how they may be resolved. Where might we be in terms of artificial intelligence and data science? In climate change? Life sciences and health? Technology? Is space really the final frontier?

Rather than finding these questions daunting, Purdue’s first 150 years provides comfort and confidence in our ability to address what lies ahead. With past performance the best predictor of future behavior, Purdue’s College of Science undoubtedly will continue to take giant leaps in discovery and scholarship that improve the human condition.

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