January 29, 2019

150th-year celebration highlights research changing your life today


Purdue tackles sports concussions, cancer drug development and feeding the world, just to name a few

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Are you wondering what happens to your favorite NFL players’ mind when they take a hit to the head during this weekend’s Super Bowl? Does that same concern extend to your kids on the field?

For years, football players smashed head-to-head. Wearing helmets kept the players safe so some hitting of the head is OK, right? And kids don’t really hit that hard, right? Well, no. Now, we know more about what that damage looks like, thanks to Purdue scientists who are working on engineering away the problem. This is information that helps parents, volunteer coaches, fans and a multibillion-dollar professional league support an American past-time safely. See video of the Purdue Neurotrauma Group’s work.

Problems like this are what Purdue’s researchers are devoted to solving. From studying the minutiae of cell structure that could influence how cancer drugs work to developing food systems to feed the world as well to maybe even producing the select humans who one day will travel to and explore Mars, the university is using its “150 Years of Giant Leaps,” a yearlong exploration of some of the world’s most pressing problems and Purdue’s mandate to be a part of the solutions. The Giant Leaps Sesquicentennial Campaign celebration launched in September during Homecoming. The emphasis is on a series of Ideas Festival (IF) events, addressing four areas – space exploration, artificial intelligence, health and longevity, and sustainable economy and planet.

The next Ideas Festival is an event that not only highlights two speakers but also emphasizes how Purdue scientists are studying the brain to improve human health. “What IF we can engineer better health?” features Miles O’Brien, science correspondent for “PBS NewsHour,” and Dr. Ali Rezai, director of the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute at West Virginia University. The Thursday (Jan. 31) event, which is free and open to the public, is 6:30 p.m. in Stewart Center’s Fowler Hall. The event will be livestreamed. Rezai is a neurosurgeon advancing the use of brain chip implants in deep brain stimulation and neuromodulation to treat Parkinson’s disease, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Alzheimer’s disease and traumatic brain injury. While discussing this work, O’Brien and Rezai also will highlight complementary research at Purdue, including related sports concussion work, as well as neurodegenerative diseases and paralysis. A related video is available online.

“Events and reminiscing may be what is expected when celebrating a milestone like 150 years, but the land-grant mission is to serve and help society, so we want to recognize our past but really focus on how Purdue is driving change to help people around the world,” said Dan Hasler, executive vice president for communication and leader of the 150th anniversary celebration. “Our people are supporting the mental health needs of law enforcement officers who investigate cyber crimes against children. Our people are helping the medical community understand how exactly service dogs can help veterans with PTSD. Our people are studying how artificial intelligence can exploit our personal biases rather than help us overcome them. It’s all moving work.”

A video compilation of researchers related to these and other topics in space exploration, artificial intelligence, health and longevity, and a sustainable economy and planet is available here. In addition to highlighting various scientists and scholars, Purdue is celebrating its alumni with a weekly Footprints video series that highlights leaders such as Neil Armstrong, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and Viveca Fairbanks-Henderson.

 Look for a new video each Friday.

This spring semester also includes another round of high-profile speakers before leading into July’s 50th anniversary of Purdue alumnus Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon and later concluding with an astronaut reunion in the fall.

A complete list of Ideas Festivals events is online, and some highlights include:

* Jorge Haddock (Feb. 6, 6 p.m., Fowler Hall), University of Puerto Rico president, presents “What IF the world ran on 100 percent renewable energy?” Organized by the College of Engineering.

* Miles O’Brien, internationally known science journalist, will return to lead a discussion with Caleb Harper (Feb. 26, 6:30 p.m. at Fowler Hall), principal investigator and director of the Open Agriculture Initiative at the MIT Media Lab.

* Scott Kelly (March 5, 6:30 p.m., Fowler Hall), a former military pilot, engineer, retired U.S. Navy captain and retired astronaut presents “What IF the sky is not the limit?”

The Ideas Festival programming is co-chaired by Christine Ladisch, dean emeritus of the College of Health and Human Sciences, and Mark Lundstrom, the Don and Carol Scifres Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. These topics and events are based on proposals reviewed by faculty committees representing each theme.

For Purdue alums and supporters who want to remember the 150th anniversary, Giant Leaps merchandise is available online

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu 

Source: Dan Hasler, djhasler@purdue.edu

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