New chief scientist for Purdue’s Discovery Park outlines vision

Tomas Diaz de la Rubia

Tomas Diaz de la Rubia (photo by Vincent Walter)

02/01/2016 |

Tomás Díaz de la Rubia knows the new leadership role for Discovery Park will tap his years of experience as a physicist and materials science researcher, a national laboratory administrator and an energy consultant for a major company.

Add social media marketer to that list.

“We just started a Twitter feed for Discovery Park,” he says. “That’s one of the many ways we can use to help get the word out about Discovery Park and its commitment to large-scale interdisciplinary research.”

Assuming duties as chief scientist and executive director of Discovery Park on Aug. 17, Díaz de la Rubia has the national and international stature, capabilities in networking with government agencies and industry and a proven record of providing leadership to benefit Discovery Park, which has seen its operations reach the $1.15 billion mark this year.

He plans to use that foundation to advance Purdue’s interdisciplinary research efforts to tackle society’s grand challenges, those unstoppable megatrends centering on global population growth, food production, energy, climate, water and the environment. His tagline for Discovery Park captures the spirit of that vision – “Innovating for life on a sustainable planet.”

“My biggest priority right now is to create and communicate the vision and strategic framework for the future of Discovery Park,” says Díaz de la Rubia, who has a courtesy appointment in strategic management within the Department of Management at Krannert School of Management. “Within that framework, we will create a roadmap that focuses on a few agreed-upon priorities relevant to the interests of the faculty and the students of Purdue that will help us meet these societal challenges of the 21st century.”

Before coming to Purdue, Díaz de la Rubia spent two years as innovation leader and a director in Deloitte’s energy and resources industry practice in Washington, D.C. In that role, he worked with Fortune 500 energy and manufacturing companies to identify and capitalize on business opportunities arising from potentially disruptive, innovative new technologies.

Before that, he was chief research officer and deputy director for science and technology at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). There, he was responsible for the long-term health of the science and technology for the lab’s $1.6 billion research program.

So he knows how to conduct research, how to lead a team and how to deliver impact from the laboratory that helps make society better and healthier. He’s excited about Discovery Park and its impressive facilities. But it will take more than quality labs to put Discovery Park on map as a global leader of large-scale interdisciplinary research.

“The facilities in Discovery Park are great, they’re fabulous, state-of-the-art, world-class. But the facilities don’t drive the way I think. You have to have something else. And that something else is that desire and culture of interdisciplinary collaboration in science and the willingness to work on big problems and to do it effectively with minimal bureaucracy.”

Moreover, while the Purdue community can be proud of Discovery Park’s accomplishments the past 14 years, Díaz de la Rubia says, the university must “open up the aperture of the lens” by which the Purdue community as well as external partners, stakeholders, policymakers, industry leaders and others view Discovery Park.

“Discovery Park is a well-kept secret. I think there is more we can do to make DP much more visible to the world.”

That why the entire campus community — “from President Daniels down to the junior and senior faculty, the students I have met, administrative staff, the deans” — are so critical to identifying the large-scale research initiatives that Discovery Park addresses under Díaz de la Rubia’s leadership.

“The areas that we select, we have to be No. 1 or No. 2 in the world. We won’t select them if there is not a path to that,” he says. “We must make it very explicit that, at the end of the day, we are going to be the world-leading interdisciplinary center for research and innovation that helps us address these grand challenges.”

– Phillip Fiorini
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