Purdue News

June 2005

A monthly letter from President Martin C. Jischke

Dear Purdue Partners,

Research is one of the primary missions of every great university. The discovery of new knowledge is an exciting challenge for faculty and a benefit for society on many levels. It also is extremely important to the quality of education we provide our students. Although American universities – including Purdue – have carried out important research since the 19th century, the nation made a historic commitment to invest in higher education's research capacity after World War II. At that time, the federal government created the National Science Foundation to fund basic research.

This decision was grounded in the wartime realization that the knowledge created by university professors had been crucial to the war effort. America's leaders recognized that basic research – including the kind that seemed to have no immediate practical application – was essential both to our understanding of our world and to the development of new working technologies.

Although other government and private agencies provide research support, the NSF remains one of the most important funding sources. Its current director is Dr. Arden Bement, who is on a leave of absence from Purdue's faculty. He succeeded Rita Colwell, a Purdue alumna, who served in that role for six years.

When we developed Purdue's strategic plans, beginning in 2000, we knew that growing the university's research capacity was one of our challenges. In order to meet it, we asked every school and college to set specific – and ambitious – goals. We also asked our faculty members to increase their efforts to compete for proposals. Virtually every dollar of research funding is earned in competition with other institutions. Professors can spend months developing proposals and submitting them to funding agencies with no assurance of success.

Fortunately, those professors don't work alone. Chip Rutledge, Purdue's vice president for research, heads a team that provides guidance and support. The Office of Sponsored Program Services sets guidelines for research proposals and ensures the quality of submissions.

The creation of Discovery Park as a hub for interdisciplinary research sent a signal that Purdue is ready to take on the most ambitious projects. The ambitious building program that is developing more than $700 million in new and renovated facilities reinforced the message.

The results of these efforts are beginning to come in now, and they are tremendous. Entering the 2004-2005 fiscal year, we set a goal to attract $250 million in sponsored program support, of which research is the largest component. The year-end numbers are not yet final, but as I write this, the total has surpassed $294 million, a spectacular 21 percent increase over the previous year. This was achieved in an environment that grows more competitive each year.

I am deeply proud of the effort that went into this success, but more importantly, I know that it is a true indication that Purdue is becoming a better university. And this means that Indiana is becoming a stronger state. Knowledge discovered at Purdue has led to the founding of companies like Endocyte, which is developing new treatments for cancer and other diseases, and Bioanalytical Systems, which develops new products for the pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical device industries. Other research allows the University's Technical Assistance Program to solve problems and improve productivity for Indiana businesses.

The future is even brighter. This fall, the Birck Nanotechnology Center will move into full operation. Nanotechnology promises to open entire new frontiers in product development and medical treatments. With one of the finest facilities in the world and some of the field's leading researchers, Purdue is positioned to move Indiana into a leadership position in nanotechnology, and that is good news for our state's economy.

Discovery Park is organized to encourage students to participate in research, and more and more of them will get that opportunity as the park moves into full operation in the months ahead. But even students who don't conduct their own research benefit from studying at an institution where new knowledge is being created constantly. They learn firsthand from professors who are at the leading edge of their disciplines, and they have the advantage of being in an environment that is charged constantly with the excitement of new possibilities.

• • •

At their meeting on June 30, Purdue's trustees said good-bye to two remarkable colleagues. Lew Essex of Columbus, Indiana, has retired after serving with distinction for three terms as an elected alumni trustee. Sarah Cusick was appointed as the student trustee in 2003. She has completed her term and was graduated with highest distinction in May. Lew and Sarah are of different generations, but in their service on the board, each brought valuable insights, unique perspectives and a deep commitment to Purdue.


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