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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Remarks at the Rensselaer Regatta

Category: University Events
September, 2018

Rensselaer Regatta

Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D., President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Good afternoon and welcome to our first annual Rensselaer Regatta! I would like to take a moment to acknowledge our Trustees whose leadership, philanthropy, and commitment to excellence continue to ensure that our students have one of the finest college experiences in the world.

  • Trustee Mrs. Linda Jojo of the Class of 1987 and her husband, Mr. Robert Jojo, also of the Class of 1987
  • Trustee Mr. Daniel Pickett III of the Class of 1990 and his wife, Jennifer, who have graciously opened their home to us this afternoon for what promises to be a wonderful reception; and
  • Trustee Dr. John Kelly III of the Classes of 1978 and 1980 and his wife, Mrs. Helen-Jo Kelly, whose generous endowed gift supports the vital research that is taking place across the lake and within this extraordinary data visualization laboratory that bears their names.

I also would like to thank Dr. Rick Relyea for joining us today. Dr. Relyea is:

  • The David M. Darrin Class of 1940 Senior Endowed Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences
  • Director of the Margaret A. and David M. Darrin Class of 1940 Fresh Water Institute; and
  • The Director of the Jefferson Project—about which he will be speaking with you shortly.

I also am pleased to introduce two of the Darrin Fresh Water Institute’s many exceptional Research Assistant interns, Ms. Halle O’Brien and Ms. Lindsey Carlson.

Ms. O’Brien graduated Cum Laude from the University of New Hampshire this past May, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Marine, Estuarine, and Freshwater Biology.

This is her second year serving as a Research Assistant at the Darrin Fresh Water Institute. Working alongside Research Scientist Lawrence Eichler on The Jefferson Project, Ms. O’Brien assists with the lab and field team in deploying lake, stream, and weather sensors, maintaining existing sensors, and assisting in the management of the extensive data generated by all of the data collection platforms that are integral to studying the lake.

Ms. Carlson is a member of the Class of 2020 seeking a bachelor’s degree in Biology with a concentration in molecular biology. She also is enrolled in the Accelerated Program for a Master’s in Business Administration. She is a member of the Pi Beta Phi Fraternity for Women, captain of the Rensselaer Women’s Rugby Team, and Treasurer of the Rugby Club. She is a recipient of the Rensselaer Founder’s Award of Excellence, and the Rensselaer Leadership Award.

Ms. Carlson spent her freshman summer interning here at the Darrin Fresh Water Institute, where she helped to design a study on the diversity of cyanophage (viruses) that can infect potential toxic cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) in Lake George. She returned this summer to continue her research on cyanobacteria.

This afternoon, Dr. Relyea and I are excited to share with you some details about the unprecedented and transformative work of the Jefferson Project taking place here at Lake George—a partnership among Rensselaer, IBM Research, and the FUND for Lake George—designed to create a real-time, detailed view of the effects of environmental change, invasive species, and pollution on freshwater ecosystems. We believe the Jefferson Project offers a model for sustained ecosystem understanding, predictive preservation, and remediation of critical natural systems for Lake George and for freshwater ecosystems around the world.

The Jefferson Project is the direct result of our vision and achievements under The Rensselaer Plan and The Rensselaer Plan 2024.

As you may recall, the focus of the first Rensselaer Plan, which was developed over the course of my first year as President and approved by our Board of Trustees in May of 2000, was on preparing Rensselaer for leadership in areas of research that are of fundamental significance in the 21st century, and developing pedagogical offerings and innovations that would emerge from that work. We identified five “signature thrusts” in…

  • Computational science and engineering;
  • Biotechnology and the life sciences
  • Nanotechnology and advanced materials
  • Energy, the environment, and smart systems; and
  • Media, the arts, science, and technology

Over the course of the ensuing 12 years, we developed the people, programs, platforms, and partnerships that would put us on the leading edge of research in these critical areas.

The work of the Jefferson Project has been positively impacted by each of these five signature research thrusts, and by the people, programs, platforms, and partnerships we invested in to lead the way.

Our journey has continued through the implementation of TheRensselaer Plan 2024, the successor to the original Rensselaer Plan, created within the paradigm of The New Polytechnic.

“Polytechnic,” as you know, comes from the Greek for “skilled in many arts.” As The New Polytechnic, we view Rensselaer as a great crossroads for collaborations across disciplines, sectors, geographies, and generations—collaborations animated by the most advanced tools and technologies—and focused on addressing the greatest of global challenges and opportunities. The paradigm of The New Polytechnic forms the basis for innovative solutions that enable us to mitigate the impacts of climate change, provide clean food and drinking water, prevent and mitigate diseases, and ensure the resiliency of our precious natural resources.

At the same time, as The New Polytechnic, we educate our students for deep knowledge in their chosen fields—but also for intellectual agility, multicultural sophistication, and a global view—in other words, for the kind of perspective that crosses borders, and that fosters creativity, innovation, empathy, and leadership.

We do this through theoretical and experiential learning grounded in fundamental scientific and technological concepts, and linked to an appreciation for the health and welfare of our planet and for the social forces that shape human history.

The Rensselaer Plan 2024 was launched in June of 2013, the very same month and year that we launched the Jefferson Project. Five years later, I think all who have been a part of this project would agree, that the ongoing achievements of the Jefferson Project reflect the power of the paradigm of The New Polytechnic and fortify our conviction that such an approach to research and education is what will ensure Rensselaer continues to gain prominence in the 21st century as a top-tier, world-class technological research university with the global reach and global impact to change the world for the better.

So, before I turn our presentation over to Dr. Relyea, let me tell you a little about the world-changing role the Jefferson Project is playing.

The Jefferson Project research team includes more than 200 Rensselaer faculty, staff, and graduate and undergraduate student—from areas including the biological sciences, earth and environmental sciences, engineering, and the arts.

Working together with 20 IBM Research scientists and engineers, the Fund for Lake George staff, contractors, and scientific advisers, they have created a freshwater ecosystem protection model that combines monitoring, experimenting, and advanced computer modeling that is empowering us to provide science-based insights to key decision-makers for the sustained protection of Lake George, other lakes throughout New York state, and around the world.

Three key threats caused, in large part, by human activities are having a significant and detrimental impact on our freshwater lakes.

For Lake George, these threats include pollution from sodium chloride-based road salts which impact aquatic organisms, the introduction of non-native species, including six that have been identified as invasive, and an increase in excess nutrients from fertilizers and improperly treated sewage that trigger algae growth that can, over time, produce toxins harmful to humans and pets, and also negatively impact the clarity of what might otherwise be crystal-clear water.

To understand and combat these threats, we created a smart-sensor network comprised of 51 sensor platforms and over 500 sensors in and around the 32-mile-long lake.

Combined with additional smart computational technologies from IBM Research, these sensors not only perceive their surroundings, but also communicate with other sensors, and adapt to changing environmental conditions by making adjustments such as taking additional measurements, tracking parameters related to chemical, physical, and biological quantities within the lake.

They are helping us to truly understand Lake George as a system of systems, so that we can protect its water—and gain new insights into managing freshwater resources globally.

Within this lab are extremely fast, liquid-cooled computer processors and state-of-the-art graphics adapters that mesh cutting-edge graphics processing with massive data collection in ways that are revolutionizing our visualization of ecological data.

Meanwhile, access to the servers enables researchers from around the world to connect with this content, promoting collaborative research efforts worldwide. 

The work of The Jefferson Project recently received the attention of Governor Cuomo who, in June, announced action plans to combat harmful algal blooms, or HABs, on 12 priority lakes within the state by identifying contributing factors, and providing strategies to reduce pollution sources.

Among the 12 focal lakes identified, Lake George has been designated as the “control lake,” since it is the only one that has not yet experienced a harmful algal bloom. The research we have been conducting on Lake George will provide critical insights and effective remediation strategies that will help to predict and prevent destructive HABs on the other lakes that have been identified.

The work of the Jefferson Project reveals what is possible when we bring together the right people, programs, platforms, and partnerships to work within an inclusive paradigm that links research programs across the campus, departments, schools, and interdisciplinary centers to create opportunities for the integration of research and education. 

In the tradition of Stephen Van Rensselaer and educator and scientist Amos Eaton, who founded the school “for the purpose of instructing persons ... in the application of science to the common purposes of life,” it also is a prime example of how Rensselaer continues to live up to its promise to remain a top-tier, world-class technological research university with global reach and global impact.

Through the success of Transformative: Campaign for Global Change, we will further enhance the student experience and enable more students to be able to reap the benefits of unparalleled educational experiences such as those facilitated by the Jefferson Project.

As we increase the number of our faculty and leverage the depth and breadth of their expertise in new areas of pedagogy and research—and build out, modernize, and equip our facilities to ensure they remain state-of-the-art in our third century, the scientific breakthroughs and pedagogical innovations occurring here, and across the Institute, will only continue to expand.

It is not impossible to imagine that future generations of Thomas Jefferson’s descendants may someday come upon Lake George and, like Jefferson himself, declare it “without comparison, the most beautiful water” they ever saw.