Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

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IBM Research Meeting

March, 2022

IBM Research Meeting

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

Thank you for the introductions, and for meeting with us here.  It is a pleasure to be back in the Golden State in person. We truly value our partnership with IBM and our many collaborations, with a majority of them focusing on the use of artificial intelligence.

AI is, in fact, a key component of one of the four new research initiatives we have identified as priorities. Another one of these priorities focuses on expanding on the research done through our collaboration on the Jefferson Project at Lake George, New York. I will speak more about these in a moment.

First, I would like to set the stage to help you understand what we have achieved over the past 23 years under The Rensselaer Plan, and The Rensselaer Plan 2024 – accomplishments that are at the heart of these initiatives. 

First, the implementation of The Rensselaer Plan resulted in transformations in research, pedagogy, and the student experience, as well as transforming our physical campus and technological infrastructure. 

The Rensselaer Plan 2024 then posited that we would continue to be transformative in the global impact of our research, in innovative pedagogy, and directly in the lives of our students. 

As a result of these plans, with respect to pedagogical innovation, we have changed “how” we teach, “what” we teach, and the “journeys” our students take through the Institute. 

The “how” is reflected in new approaches such as the new AI-driven gamification of certain courses in immersive virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) environments, utilizing the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, or EMPAC, as well as immersive platforms developed by our faculty. 

The “what” is exemplified by the development and implementation of three broad-based common core requirements, for all students, in Communications, HASS Inquiry courses, and Data Dexterity, as well as through the creation of 25 new degree programs across all schools, including Biological Neuroscience, Music, Sustainability Studies, Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences, Human Computer Interaction, and Design Innovation, and Society. 

The “journeys” our students take now occur through new programs such as the co-terminal BS/MS program, the Arch, and, now, the Accel/Accel+ program, which offers a three-year BS track, and a four-year BS/MS track, while further strengthening the overall student experience through CLASS, otherwise known as  Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students.

Now let me return to the four research initiatives, which truly exemplify how we remain at the forefront of addressing global challenges facing humankind by leveraging collaborations across disciplines, sectors, geographies, and generations.

The four new research initiatives will be advanced through the establishment of new centers, or institutes, that align with our existing signature research thrusts, and encompass our collective expertise and partnerships across the Institute and around the globe. 

The first initiative is the Rensselaer Institute for Energy, the Built Environment and Smart Systems, or EBESS, which addresses the great challenge at the nexus of energy security, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and urban growth, and the ability to anticipate, investigate, and mitigate the effects of global carbon emissions and climate change, while providing energy security and a focus on the health and well-being of citizens.

EBESS, which is based in both Industry City in Brooklyn and Troy, brings together our Schools of Architecture and Engineering; and distinguished partners including Siemens, Lutron Electronics, the Brooklyn Law School, the building engineering consulting firm Thornton Tomasetti, and the international architecture firms HKS, OBMI, and Perkins&Will.

Much of the population growth expected worldwide over the next three decades will take place in cities. Yet our built environment already is responsible for nearly 40% of annual global carbon emissions—in building materials and construction, and in building operations, especially heating and cooling.

So, as we expand our cities, we also must move with great urgency towards lessening the energy intensity of the built environment, and anticipate the effects of climate change. 

The cities of today are not optimized for energy use, climate resilience, or the health and well-being of all their citizens. Our built environment does not interact intelligently with the electrical grid, with transportation infrastructure, or with supply chains.

EBESS focuses on the possibility of seamlessness, where each city is viewed as a system of systems in order to achieve a collective, multi-scale intelligence to the benefit of all, while bringing together architects, engineers, and policy makers. This requires focusing on deep decarbonization and climate resilience, through the use of advanced technological solutions to devise responsive new materials and building platforms for net-zero structures, and to model and design cities with integrated emissions-free transportation, communications, and supply chain networks. 

With our partner the Brooklyn Law School, EBESS will model the appropriate regulatory and legal considerations—balancing information flow for the seamless operation of a system of systems, with cybersecurity and privacy to protect city-dwellers as they move about—and ensuring that renewable energy resources are equitably shared.

The second initiative is the establishment of the Center for Engineering and Precision Medicine, or CEPM, which is located in New York City and is a partnership in both research and education with our affiliate The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. CEPM focuses on disease mitigation and improvements to human health through precision medicine, which creates treatments specific to the patient, driving advances in:

  • point-of-care and point-of-use devices and diagnostics, 
  • micro-physiological platforms for discovery and diagnosis, 
  • robotic surgery, 
  • biomedical imaging, and 
  • artificial intelligence and machine learning applied to biomedical data. 


The work is focused around three pillars:

  • neuro-engineering for the minimally invasive control and regulation of neural circuitry,
  • immuno-engineering to help our bodies fight cancer and infectious diseases,
  • and regenerative and reparative medicine for personalized tissue repair and regeneration.


We have also created a doctoral program in Engineering and Precision Medicine that will enable students to earn joint, dual, or individual doctorates from Mount Sinai and Rensselaer. 

The third new initiative is the Global Fresh Water Institute, which will address the challenge of climate change, pollution, and the overuse of freshwater systems, including lakes, rivers, aquifers, and wetlands around the world, and the effect this overuse has on them, with cascading consequences.

This new Institute will be built upon the research-based knowledge we already have acquired about freshwater ecosystems through the Margaret A. and David M. Darrin '40 Fresh Water Institute, and our partnership and collective efforts on the Jefferson Project at Lake George, which has made Lake George the “smartest lake in the world,” as a result of Lidar imaging, in-lake mesocosms, 500 sensors on 51 platforms in and around the lake, and sophisticated data analytics. We will expand upon this work to understand stressors in the microbiome of harmful algal blooms, in order to understand epigenetic effects that cause these blooms to become toxic.

The Global Fresh Water Institute will address the need to better understand freshwater resources at all scales—and to help conserve them around the globe.

The fourth initiative, and one I briefly mentioned earlier, is the establishment of the Institute for Data, Artificial Intelligence, and Computation, or DAIC, which will serve as the foundation and a true “underpinning” for the advancement of the other three research initiatives.

DAIC will examine new computational paradigms, allowing humanity to address challenges at a new level of complexity. So as these global challenges are being addressed, the opportunities for incorporating DAIC for advanced technological solutions to those challenges will be identified.

Rensselaer already has a remarkable computational ecosystem, that includes collaborations with IBM, such as the Rensselaer-IBM Artificial Intelligence Research Collaboration, our Cognitive and Immersive Systems Laboratory, our Center for Computational Innovations—which houses the IBM POWER9-equipped supercomputer, AiMOS, the most powerful supercomputer at an American private university, and one of the world’s most advanced testbeds for artificial intelligence applications, along with our Institute for Data Exploration and Applications.

DAIC will be built upon the strength we have developed, or are developing, in areas such as Data Science and Data Analytics, Quantum and Neuromorphic computing, AI-enabled high-performance computing, and AI-driven gamification in immersive VR and AR environments.

DAIC will help to advance new computational paradigms, including those that are a hybrid of conventional, neuromorphic, and quantum computing—combining bits, neurons, and qubits—allowing humanity to address challenges at a new level of complexity. It will allow us to advance and use quantum computing, edge computing for networks and cyber-physical systems, and hacker-proof quantum communications. And, with new programs for graduate students, DAIC will help to educate the next generation of leaders for these new paradigms.

It is our hope that we can continue our collaborative discussions on DAIC, and you will consider joining us in partnership with Mount Sinai focusing on precision medicine. We also hope to partner with you on the acceleration of quantum computing applications – both mutually beneficial goals for our organizations.