Monday June 12, 2017

Research for the Common Good

By Eric F. Spina

On my first day as president, I toured engineering labs, talking with students and faculty about advanced materials and vision-guided robots. Their passion moved me. Their work amazed me.

Candidly, I was a bit surprised by the University of Dayton’s research volume, which will hit another new record this fiscal year. In fact, annual sponsored research is expected to grow 10 percent to a total volume of nearly $130 million. Yes, that’s right, $130 million.

As I learned more about the depth and impact of research, scholarship and creative activity coming out of the University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI), STEM labs across campus, and the minds of our faculty and staff, I thought, “Wow, we have such a compelling research story to tell.  It’s a story of achievement on par with some of the best research universities in the nation.”

That’s why we created “Momentum,” a website that illustrates the full force of the University of Dayton’s standing as a major national research university.

Consider the national rankings:

• The University of Dayton tops all Catholic universities for sponsored engineering research and development.

• UD ranks second in federally sponsored materials R&D.

• We’re ninth — ninth! — for sponsored research among private research universities without medical schools.

Beyond the numbers, our research stories speak volumes. At the University of Dayton, we’re focused on the common good — on developing real solutions that have a real impact on society. That’s why students are cultivating an urban farm in East Dayton and designing a high school 8,000 miles away in Malawi.

The vast majority of research universities are focused almost exclusively on discovery-driven research, hoping to achieve impact in future years. The Dayton approach is different. Here, we encourage the full spectrum of scholarly approaches, from fundamental to highly applied, because we want to advance the state of the art and quickly solve today’s problems. The mix of pragmatic and inspired innovation that has long driven UDRI is now embraced across campus.

The innovative spirit on campus is tangible — whether inside the new Energy Experience Center that serves as a high-tech test bed for new and emerging energy technologies or inside a biology lab where professor Amit Singh and students are studying the common fruit fly for a better understanding about how Alzheimer’s disease affects the human brain.

On campus land that was once largely a brownfield, GE Aviation and Emerson have built R&D facilities that could be a national model for collaboration between industry and higher ed.

In the EPISCenter, UD researchers and graduate students are working alongside GE Aviation scientists and engineers to create advanced electrical power technologies, such as new power systems for aircraft, longer-range electric cars and smarter utility power grids for more efficient delivery of electricity. In the Helix Center, described as “a real-world refrigeration research playground,” the collaboration has already resulted in a patent application for a technology that will help reduce the energy in ice machines.

The stories on our research microsite speak to our ingenuity, curiosity and innovation. Collectively, they paint a portrait of a University engaged with the world, attuned to the needs of society and focused on serving the greater good.

I invite you to take a glimpse — and take a step into the future.

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