Wednesday July 27, 2016

Soaring

I’m an aerospace engineer, so it was, admittedly, a thrill last weekend to visit the U.S. Air Force Museum. It’s a local treasure right in our backyard that’s devoted to preserving and telling the story of aerospace technology through the ages.  (Not to mention the fact that it all began with our friends, the Wright brothers, just next door!)

At the University of Dayton, we have a compelling research story to tell, too.  It’s a story of achievement on par with some of the best research universities in the nation.

When the numbers are tallied, we’re expecting to report another record-breaking year in sponsored research. For a private university without a medical school, our growth in research is significant.

How so?

The University of Dayton ranks ninth in the country among private, comprehensive, research universities without medical schools. Among Catholic universities, we top the list for sponsored research in engineering. We continue to rank third among all universities — public and private — for materials research, according to the most recent statistics compiled by the National Science Foundation.

During my whirlwind first day as president, I visited a wind tunnel, toured a number of engineering labs and chatted with students about their research in areas ranging from advanced materials to vision-guided robots. I have met faculty engaged in cutting-edge life sciences research and others doing action-oriented scholarship in human rights.

This week, I am having lunch on consecutive days with groups of STEM undergraduates doing summer research with faculty and graduate students, and next week I will stop by the Berry research symposium.  This depth of engagement is impressive — and in keeping with who we are — and it is joined by the notable breadth of our research, which touches every school on campus. More than 20 researchers are currently working on 14 different NSF projects. The projects run the gamut from new brain-inspired computer chips to therapeutic devices for patients with limited mobility.

In a lab in the Science Center, biology professor Amit Singh has secured National Institutes of Health funding to work with students and conduct research on the eye of a fruit fly that may hold the secret to early detection and treatment of Alzheimer’s. Under a five-year $99 million contract — the largest in school history — we’re helping the Air Force more efficiently sustain its aging fleet.

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. This provides an advantage to our students and enables us to maximize our impact.

Vic Bonneau, president of electrical power for GE Aviation, recently shared a story with me that illustrates the University’s agility. While engineers were testing a new power-generation system in the EPISCenter, they discovered a vibration issue at extremely high speeds. One of our researchers offered to assemble an interdisciplinary team of colleagues and students, who quickly developed a real-time software solution to fix the problem.

At the Air Force Museum last weekend I stepped back into aviation history and marveled at the technological advances inspired by researchers in my field.

On campus, I step into the future every day, where we’re cultivating a culture of curiosity, discovery and innovation — and gaining national renown.

That’s a story worth telling.

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