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Focusing on questions that matter

New campus institutes will amplify and promote broad-based interdisciplinary research

Interdisciplinary Research

As it grows ever clearer that the solutions to the most urgent global challenges of the 21st century will require broad interdisciplinary collaborations and teams, the Rossin College has launched a related initiative to capitalize on Lehigh University’s unique capabilities and its research culture.

Over the past year, the Rossin College has undertaken an Envisioning Process to address the University’s commitment to excellence and leadership in research and education. As a result of this process, the College is spearheading a campuswide effort to create dedicated interdisciplinary research institutes focused on long-term societal needs in areas where Lehigh is poised to lead on the national and international stage. These institutes will build on Lehigh’s existing strengths and will serve as a focal point for future investments in the recruitment of faculty and students and in the expansion of world-class research programs and facilities.

“We are focusing on research themes that have the potential to broadly impact our scholarly communities and society as a whole,” says Stephen P. DeWeerth, professor and dean. “Toward that end, these institutes will engage a community of scholars who will address interdisciplinary research challenges through the incubation of ideas, the facilitation of interdisciplinary teaming, and the realization of these ideas and teams in large-scale, extramurally funded projects. The institutes will also assure that Lehigh is an international beacon of excellence across these themes, promoting our thought leadership and linking us to a robust set of external stakeholders.”

According to DeWeerth, these Institutes will be centered in the Rossin College but will reach into all relevant corners of campus. Faculty Councils have formed to define and propose the creation of institutes across three initial themes:

  • Materials, Matter, and Devices: Synthesis, fabrication, processing, and characterization of engineered materials, devices and systems are cross-cutting areas of research in which Lehigh has significant scholarly activity. Areas of interest include photonics and electronics, metals, ceramics, biomaterials, polymers, and composites. Soft matter focal areas include soft biomaterials, gels, elastomers and colloidal assemblies. These materials are incorporated in devices ranging in size from the nanometer and micrometer scales and beyond, for application to many industries such as aerospace, biomedicine, microelectronics, renewable energy, and photonics.

  • Data Science and Computational Intelligence: This theme is devoted to the study of problems that involve massive amounts of data and/or large-scale computations, and developing the science that enables the extraction of useful and actionable information across disciplines and research fields. Volumes of undifferentiated data are readily available from web pages, multimode feeds such as sound and camera feeds, satellite imagery ranging from high-altitude pictures to weather conditions, social media such as tweets and many others, medical data ranging from patient medical history to imagery of patient’s organs, as well as outputs of computational simulations. Such effort by its nature requires interdisciplinary contributions from experts in many fields of science and engineering.

  • Cyber–Physical Infrastructure and Energy Systems: These are the physical systems and engineered processes that underpin all aspects of modern society and its economy. Interdependent and increasingly adaptive, these systems are dedicated to such modern needs as communication and internet connectivity as well as the provision of electricity, food, fuel and water. Research in this field must also incorporate issues related to transportation networks, shipping and logistics facilities, residential and commer cial structures, healthcare resources, materials, chemical, pharmaceutical and manufacturing facilities, as well as systems related to energy production and the capture and treatment of solid waste and wastewater.

"We believe these institutes will enable us to solidify and further develop our strengths in key areas, and then project that strength more deliberately to the outside world," says John Coulter, senior associate dean for research. "This will enable greater success for faculty-led research endeavors, and students at all levels will benefit from greater access to expertise, facilities, and partnerships across key facets of industry and society."