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Science & Engineering

Significantly Strengthen Science and Engineering at Duke

Experiments in controlling a robot arm with brain signals from owl monkeys, by Duke neurobiologist Miguel Nicolelis and his colleagues, prompted the creation of the new Center for Neuroengineering and Neurocomputation. Scientists hope to realize the potential of such technology to enable people who are paralyzed to control prosthetic limbs through neural signals.
Duke neurobiologist Miguel Nicolelis

Historically, Duke has been strong in the life sciences; our unified biology department is outstanding and our medical school ranks among the very best in the world. However, to attain excellence more broadly, we must concentrate and expand faculty in areas of strategic scientific and engineering priority, as well as deepen the resources available to our physical scientists and engineers. Duke continues to reap the benefits of having invested in its professional schools in the mid-’70s and ’80s and focused in subsequent years on the humanities and social sciences. The time is ripe for the university to concentrate on the sciences.

The current scientific intellectual frontiers increasingly require an interdisciplinary approach, a fact that is strongly reflected in today’s funding trends. We are stymied, however, in our efforts to recruit top faculty by the condition of our facilities, especially in biology and chemistry, which signal that we are not prepared to support world-class research. We have significant computing and other instrumentation requirements for both research and instruction. Space is a particularly acute problem as we try to bring together more faculty, postdoctoral scholars, graduate students, and undergraduates to work in teams and in collaborations across the university.

The most exciting opportunities for Duke lie in the areas of genomics, neuroscience, neuroengineering, global change, materials, and photonics, the burgeoning technology that melds light with electronics. We are planning flexible programs in these areas that will have an impact on every science and engineering department on campus, as well as many in the School of Medicine. There is a deliberate biological and biomedical biasin all of these initiatives as we attempt to leverage our strength in the life sciences.

In our opinion, one of the most important advances over the next few decades will be in the areas of bio-optics and optical communication and computation. Duke plans to be a leader in this photonics revolution by bringing together and building on current strengths in engineering, arts and sciences, and the medical center, as well as facilities such as the Duke Free Electron Laser Laboratory. We will also recruit additional researchers in focus areas.

The new Fitzpatrick Center for Advanced Photonics and Communications Systems aims to help turn North Carolina into a “photon forest,” where research and development in photonics can create the kind of technological advance and economic growth associated with California’s Silicon Valley. Professor David Brady, an internationally-recognized expert in optical imaging and sensors, was recruited to Duke to direct the new photonics center.

Duke Nursing Students train with a Human Patient Simulator
Technology costs: Duke nursing students train with a Human Patient Simulator, purchased in the spring for about $170,000. The full-sized mannequin, whose major organ systems have been programmed to respond to both physical and drug interventions, requires a Human Simulation and Patient Safety Center that cost an additional million dollars.

The following major science and engineering projects are essential to our strategic plan: The Center for Interdisciplinary Engineering and Applied Sciences, The Center for Human Disease Models, and The Center for Human Genetics. In addition to these projects, we are coordinating new facilities for the Institute for Genome Science and Policy, a new science research facility in arts and sciences, as well as various levels of renovations to the biological sciences building, Gross Chemistry Building in arts and sciences, and Hudson Hall in the Pratt School of Engineering.