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Message from the Dean

November 17th, 2008

As you may recall, I began last week’s note with a few words on the importance of global collaboration; our personal relationships and professional research are, after all, made more meaningful by outside insights and perspectives. We can learn much from the world beyond our campus, I wrote. Well, this week, I have the great pleasure of reflecting on our role as the influencer, and on the indelible impact we as an institution have on that world around us.

It was announced Thursday that SEAS’ Center for Electronic Imaging Systems, or CEIS, had a record-breaking fiscal year in 2007-2008, making what can be considered a $134.5 million economic impact on New York State. What CEIS does is match researchers here at the University and other local institutions with New York State businesses that then develop new technologies for commercialization. It truly is a win-win-win: Our faculty members get to further their ideas; the participating businesses are able to save on research costs; and the region sees new jobs, revenues, and capital improvements.

Right now, CEIS is behind 30 in-progress projects across the region — think space-faring telescopes, digital cameras, medical devices, even “remote sensing technology” that can be applied in such things as remote-pilot military drones and guides for planetary probes. Talk about impacting the world — and universe — around us!

Of course, evidence of SEAS’ reach doesn’t lie in CEIS alone. Chemical Engineering Professor David Wu recently was awarded $1.75 million in U.S. Department of Energy funding for research he’s conducting on the production of ethanol from biological waste products. Prof. Wu is recognized as one of this research area’s foremost scientists, and he is using state-of-the-art genomic approaches to enhance the abilities of a microorganism to produce fuels from farm and forest residues like grass clippings, cornstalks, and wood chips.

Energy experts expect ethanol from biomass to replace at least 30 percent of the national gasoline consumption for transportation by 2030, and hydrogen promises to be used in fuel cells with high efficiency. And deriving these energy sources from biomass makes them renewable, and reduces carbon dioxide — plus, it eliminates competition with food supplies. I am beyond proud that SEAS is home to such world-changing — and indeed, world-saving — work.

In other great faculty news, Jim Zavislan, Associate Professor in the Institute of Optics, has been elected fellow of the Optical Society of America. Such affiliations of course enhance SEAS’ standing in that international research community I referenced above, and they also reinforce the outstanding credibility and respect our faculty enjoy. Congratulations, Prof. Zavislan.

One event I’m really looking forward to is the upcoming University of Rochester Fuel Cell Symposium, which promises to deliver a fascinating program. Featuring talks from six widely recognized fuel-cell researchers from across the field, the Dec. 8 event, to be held in the Gowen Room of Wilson Commons, will begin with coffee and pastries at 9:30a.m. and end with closing remarks at 3:30 p.m. (A buffet lunch will be served.) I encourage anyone who’s interested in this emerging science to attend, and I also hope you’ll stop into the Bridge Lounge, also in Wilson Commons, for a graduate-student poster session from noon to 1:30 p.m. (In addition to taking in some great lectures and discussions, attendees will have the opportunity to tour the recently commissioned fuel cell fabrication and testing laboratory in Gavett Hall.) Register by Friday, Nov. 28, by contacting Erica Strawbridge at, or (585) 275-4111; off-campus visitors should request a free parking pass when they RSVP.

And finally, I bring to you a worthwhile — and for many of us, nostalgic — volunteer opportunity. The First LEGO League Championship coming up on Sunday, Dec. 7, needs you! The event, in which middle-schoolers learn about engineering by playing and building with LEGO robots, runs solely on the time and effort of generous volunteers. You’ll get lunch and a free T-shirt, and all you’ll need to do to prepare is attend a short training session the Saturday evening before, on Dec. 6. You can sign up for a morning-, afternoon-, or all-day shift by visiting and clicking on the folder icon. Then check the “Account Name and Password” box, typing in “volunteer” as the name and “2008” as the password. Login and fill in the requested information, and eventually a volunteer coordinator will contact you to see what sorts of things you’d like to do to help out. This is sure to be a fun and rewarding experience for all.

Enjoy your week, everyone. Drop me a line or stop by for a visit if there’s anything you’d like to discuss, including your ideas for future posts.

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