Letter from Dean Mary C. Boyce

Our sesquicentennial year gave us the opportunity to reflect on the incredible accomplishments of our faculty, students, and alumni. This period of achievement is the harbinger of a new era for Columbia Engineering, one that leverages the School’s strengths with the concomitant energy of the global Engineering Renaissance.

A fundamental hallmark of any Renaissance is creativity. It is the essential, creative nature of engineering and applied science that is now being recognized, and that is the catalyst for today’s Engineering Renaissance. In this issue of the magazine, we celebrate our creativity, which manifests itself in myriad ways at the School.

The opening photo shows Chinese artist Xu Bing’s art installation, Phoenix, at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, where our faculty was feted at the culmination of our 150th anniversary year. This sculpture, one of a pair, might be considered symbolic of our profession on many levels. First and foremost, it is creative, born in the mind of the artist seeing a construction site.

The phoenixes are made primarily of construction debris and tools—feathers created from shovels; crowns made of hard hats; heads created from jackhammers; and bodies sculpted from plastic accordion tubing and other construction castoffs. Together they weigh over 12 tons, measure 90 and 100 feet long, and required more than 30 hoists and 140 feet of trussing to raise them to the Cathedral ceiling. So the creativity involved in transporting and safely suspending these two gigantic works of art is a second, direct connection to our profession.

Equally dramatic evidence of creativity is reflected in the stories of our faculty, students, and alumni featured in this magazine. In our Research section, you will read about the creativity of Professors Elisa Konofagou, who is pioneering ultrasonic methods for drug delivery through the blood-brain barrier; Shih-Fu Chang, who is devising ways to extract information from visual data; and Julia Hirschberg, who is developing technology to identify deceptive speech. Similarly, the innovative research of four junior faculty has earned them NSF CAREER Awards this year: Christine Hendon, for optical imaging and spectroscopy to monitor specific treatment of cardiac arrhythmias; Kristin Myers, for exploring biomechanical forces that cause preterm birth; Mingoo Seok, for designing computing chips that can achieve the best level of their own individual computing performance; and Changxi Zheng, for using physics-based simulation to automatically generate computational sound fully synchronized with its associated motion.

The creativity of our students in Res.Inc., the 24/7 living learning center for budding entrepreneurs, is visible in the ideas for their start-ups. And the recent Ebola challenge sponsored by the School in conjunction with the Mailman School of Public Health spurred remarkably creative solutions to mitigate the spread and effects of the disease. We are proud that one student team has received USAID funding for its project.

And creativity is now more than ever an integral part of the education process. As technology has enabled significant learning to move out of the classroom, new pedagogy has emerged that has enhanced student understanding. See some of these new strategies in our story on page 24.

Finally, the creativity of our alumni, which we also celebrated during our anniversary year, is highlighted in our spotlight profiles of Fermi Wang MS’89, PhD’91 and Samantha John BS’09.

I invite you to join us for Dean’s Day on Saturday, May 30, to see for yourself how we are capitalizing on our creative thinking to ensure the continued excellence of our education, research, and innovation. And for alumni whose graduation year ends in a 0 or a 5, I hope to see you for all of Reunion Weekend, from Thursday, May 28, to Sunday, May 31!

Mary Cunningham Boyce
Dean of Engineering
Morris A. and Alma Schapiro Professor