Research Areas

Foundational Areas

Visualization is a key tool that allows us to take complex information generated from enormous data sets and present it in a way that leads to better understanding and insights. At Columbia Engineering, visualization not only aids our research but helps us explain findings from that research in a way that informs and inspires.

Sensors have become a ubiquitous feature in daily life and are essential to our understanding of environments. Advanced sensing capabilities improve the functioning and quality of everyday life, as well as our health and safety. They are also being deployed to create environments tailored to the changing needs of inhabitants. At Columbia Engineering, faculty and students are actively engaged in creating smart cities with intelligent sensing, more efficient services, buildings, transportation, and utilities. 

Robotic limbs that give movement and independence back to stroke victims. Tools that help improve surgical procedures to make recovery faster and costs lower. Drones that make agriculture more sustainable. Our research in robotics focuses on how robots can assist humans and enhance lives and goes further to investigate the possibility of building machines that are conscious and creative.

The emerging field of nanoscience is advancing exciting new discoveries with the potential to revolutionize many industries. Working collaboratively across disciplines, we are creating the ability to assemble nano building blocks into novel 1D, 2D, and 3D materials and structures, and discovering novel properties and behavior. Eventually, researchers will develop new superatoms to create a large “periodic table” of designer materials with unprecedented levels of complexity and functionality. 

Discovery, design, and processing of new materials transforms our ability to innovate. Breakthroughs in materials design are driven by our capacity to model, simulate, and experimentally probe over length scales spanning from the atomic level to the microscopic level to the macroscopic level. Advanced Materials are increasingly multifunctional, where the material itself becomes the device, driving our advances in wide-ranging fields including electronics, photonics, soft matter, electrochemistry, energy, and structures.

Advanced imaging illuminates our understanding of everything from the workings of the human body to the natural world. We are researching how imaging technologies can do more than gather data and produce images, but become research tools in their own right. From the development of artificial vision systems to cameras that wrap around objects, imaging research enables us to gain new perspectives leading to breakthrough discoveries. 

Columbia engineers have a history of pushing the frontiers of what can be done with devices, from setting the foundation for modern radio to improving photovoltaic devices that convert energy from the sun into electricity. We take pride in maintaining a balance between traditional and emerging fields and theoretical and practical knowledge, all in the service of innovations that will improve the standard of living for future generations.

While the current deluge of data can be overwhelming and raises concerns about privacy, it also offers enormous possibilities to extract knowledge and create value through the intelligent mining and use of data. Our faculty established and continue to lead the Data Science Institute, which, along with our nine sister schools, is training the next generation of data scientists and developing innovative technology that will enable data-based solutions for some of society’s most challenging problems. 

Artificial intelligence touches every aspect of engineering at Columbia. Across our labs and classrooms, we’re using AI to imagine a sustainable, healthy, secure, connected, and creative future. Our researchers create neural networks that pilot driverless cars and autonomous robotics systems, write algorithms to help doctors identify disease-carrying genetic mutations, build models to help predict and discover new materials, and devise new tools to enhance trust and security in communication. We’re educating leaders who will bring humans and machines together to create new products, introduce new business models, and find as-yet-unforeseen avenues for their own creativity.

Areas of Impact

How can the earth support a projected population of 9 billion people in 2050? How do we balance the desire for a high quality of life with the preservation of ecological functions critical to our planet’s survival? This is a fundamental challenge that we must collectively address to achieve a sustainable global society. Success will require rethinking our systems for production and consumption of food, air, energy, water, transportation, and communications.

Catastrophic systemic failures, such as the subprime market crisis, the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and more frequent superstorms like Hurricane Katrina, Sandy, and Harvey draw our attention to the vulnerability and fragility of complex systems in different domains. Theses failures arise from incomplete or uncertain understanding and knowledge of various parameters and interactions in a dynamically evolving environment, both natural and human engineered. Online connected systems such as social media, Internet of Things, and Cyber Physical Systems also require assurance of cybersecurity and protection of privacy. To better manage the inherent risks, we need to understand, model, design, predict, control, and optimize the dynamics and behavior of such systems.

The global average life expectancy of the human population has more than doubled since 1900, much of it due to rapid advances in medical technologies. The concept of managing health and wellness in a highly precise and personalized manner is now emerging—for the health of individuals as well as for the public health of populations. As technology development makes health and wellness more personalized, precise, interactive, and focused on a holistic view of the patient, we will make critical advances in improving human health.

Engineering, at its heart, is a creative field. It is marked by hands-on, immersive, learning-by-doing. Engineering also invents new tools and techniques to propel creativity in other fields. As we develop more "maker" spaces and create more opportunities to bring together and promote interactions among diverse people and disciplines, as well as further integrate our teaching and scholarship with the humanities, social sciences, architecture, business and beyond, we create an environment in which creativity and innovation flourish.

Information has been a critical driver of progress throughout human history. Today, technology is enabling an exponential increase in our connectivity with one another, with devices, and with our external environment. At the same time, we are witnessing an explosion in data related to all areas of human life, from our immune system and the structure of the universe to energy usage in our homes and workplaces, and even our social and emotional lives as played out in social media. Harvesting this data to improve the human experience, while securing privacy and cybersecurity, will require progress in many areas, including developing new sensors and methodologies to collect data, new devices to improve connectivity with one another and the world, and new algorithms to extract and verify insights from this wealth of information.