New avenues of inquiry, new levels of success
Universities are judged by many criteria. Awards, admissions, endowment—these are all important benchmarks that measure the success of an educational institution. But it’s in the area of academic research that a university draws the respect not only of its peers, but of the world at large. Research is where a university truly achieves greatness as an institution.
Over the past few years, BU has solidified its reputation as an important center of research in many different ways. FY08 was particularly notable: the University received more than $326.4 million for sponsored research and made history several times over.
BU’s first Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator
The high-water mark of the year in research is that Professor Jim Collins became the first BU researcher to be named a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Investigator. One of 56 new investigators chosen from more than 1,000 applicants nationwide, Collins and his team will use the funding to support particular areas of research involving systems biology and synthetic biology, including the development of a more effective antibiotic and researching the function of protective and cell-death pathways to learn how bacteria respond to existing antibiotics and other stimuli.
NIH awards $23 million to BU
A team of clinicians and researchers at the BU Medical Campus and the Boston Medical Center won a $23 million, five-year Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) from the National Institutes of Health. The new BU center, the Boston University Clinical & Translational Science (BU-BRIDGE) Institute, will integrate, connect and expand research and programs across traditional academic departments and schools. The ultimate goal is to reduce the time it takes for laboratory discoveries to become treatments for patients and to engage communities in clinical research efforts.
More research successes in FY08
Associate Professor Barbara Shinn-Cunningham, director of graduate studies in the Department of Cognitive & Neural Systems, was selected as one of six scientists and engineers for the inaugural class of the National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellows (NSSEFF) Program in the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).
The NSSEFF Program will provide top-tier researchers from U.S. universities up to $3 million of direct research support for up to five years to conduct long-term, unclassified research of strategic importance to future DoD technology development.
Interesting, impressive, indelible: research at BU
To many, an image of “university research” conjures up scientists in lab coats carefully tipping chemical compounds into beakers. While that kind of research certainly happens at BU, it’s by no means the only kind. We invite you to sample just a few of the research projects that took place last year and understand what makes us such a great university.
Turning Thoughts Into Words
Erik Ramsey, 24, has “locked-in syndrome.” That is, he’s completely paralyzed but has total cognitive and sensory awareness. Yet Ramsey may one day regain his ability to speak, thanks in part to Frank Guenther, professor of Cognitive and Neural Systems. He and his team have been working on a computational model of how the brain controls speech. That model, in turn, has guided the design of decoder software that learned to read Ramsey’s mind as he imagined saying vowel sounds.
Christianity: A Peripatetic Religion
During the past century, Christianity has lost followers in Europe and gained them in Africa and beyond. This changing demographic has prompted Dana Robert, professor of World Christianity and History of Mission in the School of Theology, to reexamine the religion’s expansion and the role of the missionaries who carried it across the globe.
A team of three BU researchers is developing an electrostatic nano-pulse method for rapidly delivering vaccines and drugs through the skin and directly into the body’s immune system. Potential applications include low-cost, needle-free inoculations of mass populations in underdeveloped countries; rapid infusion of antidotes to large populations in response to bioterrorism; and painless, instantaneous injection of patients who loath conventional needles.
Opera Inside the Mind of a Madman
In his opera of Nabokov’s Lolita, composer and School of Music visiting Associate Professor Joshua Fineberg actually takes the audience into the mind of Humbert Humbert with the aid of innovative computer technology. The software he designed can create hybrid human voices that sound as if they could not exist, yet still sound natural. In the production, for example, he transforms a middle-aged man’s spoken words into song emanating from the virtual body of a young girl, creating an “impossible voice”—an ideal acoustic representation of Humbert’s inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality.
The Miracle Liquid: Water
Professor of Physics and Physiology H. Eugene Stanley has always been fascinated by water’s quirky characteristics. Research he conducted with the help of two former graduate students has led to a groundbreaking discovery: liquid water can actually exist in two different states, low- and high-density. At temperatures below about –50°C, the molecular structure of liquid water moves from a state of loose dynamism to one of increased rigidity. Already, scientists in such fields as biology, chemistry and materials engineering have shown interest in exploring the effects of supercooled water on DNA, proteins and other substances—which could lead, for instance, to enhanced methods of preserving sperm, oocytes and other biological matter.
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