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New Institute for Applied Life Sciences Highlights Dean’s First Year

Tim Anderson

The UMass Amherst Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS) might be the most important organization that few people have ever heard of. According to College of Engineering Dean Tim Anderson, the IALS is also the biggest thing to happen during his first 14 months on the job. Soon nearly 100 faculty members (accompanied by students and staff) from three colleges (College of Engineering, College of Natural Sciences, School of Public Health and Health Sciences) and 16 departments at UMass Amherst will conduct research and engage in hands-on education and training through IALS. That’s big!

“The funding is derived from state money for economic development purposes,” says Dean Anderson. “The idea is to take the basic research that we do in partnership with industry and translate this into economic development.”

According to the IALS website, the institute initially received $150 million in investments from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center and the University of Massachusetts for new facilities and equipment. Approximately $50 million of capital funding is targeted for new state-of-the art research instrumentation and equipment. Some $45 million is being used to outfit three floors of the Life Sciences Laboratories Building on campus. This fit-out of the existing building will enable the rapid deployment of equipment for accelerated scientific discovery, industry collaboration, and economic impact.

“The funding has been established by the Commonwealth for the purpose of growing the economy in the life sciences area,” explains Dean Anderson. “Roughly a third of the funding is being used to fit out a second Life Science Lab Building, the shell of which was built two years ago. The facilities will be prepared to house major research instruments that will be shared by all the faculty and students in the IALS.”

Dean Anderson says it will take 18 months to fill out the building. There will be three centers in the IALS, the Center for Models to Medicine, Center for Bioactive Delivery, and Center for Personalized Health Monitoring, which has the closest alignment with the College of Engineering.

“We have been hiring in this area as well as others, with nine searches currently in progress, of which five of those positions will be working in the IALS,” says the dean. “We also have 15 current faculty members whose research intersects with those envisioned within the IALS.” Dean Anderson is also on the IALS Executive Committee responsible for organizing the institute.

Another major development at the college is the six awards our researchers have received from the high-status National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program in the past 18 months.

The much sought-after grants were received by Paul Dauenhauer of the Chemical Engineering (ChE) Department, David Irwin, Qiangfei Xia, Joseph Bardin, and Michael Zink of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, and Hari Balasubramanian of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department. Nearly one-third of all faculty members at the college have now won the esteemed NSF awards.

All six of our new CAREER projects attempt to resolve key issues in 21st-century society: making renewable biofuels competitive with unsustainable fossil fuels; creating energy efficient homes and buildings; perfecting nanoelectronic devices that are viable alternatives to transistors; enabling new and more powerful cryogenic electronics in scientific instruments; making it possible to share closed-loop sensor networks that will lead to substantial savings; and streamlining primary healthcare.

As noted above, the nine faculty searches now going on at once might very well be a record in the College of Engineering.

“Last year we hired five new faculty, so we are ramping up,” says Dean Anderson. “We are now over a hundred. We’re still a relatively small college. We are growing our faculty to try and stay up with our burgeoning student enrollment, which has doubled in the last five years.”

Dean Anderson observed that the college will likely maintain enrollment steady for the near future because of limitations in classroom and laboratory space.

“But we have been trying to keep up with the demands of the Commonwealth,” says the dean. “In any case, the credentials of our engineering students are the highest they’ve ever been.”

UMass Amherst, led by principal investigator and Civil and Environmental Engineering Head Richard Palmer, leads a consortium of seven universities and hosts the two-year-old Northeast Climate Science Center through a five-year, $7.5 million grant. This year the center awarded over $800,000 to universities and other partners for research to guide managers of parks, refuges, and other cultural and natural resources in planning how to help species and ecosystems adapt to climate change in the region.

The College of Engineering Development Office is well ahead of its goals for the UMass Rising Campaign, and the fruits of its labor have been obvious over the past year. To mention just a few of the many repercussions, Paul Dauenhauer of the ChE department has been chosen as the Armstrong Professional Development Professor. The estate of Robert Glass and his wife Sandra Glass has established an endowment of $575,000 to support the UMass Innovation Challenge competition, its programming, and its participants. Assistant Professor Jessica Schiffman of the ChE department has been named the initial recipient of the Professor James Douglas Early Career Faculty Development Award. John and Elizabeth Armstrong have also collaborated with two longtime donors at the college, Barry Bahram Siadat (P.h.D. ChE 1979) and his wife Afsaneh Siadat, to form a forward-thinking new fund, which creates the Armstrong/Siadat Endowed Professorship in Materials Science.

In addition, graduate student Varun Srinivasan of the CEE department was the 2013-14 recipient of a fellowship established by CEE alumnus Edwin V. Sisson. Doctoral students Cheryl Ann Nicholas of the MIE department and Jordon D. Bosse from the College of Nursing were named the 2013-2014 Hluchyj Fellows.

Dean Anderson also has a new educational goal that he is bringing to the college.

As he explains, “I hold a lot of value for experiential learning. My goal is to have all of our engineering students do some form of experiential learning while they are here. That means participating in internships, coops, undergraduate research, Engineers Without Borders, supermileage vehicle competition, or other hands-on engineering opportunities. Right now we have about 64 percent of our enrollment engaged in experiential learning projects, and I would like the college to raise that to 100 percent.”

Dean Anderson also noted that the college is working to provide a broader introduction to engineering in the first semester so our students can are more inspired to continue in engineering and make a more informed decision about their majors.

“Most students arrive here without really knowing what the various disciplines in engineering are all about,” he says. “That lack of understanding can handicap them if they are forced to decide on an engineering major before they gain a more knowledgeable understanding. So we would like to introduce a more instructive first-semester course to give all our incoming students the knowledge they need to choose a major and understand what engineers do.”

All in all, Dean Anderson’s first year at the helm has been a full, eventful, and momentous one in every way. (May 2014)