From the President
No Better Place Than Penn
The entire Penn community was thrilled to see one of our own share the
Prize in Chemistry for discovering and developing conductive polymers.
No one who has known Dr. Alan MacDiarmid, or who knew about the revolutionary
breakthrough he and his fellow Nobel recipients made at Penn during
the 1970s, should have been the least bit surprised by the news.
He is a great scholar, a great teacher, and a great man in the mold of
our founder, Benjamin Franklin, who also knew a thing or two about electricity.
In the tumult of news conferences and receptions that followed, Dr. MacDiarmid
electrified audiences by describing how Penn's unique environment nourished
his teaching and research.
He said: "You can be the most brilliant scientist in all the world;
put you on a desert island with the very best scientific equipment and the
very best library and you'll do uninteresting research. You must have interaction.
You must have discussion. What place could be better than Penn?"
When it comes to fostering the kinds of interactions and discussions
that lead to breakthroughs that literally change the world for the better,
I would have to agree: there is no better place than Penn.
Right now, Penn researchers in revolutionary new fields like genomics
and nanotechnology are making strides and discoveries that will, in time,
dramatically expand our understanding of human nature and promote healthier--and
happier--lives for more and more people.
To succeed, these new enterprises demand an unprecedented degree of collaboration
across a wide range of disciplines. While other elite universities jockey
for the inside track, Penn enjoys a rare advantage that is already leading
us to the winners' circle: interdisciplinary study and research are woven
ineluctably into Penn's genetic material. You see it in our intellectual
muscle, in our infrastructure, and in our culture.
Take the advances Penn is seeking in genomics following the dramatic
completion of the human genome project. Researchers now have a powerful,
comprehensive biological database with which to study the involvement of
specific genes in growth, health, behavior, and disease, and Penn scientists
hope to make the most of it.
The diagnostic and life-saving potential is enormous. At the Abramson
Family Cancer Research Institute at Penn, Dr. Barbara Weber is leading an
international effort to move beyond early detection of breast cancer to
early identification of women who genetically run a higher risk of
developing the disease.
While encompassing biomedical research in all life sciences, the genomics
revolution will draw critical strength from engineering and computer science.
Other schools and departments at Penn are also pursuing genomics research
as we move forward on plans to integrate and coordinate these efforts into
a major University-wide initiative.
Meanwhile, Penn and neighboring Drexel University have taken the wheel
of another revolution, thanks to a $10.5 million grant from the Commonwealth
of Pennsylvania to launch a Regional Nanotechnology Center. Leveraging research
in the life sciences, chemistry, physics, and engineering, nanotechnology
could bring us both life-saving products, such as microscopic capsules that
selectively deliver drugs to tumors, and a wide array of molecular devices
that could make computers much faster and manufacturing much cleaner and
If you're looking to ignite a high-tech revolution, you need an environment
that encourages engineers, physicists, chemists, and biomedical researchers
to collaborate as a matter of habit. Again, there is no better place than
Nor is there a place that does a better job turning creative discussions
and interactions into practical solutions to social problems. Take the creation
of the Center for Children's Policy Practice and Research.
What started out a couple of years ago as a series of brainstorming sessions
among a professor of Social Work (Richard Gelles), a pediatrician and child
psychiatrist (Annie Steinberg), a law professor (Barbara Bennett Woodhouse),
and members of Philadelphia's child advocacy community on how to make child
welfare more child-centered, grew into a collaborative research center dedicated
to helping and protecting abused and neglected children.
In these and other areas of cutting-edge interdisciplinary research,
Penn has the capacity to lead the world. I could easily highlight literally
hundreds of other collaborative research efforts to illustrate Penn's powerful
impact--in Philadelphia and around the globe. Or I could catalogue the $546
million in sponsored research at Penn to make the same point.
Suffice it to say that among the leading institutions of higher education
that will play key roles in a new age of experiments and discoveries in
the 21st century, no other University can surpass Penn's strength of faculty,
tradition of collaboration, and productive climate. Like Alan MacDiarmid,
I simply cannot imagine a better place than Penn.