Inside Rensselaer
Volume 6, No. 2, February 3, 2012

Davos, Switzerland

Davos , Switzerland photo courtesy of the World Economic Forum

President and Institute Scientists Deliver “Ideas Lab” Presentation at World Economic Forum

President Shirley Ann Jackson and three top scientists from Rensselaer were invited to deliver an “Ideas Lab” presentation at the World Economic Forum Jan. 25-29 in Davos, Switzerland.

They gave a presentation Jan. 27 titled “Concept to Commerce With Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.” The presentation explained how the transformation of Rensselaer has fueled development of ideas that move from the laboratory into commercial applications, leading to technological and other advances that improve our lives.

The 2012 World Economic Forum, titled “The Great Transformation: Shaping New Models,” focused on global risks. The annual event is staged by an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas.

President Jackson was joined by the following Institute scientists for the Davos presentation:

  • Jonathan Dordick, director of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies and the Howard P. Isermann ’42 Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering.
  • Richard Siegel, director of the Nanotechnology Center and the Robert W. Hunt Professor of Materials Science and Engineering.
  • Boleslaw Szymanski, director of the Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center and the Claire and Roland Schmitt Distinguished Professor of Computer Science.
The primary focus of the presentation was on the decade-long transformation of Rensselaer, under the comprehensive
Rensselaer Plan, into a fully realized national research university that has enabled path-breaking research in many areas, including biotechnology, nanotechnology, and social cognitive network science.

Dordick focused on the integration of the wonders of nature with nanotechnology, leading to biotechnology advances that ultimately will help society by leading to longer, healthier lives and enhanced productivity. In particular, his talk focused on scientific achievements of his research, including a new type of coating, or paint, capable of killing deadly MRSA bacteria on contact.

Siegel highlighted the critical role nanotechnology has played in products that help us in daily life—ranging from sunscreens to medical prostheses—as well as the promise that nanotechnology and biotechnology research holds for the future of materials systems. Part of the challenge of this future, Siegel says, is finding new ways to better educate the public about the world around them while continuing to accelerate the scientific research that will lead to molecular-level discoveries that will have a serious impact on our macroscopic world.

Szymanski described some of the early ground-breaking research that has emerged from labs in the social cognitive research center. He and his fellow researchers and students study the new technology-based social networks, where people represent nodes, and technology ranging from the World Wide Web to social media enables the massive extension and growth of these networks. His research, for example, has broadened understanding of how opinions and movements gather momentum once 10 percent of a group advocates an idea or position.

For more information on the World Economic Forum, visit

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 6, Numbe 2, February 3, 2012
©2012 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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