The 21st Century Student

Engineering the Biochip
Rensselaer Receives $130 Million


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At Rensselaer

Photo by Gary Gold

Six Random Lines Excentric (1993), a sculpture by internationally acclaimed artist George Rickey given to Rensselaer by entrepreneur and Rensselaer Trustee Nancy Mueller, adorns campus on the Hassan Quad in front of the Greene Building.

Six Random Lines Excentric is a towering, treelike stainless steel sculpture measuring 28 feet high and 31 feet wide. It has six branches, each supporting a 12-foot pointed branch that moves with the wind.

"This piece is very uplifting and very happy," says Mueller. "The way the arms dip and fall and rise again, it has a lot of positive energy. It adds an ethereal quality to the campus, a sense of drama, mystery, and beauty. It's the kind of thing you can ponder."

Alan Balfour, dean of the School of Architecture, was instrumental in helping Mueller select the sculpture for campus and calls the piece "Rickey's most complex and most three-dimensional work."

The sculpture was erected with the guidance of Roland Hummel, emeritus professor of architecture at Rensselaer and Rickey's engineer for the past 35 years. Rickey, 93, is one of the pioneers along with Alexander Calder of the kinetic, or moving, genre in sculpture. His work may also be found at the White House's Jacqueline Kennedy Garden and the National Gallery of Art.

Rickey is a former Rensselaer adjunct professor of art in the School of Architecture and holds an honorary doctorate of fine arts from Rensselaer. A highly acclaimed artist, he also taught at Kalamazoo College, Michigan; University of Washington, Seattle; Tulane University, New Orleans; and Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, among others.



U.S. News & World Report places Rensselaer among the nation's top 50 universities and rates the school's undergraduate engineering program as 17th nationwide. The rankings appeared in the magazine's Sept. 11 issue and in "America's Best Colleges," the publication's best-selling guide for prospective students and their parents.

Rensselaer shares the rank of 49th with Pepperdine University and the University of Texas at Austin. Last year, the Institute ranked 51st in the national survey. The school's undergraduate engineering program continues to be ranked in the top 20.

"America's Best Colleges" also includes stories featuring three different Rensselaer programs. One article showcases Rensselaer efforts to help young entrepreneurs. Another features services to students with learning disabilities. A third story highlights Rensselaer's leadership in lighting education and research.

"We are pleased that the U.S. News & World Report rankings confirm the position Rensselaer holds as one of the leading universities in the country and recognizes our continued leadership in engineering," says President Shirley Ann Jackson. "I am very proud of the faculty, students, staff, and alumni who have made Rensselaer a nationally ranked institution for research and education at both the graduate and undergraduate levels." The complete rankings are at



Radical innovation happens in big corporations—but it's the exception rather than the rule. Making it sustainable and routine requires visionary leadership, markedly different management techniques, and an entrepreneurial team that can "manage chaos," say six Rensselaer management professors. In their new book, Radical Innovation: How Mature Companies Can Outsmart Upstarts (Harvard Business School Press), the Rensselaer team lays out a manifesto for managing corporate innovation.

"The business model these days is more than 'build a better mousetrap,' " says Mark Rice '71, director of the Severino Center for Technological Entrepreneurship. "Firms need to build a different mousetrap. If they don't do it, a competitor will and will drive them out of the market."

Rice is one of six Rensselaer management professors who have followed top-secret research projects at 10 major corporations. Funded by a significant grant from the Sloan Foundation in partnership with the Industrial Research Institute, the research examined radical innovation at Air Products, Analog Devices, DuPont, GE, GM, IBM, Nortel Networks, Polaroid, Texas Instruments, and United Technologies.

The researchers found that creating the culture of entrepreneurship within a big corporation is no easy task, but sustaining that culture was a real management conundrum—"an unnatural act," says Richard Leifer, associate professor of management.

"It's impossible to predict manufacturing costs, sales figures, market response, and profits for a product that doesn't exist," says Gina O'Connor, assistant professor of marketing and another member of the research team. "Traditional management and marketing techniques just don't work when applied to radically new technologies."

But established firms are learning some new tricks.

Texas Instruments, for example, developed the Digital Micro-Mirror Device capable of creating a high-quality screen image by bouncing light off 1.3 million microscopic bidirectional mirrors squeezed onto a one-square-inch chip. The technology will displace rolling movie films and has opened up an entirely new infrastructure for distributing motion pictures to theaters.


Depicted above, one stretch of Paul Lipchak's proposed Gardiner Strand is composed of a pedestrian walkway suspended from artistically designed highway piers.

Competing against a field dominated by professional firms, fifth-year students in the School of Architecture took three of seven prizes in an open competition seeking design ideas for revitalizing Toronto's waterfront. Paul Lipchak was awarded one of four equal top prizes, and Sunho Choi and Jeremy Voorhees were awarded two of three honorable mentions.

Each year, Architecture requires its fifth-year students to take part in an open, judged competition, according to Mark Mistur '83, a clinical associate professor who coordinated this year's entries. Guided by the Montreal architectural firm of Atelier Big City, the students had just five weeks to prepare their submissions.

The Toronto Waterfront Competition, sponsored by the Toronto Society of Architects in anticipation of that city's bid for the 2008 Olympics, drew 97 entries, two-thirds from professional firms. Rensselaer entered 16 designs, chosen by an internal jury from the work of 36 students.

Rensselaer's strong showing in the competition is impressive, according to Robert Glover, Toronto's director of urban design and one of four members of the jury. "They seem to be experts on the city," he says.

In competitions over the past two years, Rensselaer students received recognition for their design entries in the Gowanus Parkway and Times Square ticket booth competitions sponsored by the Van Alen Institute and won prizes for the Charles Street Station competition in Boston.



IT has begun an online news-letter for students. E-News will provide information on events, programs, and curriculum, as well as what's happening in the program.

The first issue introduces IT's newest staff member, Gail Gere, who has been appointed director of program development. It also includes articles about the student mentoring program, an upcoming "Careers in IT" forum, and the new IT student lounge. To read the newsletter, go to

New York State's Department of Education has approved Rensselaer's new Master of Science in Information Technology (M.S. in IT). The master's degree builds on Rensselaer's success with its bachelor of science in IT program, which began in 1998.

M.S. in IT students choose a specific focus area such as e-commerce, networking, digital publishing, technological entrepreneurship, or hardware design. Each student must take one course in database systems, telecommunications, software design, management of technology, and human computer interaction. The M.S. in IT culminates in a master's project or seminar, or a design-oriented or studio-oriented course.

"What sets Rensselaer's IT program apart from others is its elasticity," says Jim Napolitano '77, interim vice provost for IT. "Students can get a global feel for how IT applies across a range of disciplines and then choose where they want to focus."

Applications for the bachelor of science in IT have increased 106 percent this year, and enrollment has also grown by 41 percent. Enrollment in the master's programs is expected to double over the next two years.

The M.S. in IT program is administered by the faculty of information technology, which comprises faculty members from Rensselaer's five academic schools. For more information, go to



Presidential precedence? In the United States presidential election of 1824, none of the candidates had received enough popular support for the majority of electoral votes needed to claim the office.

In accordance with the 12th Amendment of the Constitution, the selection process moved to the House of Representatives where Stephen Van Rensselaer, a U.S. Representative from New York, cast the deciding vote for John Quincy Adams in February 1825.

In 1824, just days after the general election, Van Rensselaer founded what is now known as Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.



Rensselaer and four other universities have received a grant worth a potential $16 million from the National Science Foundation to become part of a major engineering research center (ERC).

Rensselaer will join Northeastern University, Boston University, and the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez, to form the Center for Subsurface Sensing and Imaging Systems (CenSSIS). Institute Professor James Modestino will direct Rensselaer's participation in the ERC, which will be headquartered at Northeastern University.

Through subsurface sensing, scientists are able to identify and picture what is happening under the skin, beneath the crust of the Earth, below the surface of the ocean, and in other regions that are not directly and easily accessible.

Subsurface sensing is a specialty of many Rensselaer faculty members, including members of the computer science, mathematical sciences, and electrical, computer, and systems engineering departments. Rensselaer researchers are already developing applications in subsurface sensing to advance the detection of breast cancer, land mines, oil deposits, and pulmonary edema.

CenSSIS will receive $2.6 million the first year from NSF, along with support from the Puerto Rican government, industry partners, partnering universities, and state governments.


Photo by Thomas Griffin

Michael Savic, professor of electrical, computer, and systems engineering, and his graduate student, Thrasos Axiotis, are developing computer technology that will diagnose lung disease using signal processing.

Working with a professionally created database of sounds of about 50 lung diseases, Savic and Axiotis have programmed a computer to use features of these sounds to identify lung diseases, such as pneumonia, asthma, and bronchitis. Lung sounds from the database, which is used to train doctors, are transformed into electronic signals and brought into a computer, which then analyzes the signal and determines if the lungs are healthy or not.

"If you want to find someone with blue eyes and a big nose, you look for those features, not for toes or hands or hair," Savic explains. "Pulling features of particular lung diseases works in the same way."

If the lungs are not healthy, the features of the disease will translate to a colored marking, or cluster, on the computer's graphical display. Each colored cluster relates to a disease, but there are presently a few clusters that overlap, indicating that those diseases share some of the same features, Axiotis says. These will require more refined signal processing to separate and diagnose, he says.

The researchers plan to test the system on real patients in the near future, and anticipate slight obstacles. "The data we currently have is clear and nice," Savic says. "However, in the exam room we don't have as much control over noise interference. Noise from an air conditioner or even movement from the patient could distort the signals, giving us an inaccurate reading." But he is confident that with a bit of refining, the system will work.


Photos by Dan Oleski

Student inventor Tahira Reid '00 demonstrated her patented automatic double-Dutch jump rope machine on NBC's Today show this summer. Using a motorized machine to replace two rope turners, the invention allows a person to jump rope alone.

The idea dates back to 1985 when Reid won a third-grade contest for her poster of a girl jumping rope with the assistance of a machine. Her idea became a reality in 1997 as a student in Rensselaer's Introduction to Engineering Design (IED) class, which was presented with the theme of "challenging the limits of sports and recreational activities." With the help of fellow students—Kevin Haynes '00, Kwasi Frye '01, Colleen Conlon '01, Andrew Burdick '01, and graduate student Maneesh Shrivastav—Reid designed the initial prototype for the double-Dutch device. The team subsequently won a $10,000 grant from the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance to further develop the design.

Reid was issued a patent in October 1999. Her first working prototype was completed this year. After being featured in the New York Times, Essence magazine, and in Capital Region media, Reid was invited to join Katie Couric on the Today show Aug. 17 to demonstrate her device. She also was featured on NPR's Weekend Edition Sept. 24. You can listen to Reid's NPR interview at

Reid's long-term plans are to market the invention for mass production.


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