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President's View Mail Class Notes Features

Michael Century

Focus On...

Michael Century

Michael Century crossed the boundaries of art and technology nearly 30 years ago when he was a 19-year-old student attending the University of Toronto. There, he listened to the lectures of Marshall McLuhan, a media-culture guru whose ideas from the 1960s are making a comeback in today’s world of advancing technologies.

“He both infuriated and exhilarated me,” says Century, chair of the Arts Department at Rensselaer. “He changed my life.”

McLuhan, who coined phrases such as “the medium is the message,” angered Century because the student couldn’t grasp the professor’s disjointed dialogue. Yet, Century was intrigued with McLuhan’s emphasis on the connection between technology and culture.

Century eventually got the message: refute conventional thought that separates art (art as a part of culture) from science (technology as a part of science).

“What is usually not understood is that McLuhan saw the infiltration of new electronic technologies as negative, or at best a mixed blessing. He actually detested the very technologies he was thought to celebrate, but also he thought that artists should be the driving force in the reshaping of technology and its uses,” Century says.

Since then, Century has embraced technology and art as one enhancing the other in the shaping of industry, interdisciplinary research, and creativity in fields ranging from video-game and Web design to electronic music, to engineers specializing in ultra-high-resolution digital simulations for better scientific observation and discovery.

In his role in the Arts Department, Century is leading the charge to further expand and integrate technology and the arts at Rensselaer. In addition to a well-established MFA and a growing bachelor’s degree in electronic arts, the department has plans for a Ph.D. program in electronic arts.

As a collaborator in Rensselaer’s Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) program, Century also is playing a vital role in developing workshops, multimedia performances in music and dance, and interdisciplinary lectures designed to bring together artists, engineers, and others from information technology and science disciplines.

Century, who holds dual citizenship, was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, and raised in Calgary, Alberta. Specializing in classical piano, Century earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Toronto, and a master’s at the University of California at Berkeley, both in music history and theory.

Century previously directed the Inter-Arts and the Media Arts programs at the Banff Centre for Continuing Education for accomplished artists and business and community leaders. In 1987 at Banff, he founded the Media Arts Program, one of the first in the world to focus on the artistic potential of interactive computer technologies.

Century, who has served as an information-technology and cultural policy consultant for various Canadian government agencies over the years, co-authored a recently released book titled Beyond Productivity: Information Technology, Innovation, and Creativity. The book, written for the National Research Council of the National Academies, explores the rich intersection of information technology and the arts.

According to the book, creative interactions between computer science, art, and other fields continue to drive new forms of computing and communications.

Adds Century: “The increasing phenomenon is pushing universities and industries to adjust their programs and policies to account for the unique and capable student and professional population specializing in what can’t be called arts or technology, but is defined as both.”

Shirley Ann Jackson Shirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer, has been elected president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science. Jackson, who was president-elect in 2003, assumed the presidency in February and will chair the AAAS board in 2005.

“The AAAS is a strong platform for addressing the urgent issues of harnessing the nation’s future science and engineering workforce,” says Jackson. “This is especially critical at a time when the role of science and engineering in our national security is recognized as being more important than ever. The nation requires a significant investment in human capital if it is to maintain its pre-eminence. There is no more urgent priority. The very future depends upon it. The association’s multidisciplinary construct makes it an important fulcrum for accomplishing this critical goal.”

Jackson also has been named as one of eight members of a reconstituted board of directors at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). Jackson was named to the board along with Madeleine K. Albright, Herbert M. Allison Jr., D. Euan Baird, Marshall N. Carter, James S. McDonald, Robert B. Shapiro, and Sir Dennis Weatherstone.

Leslie “Les” Lawrence, M.D. Leslie “Les” Lawrence, M.D., has been named medical director for the Gallagher Student Health Center. Lawrence heads a staff of 17 that includes physician assistants, psychologists, a health educator, and other medical professionals and support staff. Lawrence is responsible for the clinical, administrative, and regulatory affairs of the health center, and oversees a $1.5 million bud-get. Lawrence, who is board-certified in family practice, has an interest in psychiatry and mental health. He was a physician provider in several national clinical drug studies for psychiatric drugs, and has served on several public-speaking panels to assist in the identification and treatment of mental-health issues. Before coming to Rensselaer, Lawrence was the medical director for the student health center at the University at Albany, State University of New York, for three years. Lawrence received his bachelor’s degree in biology and animal science, and earned his medical degree from Albany Medical College.
Deborah Altenburg has been named Rensselaer’s director of federal relations, and will staff the Institute’s new Washington, D.C., office. In her new role, Altenburg will work to expand Rensselaer’s participation in national public policy discussions. She will monitor federal activities of significance to Rensselaer and advocate for the Institute’s priorities while working with Congress, federal agencies, higher education associations, and science and technology coalitions. Altenburg also will provide information and advice on the federal government to Institute administrators, faculty, and students.
Omkaram “Om” Nalamasu Omkaram “Om” Nalamasu, director of the Center for Integrated Electronics, has been selected to receive the Roy W. Tess Award in Coatings for 2004 from the American Chemical Society’s Division of Polymeric Materials: Science and Engineering (PMSE). The award is presented annually in recognition of outstanding contributions to coatings science and technology. Nalamasu was honored for his pioneering contributions to optical lithography and photoresist materials, which have played a major role in enabling the microelectronics revolution.
Martha Grabowski, research professor of decision sciences and engineering systems, received a lifetime appointment as a National Associate from the National Academies/National Research Council in recognition of outstanding service to the National Academies.
William “Al” Wallace, professor of decision sciences and engineering systems, was appointed to a three-year term as a member of the Board on Infrastructure and the Constructed Environment, National Research Council, National Academies, Washington, D.C.
Pawel Keblinski Pawel Keblinski, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, wrote a paper that has been selected by the editorial board of the Journal of Physics: Condensed Matter as one of the best papers of 2003. The paper, titled “A Quantitative Measure of Medium-Range Order in Amorphous Materials From Transmission Electron Micrographs,” was co-written by R.K. Dash, P.M. Voyles, J.M. Gibson, and M.M.J. Treacy.
Alex Yu, systems administrator of Rensselaer’s Academy of Electronic Media, was named a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) in October 2003. The MVP Program, which began 10 years ago, is a worldwide award and recognition program that strives to identify outstanding individuals around the globe who share a passion for technology and the spirit of community. MVPs are selected by an internal committee of Microsoft professionals within various product groups and Microsoft’s Services division.
Jonathan S. Dordick Jonathan S. Dordick, the Howard P. Isermann ’42 Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, has received the 2003 Enzyme Engineering Award. The award, which has been presented at the International Enzyme Engineering Meeting every two years since 1983, recognizes outstanding achievement in the field of enzyme engineering, through basic or applied research in academia or industry. It represents the highest honor within the fields of biocatalysis and enzyme technology. The award is sponsored by Genencor International.
Martin Glicksman ’57 Martin Glicksman ’57, the John Tod Horton ’52 Professor of Materials Engineering, has been named a fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). AIAA fellows are selected from among those in the field of aerospace who have distinguished themselves and who show strong potential for leadership. According to the AIAA, “Glicksman has significantly advanced the understanding of the solidification process by conducting a series of experiments in microgravity.” Glicksman developed Rensselaer’s Isothermal Dendritic Growth Experiment (IDGE), featuring a series of microgravity crystal growth experiments successfully flown on three space shuttle missions. Applications of the IDGE results will help to improve productivity in the metals industry.
Claire Fraser ’77 Claire Fraser ’77, president of The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) in Rockville, Md., has been elected to a four-year term on the Rensselaer Board of Trustees. A pioneer in comparative genomics, Fraser was named one of Newsweek magazine's “10 to Watch for 2002.” In 2003, she received the E.O Lawrence Award from the U.S. Department of Energy for her “contributions to genome analysis technology, its extension to the understanding of microbial diversity, and its application to human pathogens.” Fraser also is professor of pharmacology and professor of microbiology and tropical medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine. She is a member of the National Research Council committee on countering bioterrorism and on domestic animal genomics.
Rensselaer Magazine: Spring 2004
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