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Center for Cognition, Communication, and Culture

Remarks by
Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.
President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

CCC Center Space, EMPAC
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Troy, New York

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Thank you, Professor Dordick.

With the adoption of the Rensselaer Plan over a decade ago, we committed ourselves to “doing new things,” moving into biotechnology, nanotechnology, media and the arts and their intersection with science and technology, and other leading edge disciplines. Our Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, the Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations, and this building, the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, represent our determination, our daring, and our vision to provide platforms to undergird significant new research thrusts.

All of these facilities were designed to support working across disciplines as a guiding principle. Rensselaer, as you know, became a “polytechnic” institute by incorporating science into engineering preparation and practice.  Achievements like the Brooklyn Bridge would not have been possible without a determination to work across academic boundaries – even in the 19th century.

 We continue to stretch the limits of science and technology at Rensselaer. The center we are inaugurating today — Center for Cognition, Communication, and Culture (CCC) — is an important new endeavor that pushes interdisciplinary research even further. The CCC brings together researchers from such diverse arenas as the arts, design, science, engineering, humanities, and social sciences to meet current social and technological challenges at the intersection of the cognitive, cyber, and physical worlds. In fact, the work already is in progress.

Under the CCC Director, Associate Professor of Architecture Jonas Braasch, investigators from across the Institute are coming together to explore research in:

  • cross-modal displays (which seek to employ all human senses in understanding and exploring data),
  • synthetic characters (such as work with interactive narrative and embodied conversational agents), and
  • augmented reality (data overlaid on the real world as related, for example, to computer vision and to the use of narrative and gaming theory in research and education).

The Center already has received support from the National Science Foundation Major Research Infrastructure (MRI) competition ($300K, project starts Oct. 1, 2012), and an award ($5,500) from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation to host a small symposium on Assistive Technology.

The CCC also will host a new Emergent Reality Lab—a large-scale CAVE Virtual Reality System. The system will be located in the Rensselaer Technology Park, and will support immersive video and audio projection.

In a few minutes, you will hear about three CCC projects from the professors who are leading them.

By design, all CCC projects have leaders from at least two different departments. This stimulates the cross-pollination of ideas, technologies, and perspectives that  leads to innovation. It may even lead to the establishment of new, vital, 21st century disciplines – with fresh approaches that will address the complex global challenges our society faces.

The CCC also will help to bring about cultural change at Rensselaer. The CCC is not part of EMPAC per se, but its location here at EMPAC creates a bridgehead to engage faculty and students across the university in the kind of projects for which EMPAC is designed.

EMPAC — meaning both the programs it supports and the building that houses them — provides a space, a justification, and an agenda for a holistic perspective, bringing together science, engineering, and the arts.

EMPAC is a point of origin for creativity in culture and the arts, and for creativity in research. The creativity that is embedded in the arts – as a critical form of cultural expression - gives us a sense of who we are and how we relate to other people in just our pure appreciation of beauty. If we really intend to live out our mantra of “Why Not Change the World?” — in the kinds of graduates we produce, then we want to tease out and nurture their creativity. Creativity for most of our students will be expressed in scientific and technological ways. But it is creativity.

EMPAC is a point of intersection of technology and the arts, and for artists with scientists. Even if one has a very defined problem – an engineering or architectural design problem – there are flights of intuition – of thought – that have to come into play because, by definition, what one is trying to resolve does not have an answer. So one has to be able to take those kinds of creative leaps. But putting them together, or building them just with analytical tools, is not enough. The arts do this for us. Therefore, EMPAC is a gathering point, a nexus, because it is a platform that runs all of this together.

As CCC brings together faculty in new ways, and builds relationships and new collaboration skills, a new cadre of researchers will find ways to work together that will make the best use of these facilities.

Today, you will get a sample of the hopes, dreams, and goals we have for the CCC. But what you will see only hints at the possibilities before us. The most astounding and transformative discoveries and inventions owe their origins to serendipity.

Reaching across the boundaries of academic fields is something people of the Rensselaer community do as part of their daily routines. It happens spontaneously, and it, also, is designed into our work in places such as the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies and EMPAC, which encourage informal get-togethers and expedite serendipity. The CCC pushes this notion further and is framed by promising new questions and points of exploration, and I am eager to see what will result.

Thank you.


Source citations are available from the division of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Statistical data contained herein were factually accurate at the time it was delivered. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute assumes no duty to change it to reflect new developments.

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