New university report recommends science priorities for the decade ahead

An illustration of a brain with neurons highlighted.

A university committee has made strategic recommendations to bolster Yale’s position as a leading global research university and nurture scientific discoveries with the potential to improve the world. The report recommends bold priorities for investment and changes to organizational structure.

The University Science Strategy Committee (USSC) recently presented its findings to President Peter Salovey, Provost Ben Polak, and other university leaders. President Salovey has identified science as one of Yale’s top priorities.

For centuries, Yale faculty members and students have advanced scientific research and education. We will invest strategically in science and engineering in order to continue to push the frontier of human knowledge and discovery,” said President Salovey.

Scott Strobel, Henry Ford II Professor of Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry and Chemistry, chaired the committee. Committee faculty members were Daniel A. Colón-Ramos, Alison Galvani, Steven Girvin, Arthur Horwich, Jay Humphrey, Akiko Iwasaki, Mark Lemmon, Scott Miller, Anna Marie Pyle, Peter Schiffer, David Skelly, Daniel Spielman, and Paul Turner. Additional committee members were Tim Pavlis and Patricia Pedersen.

The USSC spent months gathering information prior to making its recommendations. The committee solicited input at both the individual and departmental levels, including one-on-one interviews with faculty members and deans, and more than a dozen faculty panel sessions. The committee met with more than 100 faculty members, who have primary appointments in nearly 50 departments and five schools. Each science department or school also was invited to prepare information for consideration.

The committee did a fantastic job,” said Polak. “They gathered input from all across the campus and have proposed big ideas that will inspire people throughout the university and the world.”

Impact and feasibility were the two overarching criteria used by the committee as it evaluated ideas. Associated with each of these broad criteria, the committee considered a series of questions in its deliberations, although no single question served as a litmus test for evaluation.

Cross-cutting investments

The committee recognized that important science at Yale will emerge from all quarters of the university, and cannot fit into a single short list of ideas. Therefore, the USSC suggested four cross-cutting investments that would support all STEM fields across the university:

Graduate student support

Graduate students help drive discovery through research they conduct within the training environment of their faculty mentors. The USSC recommends a major investment in the funding of STEM graduate education.

Diversity across STEM at Yale

Improved diversity and inclusion is critical to society and leads to improved outcomes for laboratories, academic departments, and individual research. The committee recommends initiatives throughout the STEM pipeline that will allow Yale to further promote and nurture diversity in all scientific enterprises.

Instrumentation development

This investment would support the development of high-capacity, centralized instrumentation and engineering facilities to enable the novel measurements at the frontier of discovery across STEM fields.

Core facilities

The committee recommends strategic investments to better organize, coordinate, and support and expand core facilities that play a critical role in innovation and interdisciplinary science.

Top priority ideas

Next, the USSC recommended five ideas for top priority investment:

Integrative data science and its mathematical foundations

The world is currently undergoing a data revolution comparable to the industrial revolution in its potential impact. The volume, speed, and availability of data is transforming information and knowledge production, and no aspect of society today will be untouched, from biomedical and environmental questions to challenges in neuroscience, social science, and basic science.

The USSC recommends investing in a university-wide initiative that will facilitate the integration of data science and mathematical modeling research across the campus. It would include investments in faculty, programming, recruitment, technical support, and space.

Quantum science, engineering, and materials

Science and technology associated with quantum-mechanical phenomena have emerged as a new frontier of fundamental knowledge about how the universe works. Furthermore, quantum mechanics now represent a powerful new set of resources that can be exploited to remarkable advance in an array of cutting-edge applications, such as quantum computing, data security, and more advanced sensors and materials.

The committee recommends the expansion of existing Yale quantum efforts at a scale that will attract international attention and place Yale in a position of broad intellectual leadership.

Neuroscience, from molecules to mind

Some of the great intellectual questions of our time involve the disciplines of neuroscience: What is a memory? How does the brain self-assemble during development? What are the bases for complex thought, emotion, language, and behavior? What goes wrong in neurodevelopmental, neurodegenerative, and psychiatric diseases?

The committee recommends integrating Yale’s intellectual, academic, and clinical resources across the neurosciences into a broader university initiative. Investment would combine Yale’s strengths in neurological, neurodegenerative, neuropsychiatric, and neurodevelopmental diseases, and imaging, with new opportunities in theoretical neuroscience, disease modeling, and artificial intelligence/machine learning.

Inflammation science

Inflammation — the body’s reaction to harmful changes or events — has emerged as a key factor in the diseases that comprise the top causes of death in the United States. However, a precise and thorough understanding of inflammation science has yet to emerge. There remains a need for an integrated new scientific domain that combines currently disconnected biological disciplines.

The USSC recommends investment in an interdisciplinary approach to inflammation science that will study the fundamental principles of inflammation and its roles in a broad range of human diseases. It would include existing faculty, new hires, visiting scientists, and access to technology platforms.

Environmental and evolutionary sciences

The Earth is speeding through a profound transformation with impacts that include global climate change, rapid loss and redistribution of biodiversity, the spread of vector-borne diseases, deforestation, over-exploitation of natural resources, alteration of biogeochemical cycles, and the rapid evolution of organisms. At the same time, technological advances are enabling the integration of scientific thinking across environmental and evolutionary sciences.

The USSC recommends that Yale invest in a university-wide initiative that unifies the evolutionary and environmental sciences. The initiative would provide for new faculty, support more collaboration among faculty and students across departments and schools, and facilitate access to big data and new analytical techniques.

Additional priority ideas

The committee also noted five additional priority ideas. The USSC did not offer specific recommendations for investment in these areas, but noted it would support additional investment if additional resources are available:

  • Climate solutions
  • Computer science
  • Cancer research
  • Precision medicine
  • Regenerative medicine

The committee’s report also made several recommendations for organizational structures to support science at Yale.

Yale University leaders will continue to gather input for the next few months as they work with faculty members to act on the USSC’s recommendations.

I am grateful to Scott Strobel and the other members of the committee for the considerable time and effort they devoted to this important and challenging work, and to all those from the Yale community who shared their expertise and wisdom with the committee,” said President Salovey. “I look forward to working with colleagues across campus to plan the implementation of the committee’s recommendations and to build on our extraordinary foundation in the sciences — and the arts, humanities, and social sciences — to lead the charge toward a better future.”

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