Wednesday, August 21, 2019

MSU New Faculty Welcome 2019

These are excerpts from remarks I gave yesterday at a reception for new faculty.
Good afternoon and Welcome!

We are so pleased that you are here at Michigan State University. You have joined a great research university, at a very exciting time.

I’m told I only have 10 minutes in which to say something about the deep and varied research enterprise here at MSU. That’s only enough time for a high level overview, so let me start with some big picture numbers. Each year the National Science Foundation publishes its Higher Education Research and Development (or HERD) report on the total research expenditures of all US universities. MSU’s total HERD number has grown from about $500M to $700M in the last seven years. We’ve advanced faster than any other Big Ten university, and now rank 32nd in the US among all universities.

MSU is ahead of Rutgers, UT Austin, Illinois (UIUC), Purdue, Arizona, Maryland, Indiana, Iowa, ASU, Colorado (Boulder), and UVA.

Based on the HERD comparison data, MSU ranks 1st in the nation in combined Department of Energy and National Science Foundation research expenditures.

Almost all of the schools ranked above us (and many below) have major research hospitals. In those cases, the medical research component of the HERD total often exceeds the rest of campus combined. At MSU, about ~$100M of our total comes from NIH. We still have significant room to advance.

There are only a few schools without a major medical complex that rank above us -- let me mention two: UC Berkeley $771M (top public university in the US; home of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab) and MIT $952M (home of Lincoln Laboratory, a major defense research lab).

MSU, UC Berkeley, and MIT are all research powerhouses. But we are similar in another important way: all three are land-grant universities. As land-grant universities, we pride ourselves on making breakthroughs in basic research, and applying those breakthroughs to make life better for the entire world.

... MSU is home to the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, a scientific user facility for the Office of Nuclear Physics in the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy.

FRIB will be operational in 2021 and will deliver the highest intensity beams of rare isotopes available anywhere in the world. Estimates of the total investment in this project are roughly $1 billion dollars. Operated by MSU, FRIB will enable scientists to make discoveries about the properties of rare isotopes (which are unusual forms of the elements) in order to better understand the physics of nuclei, nuclear astrophysics, and the fundamental interactions of nature. It will also produce practical applications for society, including in medicine, homeland security, and industry.

... Another recent development is a new department called Computational Mathematics, Science, and Engineering or CMSE. This department was planned, authorized, and operational in only three years—quite a feat in academia. I often compare “startup time” (the fast pace at which things are accomplished in Silicon Valley) to “academic time” (i.e., nothing gets done, other than committee meetings, and a no-brainer project takes a decade to complete), but with CMSE this was a case of something on campus getting done in startup time. CMSE is one of very few such departments in the country -- it is focused on data science, machine learning, advanced computation and related applications, but is not a traditional CS department. It supports many of the new efforts on campus that require the analysis of large data sets and development of new tools and algorithms. Researchers in this department utilize datasets drawn from astrophysics, business analytics, mobile data, materials science, human and plant genomics, and many other areas. The department was conceived as fundamentally interdisciplinary -- bringing together experts in computation with subject matter experts in areas of science which are becoming increasingly reliant on data.

I can’t help mentioning a couple of big data examples related to my own research: we’ve created a compute resource with more than 500k human genomes, open to interested investigators on campus. All of the data is stored at our High Performance Computing Center or HPCC. Using this data, our collaboration demonstrated for the first time that machine learning applied to large genomic datasets could produce accurate predictors for complex human traits. We can now predict adult human height from genome alone, with accuracy roughly 1 inch. The predictor uses ~20k genetic variants distributed throughout the genome. Predictors of complex disease risk, for conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, schizophrenia, and breast cancer, have been developed and broadly replicated in out-of-sample tests. I recently participated in a meeting at No 10 Downing Street in the UK, to plan a project which will genotype 5 million individuals through their National Healthcare System. This is only the beginning for genomic Precision Medicine.

... If there is a problem -- tell us about it! -- whether it has to do with grant submissions, or startup incubation, or child care, food options on campus, your functional or dysfunctional department. We’re here to fix things, and to provide the best possible environment for your teaching, research, and creative activity.

Only one in a thousand people in our society have the privilege to engage full time in discovery -- in curiosity driven research -- for the benefit of humankind. You are part of that lucky one in a thousand, and we are here to help you succeed.

The bar has been set very high, but with the resources and new opportunities here at MSU, your potential is limitless.

My very best wishes to you all :-)

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