Falling in line with Princeton’s new informal motto, “In the nation’s service and the service of humanity,” Dean for Research Pablo Debenedetti spoke of some of the school’s proudest innovations over the past year.
“When we gather here to celebrate Princeton innovation, we celebrate risk and unpredictability,” said Debenedetti. “We’re also celebrating the inventors; we applaud those who have the audacity to imagine, the playfulness to tinker, the patience to build and the rigor to test.”
Professor of Molecular Biology Ileana Cristea, for example, worked with a team to discover a new way to monitor mitochondrial activity, which could lead to advancements in treating diseases and cancer.
“We want to integrate research with what’s happening in the innovation sector,” said Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber. He added that by learning about the questions that matter in the world through collaboration, they get insight into how to produce innovations that can truly make a difference.
Each speaker echoed that the pursuit of knowledge is the defining characteristic of the university, and that pursuit takes more than one office. That’s why Princeton focuses so much on both internal and external collaboration; through interdisciplinary teamwork, they can more effectively carry out their motto and use their knowledge to benefit humanity.
Sixteen months ago, the school founded the Princeton Entrepreneurship Council, opening an office space downtown known as the “Entrepreneurial Hub” where students, alumni and faculty come together to work and learn from each other, giving students a range of opportunities to network with entrepreneurs in a variety of fields.
As Provost David S. Lee put it, the hub “moves ideas from whiteboard to dashboard.” The council facilitates the ecosystem in a way that turns knowledge into both life-changing and life-saving innovation.
The keynote speaker was Emily Carter, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Gerhard R. Andlinger Professor in Energy and the Environment. She’s been with Princeton since 2004, and in addition to her professorship, she conducts molecular research and has numerous patents to her name.
Carter took the opportunity to highlight the program’s past initiatives while also looking ahead. She specifically noted how in the past decade, Princeton has shifted to a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach that’s helped expand the capabilities of their research.
"Princeton has the best ecosystem in the world in terms of being able to address really thorny problems that require expertise from all sorts of disciplines," she said.
She also noted that within the past ten years, engineering interest on campus has grown significantly, representing over 25% of Princeton students. In addition, she proudly added that over 35% of the undergraduate engineering population is female, which is double the national average. Still, she admitted the program has a long way to go.
“Those numbers aren’t good enough – we need to get that number to 50 percent,” she said. “Same goes for underrepresented minorities. Those students have so much to offer us in terms of perspective on how our technology and innovation would affect their communities.”
Carter also addressed the areas in which she hopes to spark even more research and progress, specifically mentioning bioengineering, computer science and also urban resilience.
She said by 2050, half the world’s population will live in cities, and so it’s important right now to start thinking of how we can build sustainable, resilient cities. Through Princeton’s internal expertise in the field, as well as through interdisciplinary collaboration, she feels confident they can continue to imagine solutions for the big questions of the future.
“In planning these initiatives, we developed a three-word mission statement,” she said. “Create. Learn. Serve.”
With the university now committed to both building a campus-wide ecosystem around entrepreneurship and innovation, as well as fostering external collaboration, enthusiasm for the university’s many innovative accomplishments was on full display. It was an evening of celebration.