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Transforming Research to Transform the World

Milan MrksichThe world is constantly shifting, with challenges and opportunities arising every day. Yesterday’s solutions may no longer be effective in today’s environment. We need new technology to battle climate change, new social policies to build stronger communities and new biomedical breakthroughs to save lives and improve well-being.

At Northwestern, we transform what we’ve learned yesterday to create whole new avenues for tomorrow. Our research enterprise is agile, adaptive and innovative, powered by partnerships among leading thinkers across disciplines. We know that blazing new trails and solving complex problems often means bringing together teams of brilliant people from across the University to collaborate.

By strategic design, a lot of this work happens within our 35 University-wide research institutes and centers (URICs). These hubs are the engines of our cross-disciplinary work and attract the best minds from across our schools to take on the biggest challenges, using insights and methods at the intersection of different fields.

Reporting to the Office for Research (OR) and reviewed annually, a URIC often begins as a faculty-led proposal, one that must meet strict requirements to become an institute or center, a determination that OR, the Provost’s Office and the appropriate deans make. These units must address a major societal challenge that is also a University strategic priority. They also must demonstrate an approach to their work that spans our schools and departments. At Northwestern, URICs have been a preferred choice of self-assembled faculty teams to conduct their interdisciplinary research. In FY22, for example, some 750 Northwestern faculty members from 105 departments and 13 schools participated in URIC research, which was supported by nearly 300 research awards. Most of our core facilities — shared instrumentation and expert Ph.D.-level staffing — also resides in these institutes and centers.

As launching pads for many of our new startup ventures, the URICs also are essential to Northwestern’s research translation and entrepreneurship, bringing our breakthroughs into the market and to those who can benefit most from them. As well, exciting work in the URICs attracts new global talent to our campus, elevating Northwestern’s profile while delivering results that increase our understanding of the universe, our planet, society and ourselves. Equally important, our institutes and centers are part of the University’s teaching mission, and many URICs also engage in outreach efforts to share our research with the larger community.

University-wide talent, society-wide impact

Northwestern’s institutes and centers examine the farthest reaches of the cosmos and the deepest interior of matter — and much of what lies between these extreme scales.

Some, like the Program of African Studies, the Institute for Policy Research and the Materials Research Center, began decades ago and continue to thrive long after exerting a pioneering impact in their fields and beyond. Others, like our Center for Synthetic Biology, are more recent additions, but have quickly become recognized destinations for the world’s best researchers working at the cutting edge to create sustainable chemicals, next-generation materials or targeted therapeutics. Other enduring examples, like the Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics, the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern, the Chemistry of Life Processes Institute and the International Institute for Nanotechnology have been leaders redefining how we understand the universe, how we meet the climate crisis and how we make breakthrough discoveries about disease and bring innovations into the clinical setting. 

Fueling the discoveries that change the world

We’ve created a series of videos to promote how our URICs are transforming research and increasing the University’s global reputation. I invite you to explore and share this work widely.

The videos also highlight research fundraising priorities and show how targeted philanthropy will advance breakthroughs in our institutes and centers. With gifts of all sizes, from annual support, such as from the Research Innovation and Impact Circle, to gifts that support named endowments, such as the Querrey InQbation Lab, we are funding our needs in basic science and translational capacity. Philanthropic donations make a huge impact, including as seed funding for cutting-edge research, support for postdoctoral researchers and summer undergraduate research, resources for ultramodern scientific equipment purchases and more.

I hope you, like me, feel a sense of excitement and pride in the extraordinary advances Northwestern is making each day.