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Big Challenges, Big Ideas: Stanford Engineering Year in Review

Big Challenges, Big Ideas: Stanford Engineering Year in Review

Letter from the Dean of Stanford Engineering.
January 7, 2013


As Dean, I am frequently asked, what is Stanford Engineering’s secret? What has made the school so successful, not just in recent decades but over its 87-year history?

There are many things I could point to — our world-class faculty, the quality of our students, our technical facilities and our proximity to Silicon Valley all come to mind. The secret in truth, is all of the above and yet none at the same time.

To me, the true essence of Stanford Engineering is ideas — namely big ideas.

Stanford is not afraid to look at the profound technical challenges of our time — environmental sustainability, clean energy, human health, information technology and innovation at the nanoscale — and to pursue bold solutions to them. Our research is aimed at the heart of problems that will need to be solved if humankind is to continue to flourish on Earth.

In these four contexts, it is possible to look back at 2011-2012 and to put the accomplishments of the School of Engineering in perspec-tive. Engineers at Stanford are forging ahead in all these areas.

In environmental sustainability, Stanford engineers are working to ensure fresh water resources for the nation. In pursuing clean energy, they are coaxing microbes to make better biofuels. In human health, our scientists are training computers to evaluate cancers and turning DNA into a form of rewritable digital data storage. At the nanoscale, they are illuminating physics at the thresholds of matter and devising faster, more efficient data communications systems. In information technology, they are redefining networking infrastructure.

Often these advances come from surprising places that demonstrate Stanford’s emphasis on interdisciplinary research — in one example, researchers in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics developed a cost-effective touchscreen Braille writer for the blind.

In short, the faculty and students of Stanford Engineering are doing great things.

In hindsight, I am struck not just by the tremendous breadth and depth of the accomplishments of Stanford Engineering’s faculty and students, but most profoundly by the potential impact of their work. Great engineering is where big challenges are met with even bigger ideas. Nowhere is this more apparent than at the Stanford School of Engineering.

We hope you enjoy reading about our big ideas from the past year and that you continue to take pride in all that Stanford Engineering has come to represent.


James D. “Jim” Plummer