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New Institute director speaks on future of University engineering programs

The Institute of Molecular Engineering will offer between two and four engineering classes to undergraduates during the 2012-13 academic year.

Matthew Tirrell, the inaugural director of the University’s Institute for Molecular Engineering, spoke about the aims of the Institute and the future of engineering students in the College.

Photo: Jamie Manley
Matthew Tirrell, the founding director for the new Institute for Molecular Engineering, discusses his vison for the institue with a group of students during an event hosted by the Triple Helix.

Tirrell began his talk by distinguishing between the disciplines of science and engineering.

Science, he said, “is about discovery, nature, and what happens in the world—naturally—how the world works,” he said, whereas engineering is “man-made: It’s about making things happen.”

Molecular engineering merges the two concepts and applies them on a nano-scale, Tirrell said.

The Institute plans to assemble a core faculty of six professors from within and outside the University by the end of the year, according to Tirrell. Eventually, he plans to expand that number to 25 professors, and will move the Institute into the new William Eckhardt Research Center when construction is completed.

Tirrell said the Institute will offer between two and four engineering classes to undergraduates during the 2012–13 academic year. Research positions should be open to undergraduates in Tirrell’s lab as soon as this spring, with a major devoted to molecular engineering developing over the next four years.

Describing his pragmatic vision for the Institute, Tirrell explained that he and President Robert Zimmer want to stray from the habit of scholars delving inwards, at times to the detriment of society, and instead would like to create solutions to global problems such as energy and health care.

To fulfill this goal, Tirrell said the Institute is looking to hire faculty who “go beyond writing papers and really bring [their] stuff into the world.” He hopes the Institute will do for the sciences what the Harris School and Law School do for public policy and political science—it will give students “a partner looking outward,” creating “world-leading engineers.”