Faculty Senate gets 'schooled' on Stanford's independent research entities

Dean of Research Ann Arvin addressed the Faculty Senate, as did the directors of  institutes focused on international studies, environmental issues and energy, and the director of a new program devoted to unlocking the secrets of the brain.

Faculty leadership is a key element in the success of Stanford's independent laboratories, institutes and centers, Ann Arvin, dean of research, told the Faculty Senate at its Feb. 18 meeting. 

"They are specifically structured with tenured faculty as directors, and I think this is a key element of the success of these centers – that is, we have very committed faculty who are interested in being leaders and supporting the interdisciplinary efforts that are encompassed in these laboratories," said Arvin, who is the Lucile Salter Packard Professor in Pediatrics and professor of microbiology and immunology.

The Thursday meeting – the third of winter quarter – was devoted to a discussion of independent labs, institutes and centers, with individual presentations by the directors of three policy institutes and by the director of a new program devoted to unlocking the secrets of the brain.

Arvin defined the independent institutes as formally organized research and scholarship programs that involve faculty from more than one school.

She displayed a chart of the 17 independent labs, institutes and centers that report to her office, including three joint institutes at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. She said they could be grouped thematically into four broad areas: understanding the human condition, protecting the environment, exploring fundamental science and improving human health.

"I believe these institutes constitute two of Stanford's most appealing aspects – the breadth and depth of the interdisciplinary research that's done here and the entrepreneurial spirit of faculty with like-minded vision and research ideas getting together to create an institute around those ideas," said Andrea Goldsmith, the chair of the senate, before introducing the speakers.

Including Arvin, the speakers included:

Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies

Founded in 1987, the Freeman Spogli Institute serves as the university's primary center for innovative multidisciplinary research on major international issues and challenges. The institute encourages, supports and promotes faculty-led research.

Ward W. and Priscilla B. Woods Institute for the Environment

Established in 2004 (and renamed in 2006), the Woods Institute is focused on research in five key areas: climate and energy, land use and conservation, oceans and estuaries, freshwater and the sustainable built environment. It carries out its mission by sponsoring research, infusing science into policies and practices of the business, government and non-governmental organization communities, developing environmental leaders, and serving as a catalyst and a hub for Stanford's interdisciplinary work in environmental research, education and action.

Precourt Institute for Energy

Established in 2009, the Precourt Institute engages in a broad-ranging, interdisciplinary program of research and education on energy – applying fundamental research to the problem of supplying energy in environmentally and economically acceptable ways, using it efficiently and facing the behavioral, social and policy challenges of creating new energy systems for the United States and the world.

Bio-X NeuroVentures

Launched in 2008, Bio-X NeuroVentures, an outgrowth of Stanford's Bio-X Program, promotes collaborations that transcend the field of neuroscience, with the ultimate goal of unlocking secrets of the brain and intelligence. The new program's mission is to invent, develop and disseminate new technologies and science, and to create incentives for faculty to engage in projects with unusual potential to change the way academic science is done. The projects are large-scale enterprises that need rapid development and are beyond the scope of any one department.

The full minutes of the Feb. 18 meeting, including the question-and-answer session that followed the presentations, will be available on the Faculty Senate website next week.