Campus & Community

Science Task Force work progresses through fall

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Retreats elaborate on spring reports

Harvard’s Task Force on Science and Technology, which last spring outlined a future for science at the University characterized by innovative, interdisciplinary initiatives, is nearing the conclusion of its work that will bring these broader ideas into clearer focus.

Through a series of meetings this fall, the task force has fleshed out the broad suggestions it made in its May report, which identified research areas that were intellectually promising and built on or expanded Harvard’s strengths in certain areas. The task force had also suggested that some of these initiatives might be good candidates for location in Allston.

The task force was one of four established by Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers in fall 2003 that examined different aspects of University life in relation to a future Allston campus. The other task forces focused on undergraduate life, the professional schools, and culture, transportation, housing, and retail.

The science and technology task force’s work is centered on examining science across Harvard and identifying appropriate priorities for the University’s several science hubs: in Cambridge, in Longwood, at the teaching hospitals, and in coming years, in Allston.

Task force member and Astronomy Professor Alyssa Goodman said the task force process has been rewarding for her personally, enabling her to learn about many other fields of research.

The task force examined the future of science across Harvard, not just Allston, Goodman said.

“My hope for the Allston-related expansion of science and engineering at Harvard is that it will allow for more of the kind of informal interdisciplinary exchange that the task force members have engaged in,” Goodman said. “I do feel lucky to have had this opportunity, and I only wish there were a way for all my science colleagues to appreciate what others are doing in a similar way.”

The task force’s final recommendations, expected in a report to President Lawrence H. Summers in January, are expected to identify initial scientific priorities for the University – in Cambridge and in Boston – and recommendations for activities that should be developed first in Allston.

Since May, the task force has commissioned teams to develop promising proposals into more in-depth white papers. The white papers delineated critical components that are needed for each initiative to succeed, including the kind of physical space needed, faculty requirements, and academic courses. The papers also examined how these initiatives differ from similar efforts elsewhere and how they would fit in with existing programs and projects at Harvard. Task force members discussed the ideas presented in these papers during three retreats, one each in September, October, and November.

In September, task force members reviewed proposals on engineering, neuroscience, global health, quantitative social and health science, innovative computing, and systems biology. The October retreat featured discussions on the origins of life in the universe, stem cells, quantum science and engineering, chemical biology, a microbial sciences initiative, global infectious diseases, and a collaborative sciences initiative. In November, a center for biomedical translation, translational immunology, and health systems design and health policy were discussed.

A meeting to finalize the task force’s recommendations is scheduled for Dec. 17.

“The outcome of this process will be an initial set of scientific priorities for the University and for Allston more specifically,” said Provost Steven E. Hyman, co-chair of the task force. “This process will also serve as an important basis for setting University-wide development priorities for initiatives that are deemed to be strong and exciting, even if they do not require new space in Allston, Cambridge, or Longwood.”