Carnegie Mellon University

February 2020 Edition

The legendary Herb Simon, Carnegie Mellon’ s pioneering economist who laid the foundation for the fields of computer science and artificial intelligence, understood that technology isn’t inherently good or evil. Rather, he noted, technology is ultimately a tool that "expands our ways of thinking," which can be leveraged to further any agenda — good or bad. And so, his work included research focused on decision-making to ensure technology has positive effects in society. 

Simon’s legacy continues today at CMU, where we not only create astonishing devices, programs and systems — we also aim to be the university leading at the nexus of technology and humanity. Across campus, we are working to understand the complex motivations, consequences and related impacts that exist in our technology-driven society. Our leadership is rooted in the belief that we have a moral obligation to define the path forward for humanity in the age of disruption. Most importantly, we are working to ensure that no one is left behind in this new economy, an approach that has never been more urgently needed.

Collaboration is in CMU’s DNA, and so faculty and students from many fields are engaged in this work. We know the solutions for our shared future require a diversity of perspectives, from technologists to policy makers, from artists to scientists, and so we are intentionally creating a campus environment to accelerate these efforts. I’m proud that each of the stories included in this issue of the CMU Ambassadors program showcases interdisciplinary partnerships that are advancing our knowledge, solving practical challenges and leading toward a brighter future for humanity. 

  • Our Neuroscience Institute brings together faculty from across five colleges and schools to create groundbreaking discoveries that are unlocking the mysteries of the brain. Jessica Cantlon, professor of developmental neuroscience, recently completed the first neuroimaging study using functional MRI to evaluate biological gender differences with regard to math skills of young children. Her team’s findings: The brains of girls and boys are similar, with no differences in math ability, further debunking the myth that boys are somehow innately better at math than girls.
  • A collaboration among Henny Admoni, Cleotilde Gonzalez and Anita Williams Woolley, faculty in the Robotics Institute, Dietrich College and Tepper School of Business, has received a $2.8 million DARPA grant to develop a new theory for how an AI-based coach can help a team of people  to improve their performance. This cutting-edge partnership of experts in artificial intelligence, cognitive science and organizational science will help us further understand how humans and machines can best work together.
  • Nick Muller, professor of economics, engineering and public policy with appointments in the Tepper School of Business and the College of Engineering, and Karen Clay, professor of economics and public policy in Heinz College, were recently featured in The New York Times for their pioneering work studying air quality. Their study found that for the first time in a decade, U.S. air pollution in the form of fine particulates began to increase in 2016, reversing trends toward cleaner air. Their analysis found that the pollution rise is associated with nearly 10,000 additional premature deaths in the past three years — deaths that could be preventable if policymakers address the issue.
  • Man-made chemicals in our water represent another significant problem for human and planetary health. Many of them resist water treatment methods. Researchers in our Institute for Green Science have opened a new field of sustainable chemistry inspired by human biological processes that break down even the most stubborn micropollutants. These powerful, safe and inexpensive catalysts could revolutionize how we clean water to eliminate harmful chemicals.
  • We’ve moved another step closer to using 3-D printing to create living human organs. Researchers in our Bioengineered Organs Initiative have developed a new technique to 3-D print collagen scaffolds and human heart cells in such fine detail and scale that, for the first time, they can reproduce patient-specific anatomical structure of organs. It’s an important leap forward and can be applied to other biological soft materials beyond collagen.

At the same time as we advance our world-leading research, we also take very seriously the responsibility we have in shaping young lives, so the final partnership I’m pleased to highlight is a philanthropic one that will transform the experience. Highmark Health has provided the lead $35 million grant to support the construction of a comprehensive new health, wellness and athletics center. This facility will bring together under one roof important student well-being services. A signature project of Make Possible: The Campaign for Carnegie Mellon University, it has been a major strategic focus for the university for some time. Highmark Health’s extraordinary commitment, alongside others who have already begun to step forward to aid in this effort, will truly assist all of our students in developing body, mind, and spirit.

In closing, I wish to share an important leadership update. Dan Martin, dean of the College of Fine Arts, has announced he will step down after 10 years leading the college. During his time as dean, Dan’s dedication has served to highlight and celebrate the impactful work of the remarkably diverse and high-ranking programs housed within the College of Fine Arts, increasing the visibility and reputation of CFA. I am grateful for Dan’s exceptional service to the university. >He will continue in his role until the search for a successor is complete, at which time he will return to the faculty in the School of Drama.

As always, thank you for all you do to support and advocate for Carnegie Mellon.< Tris and I hope to see< you in the coming months on campus and in our travels.


Farnam Jahanian
President and Henry L. Hillman President's Chair