Carnegie Mellon University

This edition of the CMU Ambassadors was completed before the heartbreaking passing of Dr. Jerry Cohon, Carnegie Mellon’s eighth president. Read Dr. Jahanian’s message to the community and Dr. Cohon’s obituary.

“[Carnegie Mellon] is a place that really gets the relationship between cool, interesting ideas and technologies, and the why of it all… How they make us safer, and how they help us address issues like equity and climate.”

— U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg

Dear CMU Ambassadors,

It should be no surprise that global, national and regional leaders have for decades relied on Carnegie Mellon’s foresight and expertise to guide policies and advance key initiatives. Recently, though, it feels as if the pace of our interactions is accelerating. Why is that? I hypothesize that during this critical juncture for our modern society, a time when the world is adapting to — and preparing itself for — a rapidly changing future, CMU and its faculty members are at the center of creating solutions to the most challenging issues of our time, from AI innovation and ethics to pandemic data science and modeling. As a result, our experts and their pioneering solutions to improve the world are in higher demand.

Case in point: U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg traveled to our Pittsburgh campus in January to take part in a town hall with CMU faculty and students about a range of topics. He told the audience he had been eager to visit us since his agency’s announcement last year that CMU would lead Safety21, a $20 million national University Transportation Center to ensure technologies are developed and deployed with safety, equity and sustainability in mind. CMU students engaged Secretary Buttigieg in a robust discussion, and in his conversation with Safety21 Director and Professor Raj Rajkumar, he was bullish about his expectations for this six-university collaboration: “We believe your insights will help us save lives.”

In January, I hosted Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro on our campus for the third time in the past year, where he was joined by leaders from labor and the public and private sectors, as well as Rick Siger, the commonwealth’s Secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development. Our robotics and advanced manufacturing facility at Mill 19 served as Gov. Shapiro’s backdrop to announce the commonwealth’s new economic development strategy, which I endorsed as “ambitious, inspiring and incredibly timely” in a special opinion piece for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. His administration selected the location to highlight how our investments in the innovation ecosystem and our collaboration with the surrounding Hazelwood neighborhood and its residents are keys to sustainable economic growth.

Mill 19 is adjacent to our next investment at the Hazelwood Green redevelopment: the Robotics Innovation Center (RIC). Construction is now underway for this incredible new $100 million facility, for which we broke ground in December and which was made possible by a lead gift from the Richard King Mellon Foundation. When it opens next year, it will add 150,000 square feet of research space that will include an indoor robot test facility, an open-layout wet lab, reconfigurable high bays, and a 1.5-acre, large-footprint outdoor lab with a 6,000-square-foot drone cage. The RIC represents a significant expansion of our space and capacity for research, development and testing for robotics, including related fields such as artificial intelligence and automation.

AI, data science and automation are at the heart of our future of science initiative, which aims to revolutionize scientific discovery. A new AI-driven system created by researchers in the Mellon College of Science and College of Engineering has designed, planned and executed a chemistry experiment for the first time. Using large language models, Coscientist executed the entirety of the experimental process from a simple, plain language prompt — then, in partnership with Emerald Cloud Lab, which is helping us to open our CMU Cloud Lab later this year, demonstrated that the experiment could be completed in an automated, robotic lab. This breakthrough is just the beginning for how these technologies will completely transform how fundamental science is done in this new era.

Computational biology — an interdisciplinary field that utilizes algorithms, data and computer models to increase our understanding of life and develop tools to diagnose and treat disease — is another major component of our vision for the future of science. Trustee Ray Lane and his wife, Stephanie, have committed $25 million to name and endow our boundary-breaking Computational Biology Department, and to provide funding for its future home in our Richard King Mellon Hall of Sciences, which is due to open in 2027. This support will advance our researchers’ work to make life-changing discoveries and create lifesaving treatments.

A new program, the CMU Prison Education Project, provides a unique opportunity for insight for both our Tartan students and incarcerated individuals learning with them. One day each week, 15 CMU students travel to the State Correctional Institute at Somerset, Pennsylvania, where they’re taught by Dietrich College faculty alongside “inside” students. While taking classes in psychology, history or English, they’re also making connections, breaking down stereotypes and learning about the U.S. prison system. The students in this unusual partnership have called their experiences transformational.

No Ambassadors edition would be complete without sharing news from our community of artists. Our campus’ physical environment is enriched by the numerous installations made possible through our commitment to incorporating public art into all new construction. The latest is “Making Way,” Jessica Stockholder’s bold work that is innovatively integrated into the entranceway and community spaces within the new Alan Magee Scaife Hall of Engineering. I hope you will experience this striking installation the next time you are on campus, perhaps during Spring Carnival, April 11-14!

And finally, I want to shine a light on four alumni who recently were honored with Emmy Awards: Judith Light, for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series; Noah Mitz and Michael Berger, for Outstanding Lighting Design/Lighting Direction for a Variety Series; and Zachary Halley for Outstanding Television Movie. Congratulations!

As always, I am truly grateful for all that you do in support of our Tartan community and to advance Carnegie Mellon’s important mission. I look forward to seeing you soon!


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