Dear MRI Community,
This correspondence in the series, Learning from Crisis: a Materials Perspective, addresses the planning and collective responsibility we have as we prepare for ramping up research at Penn State. We have been learning from others in real time how to mitigate transmission, and now the time comes to implement our strategies to ramp up research. The next steps were defined from many hours and weeks of detailed planning, while respecting the sars-cov-2 and its virulent nature that can threaten our ambitions and plans. We do have the reality of returning with the practice of sterilization, social distancing, and wearing masks to support our endeavor. But I believe that as researchers we are aware of the potential threat of a second wave. We have the advantages of already having a structure and culture towards safety in our laboratories, and I also believe our collective concern for success will provide us with behaviors and practices that will bode well for our safety. However, there are social and travel behaviors beyond our laboratories that are also a threat we must be conscious of. Individually, we can adapt in a knowledgeable way and be concerned with how this impacts our colleagues and families and adjust our behavior to minimize transmission in an unwitting way.
Dear MRI Community,
This is the sixth in the series of letters that are intended to stimulate thoughts for materials researchers to consider emerging trends and opportunities within, and the other side of, the COVID crisis. Here I will discuss the interplay of science, technology, politics, energy, and environment, a dangerous mine field in so many ways. After all, these are all complex topics and often drive polarizing and passionate viewpoints. These fields are all interconnected and impact us all. The present crisis is a major perturbation to all these domains, and we must carefully consider what trends and implications there will be that a materials researcher will have to adapt to in the near future. We can be absolutely assured that there will be major changes regarding transforming the status quo we enjoyed over the last decades.
This is the latest in a series of letters to Penn State’s Materials Community meant to provide discussion, concepts, and strategic thinking that could aid our preparedness during and after the COVID-19 crisis. In this letter I consider examples of Penn State leaders and strategies within the physical sciences that successfully navigated several global crises. In doing so, they laid the foundations for our transition into a world-class university. It is my hope that we can all learn from these inspirational leaders and past crises as we navigate our way through current world challenges.
Before the COVID-19 crisis the world was positioning towards a fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0. The fourth industrial revolution will embrace breakthroughs in science and technology across diverse fields, including nanotechnology, quantum computing, biotechnology, distributed energy management, robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), big data, the internet of things, industrial internet of things, health care for the aged, fifth generation wireless (5G), additive manufacturing, and autonomous transportation.
Within a few recent weeks, the university has adapted to a completely different operational mode to serve our communities. We have risen to the crisis. Examples of this are the launching of new research initiatives directed at COVID-19 in the form of three rounds of seed grants. Here, MRI partnered with the other institutes -- Huck, SSRI, IEE, and ICDS. We have mainly supported efforts in virus diagnostics to aid rapid testing and nano-aerosol technologies for targeted drug delivery to combat lung tissue inflammation.
In modern commerce, a sophisticated and efficient interconnected global network provides just-in-time production and delivery, minimizing labor, handling, and storage costs. This optimization was continually developed with digital data exchange processes enabling raw material supply, production, storage, and distribution. The U.S. industrial giants that previously were vertically integrated companies, restructured or evolved into OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) and pushed component and sub system and assembly manufacturing to lower labor-cost regions. Some of these manufacturers of components held on in the USA, but many more were offshored. The labor force in the U.S. then was pulled into the service sector. It is noteworthy that before 1940 the manufacturing sector was over 35% of the economy and today it is 11%. The sophistication, optimization, and effectiveness of this supply chain has been profitable, and much wealth was built from it, but it carried an unforeseen vulnerability. The global economy on which this was built is now highly compromised and shaken under a global pandemic.
Dear MRI Community,
As we make a collective effort towards saving lives by minimizing transmission of the coronavirus, we are also thinking about how to contribute to enabling essential medical equipment, supplies and testing.
These last three weeks, we have responded by transitioning the MRI community to promote safe practices, including hand sanitizers placed throughout the building, communications and signage to raise awareness of the seriousness of the situation, limiting interactions in the common areas, and conducting separation in laboratories within the Millennium Science Complex. I want to thank everyone who joined in these efforts.
With the rapidly evolving circumstances regarding COVID-19 and our focus on social distancing and the health and well-being of the community, the Office of the Senior Vice President for Research, in consultation with the Vice Dean for Research and Graduate Studies in the College of Medicine, issued revised standards related to laboratory research. Specifically, principal investigators should immediately begin preparing for all on-campus research to be reduced to essential research-related activities only by March 24. Read the full announcement »»
Our objective is to define essential life-sustaining research and support of essential services for the MRI community. In core facilities this means all reservations must be made by contacting staff starting midnight 3/20/2020. Details to follow from the individual facilities. Overall, the facilities and building may close to users at any time subject to additional directives from university leadership and governance.
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