A Few Thoughts on the Current Crisis

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

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.

After the COVID-19 infection curve flattens, the larger population will still have little immunity. Therefore, depending on factors we cannot predict, I expect that the precautions and various protocols we already have in place will be continued into the future as we mitigate risk.

After March 24th, only operations and research that are essential will continue, and this includes work that is supporting relevant medical research and local companies that are supplying the medical front lines of the crisis, and the seed research programs that have been funded under the CVRS program that addresses longer term challenges of COVID-19, and some other cases as defined within the OVPR Research Website (https://www.research.psu.edu/covid_labs). The form to apply for essential personnel operating research can be found here (https://www.research.psu.edu/covid_essential_labs).  Because of the nature of the crisis, these priorities are subject to change. If you believe that your work is essential under the present definitions, you will have to justify that with me and your department head.

A Few Thoughts on the Current Crisis

After the changes our team had to adapt to over the last 10 days, the situation became clear and everyone was aware of the new circumstances, a small window for reflection opened for me.  Early on Saturday morning, I walked across campus and noticed that spring flowers were coming up in the garden. It seemed like a typical spring day in Happy Valley. But, of course it was not.  As I approached Old Main, I considered how all of central leadership had risen to the challenge, and how the IT staff had succeeded in bringing all teaching on-line for our students. It made me proud to be a part of this great university.

We are in the middle of a decisive moment, and with it there is a unique opportunity to critically look at and learn from what we are witnessing and hopefully adapt in a way to be better prepared for all future challenges.  A colleague recently reminded me of the Albert Einstein speech (https://clickandsavepublishbusiness.wordpress.com/2012/07/31/the-crisis-according-to-albert-einstein) where he said,

“Let’s not pretend that things will change if we keep doing the same things. A crisis can be a real blessing to any person, to any nation. For all crises bring progress.” 

It is an opportunity for all to see what the important lessons are from this crisis as globally we combat COVID-19. The solutions will come, not just those of a biomedical nature, but those that are learned where science, society, and technology all converge. 

There is so much more to discuss about how materials researchers and the university as a whole can respond to this crisis and to future disasters. This letter begins a series of letters that will go out approximately every two weeks while the crisis lasts. Future letters will discuss topics such as supply chain and manufacturing disruptions, redefining impact, increasing Technology Readiness Levels at the university, new directions and new partnerships in education of our students.

I encourage MRI faculty to respond and contribute their ideas, or even their own essays to this series (send your ideas mri-connect@psu.edu).

Again, I thank you for your tireless efforts for the materials community and for society.

Clive Randall
Director of the Materials Research Institute