Director's Message

Photo of Professor James Hendler, Director of IDEA
Professor James Hendler, Director of IDEA

In 2012, seeing the emergence of a link between big data, Artificial Intelligence, and data science, I was asked by President Jackson if I would help to create and run a new center here at Rensselaer that would focus on potentiating research in these areas across the entire campus.  In discussions, we decided that instead of creating a separate entity and essentially pulling faculty out of departments to work in this area, we decided to try to create an organization that would be a "virtual center" -- having a minimal footprint and working to encourage faculty and students across the entirety of Rensselaer to gain access to both facilities and knowledge in this area.

As we officially kicked things off in 2013, we named the new entity the Rensselaer Institute for Data Exploration and Applications, that is The Rensselaer IDEA.  With an investment in personnel and equipment, over the next few years we were able to bring in new staff, attract activities by a larger number of faculty, and otherwise create the center of gravity around which campus activities in data, AI and new models of computation could grow.

With the help of founding sponsors including IBM, Mitre, United Health Foundation, and Tokyo Electron, IDEA was able to create a number of projects showing off the power of data in science, engineering, business, social science and architecture -- affecting all of the five schools of Rensselaer (and also interacting with our Rensselaer at Hartford programs).  The Institute has partnered with a number of other campus centers and organizations to help faciliate their research as well.

Since the creation of the Institute, we have been able to help bring in a significant amount of new research funding to the campus, with annual expenditures topping $10M, and a total funding portfolio of over $50M.  As we move into the future, IDEA will continue to grow our programs throughout the campus, bringing facilities for computation and visualization, helping to create new knowledge in data science, and otherwise promoting the importance of data throughout RPI.

We also are extremely excited that in 2019, the IBM-Rensselaer Artificial Intelligence Research Collaboration (AIRC) which had started a year earlier, was brought into IDEA's orbit.  Funding over 20 graduate students and about 15 major projects a year, with potential to grow, the AIRC and IDEA lead campus efforts in data science and AI, and are helping to create projects and courses throughout the university.

I am honored to have been asked to run this important Institute-Wide Research Initiative, and thank Dr. Jackson and the rest of the administration for the support we have received in making it happen.  With the help of my two associate directors, Kristin Bennett and Bulent Yener, a great administrator, Michele Murray, and several senior staff and research scientists, I believe we have become an important part of the research activities on this campus, and look forward to continuing to grow our efforts in this important area of modern science and engineering.

  -Prof James Hendler