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Cluster Initiative

As a pillar of President Hanlon's academic vision for Dartmouth, the cluster initiative will extend Dartmouth's impact on the world through interdisciplinary faculty teams who collaborate at the leading edge of discovery.

Through faculty collaboration and targeted hiring, clusters will provide the critical mass and spectrum of expertise necessary to shape and advance the understanding of complex problems, emerging issues, and future societal challenges. Faculty hiring will improve the diversity of the faculty and establish cohorts of scholars focused on new intellectual themes or questions that cut across disciplines, departments, and schools. Cluster themes will provide the basis for new courses and curricula as well as new research opportunities. Clusters will draw on existing strengths and emerging areas of discovery to establish points of distinction, invigorating intellectual engagement and enhancing Dartmouth's impact in the world.

Following an initial call for proposals, several clusters are being developed (see below for descriptions):

These are in addition to the Neukom Cluster in Computational Science, which secured gift funds last Spring.

Ice, Climate and Energy

The Arctic is now warming at a rate twice the planetary average, giving rise to temperatures there higher than in over 14,000 years. Trans-Arctic shipping and recovery of Arctic natural resources will become feasible in the near term. Assessing and predicting change and developing innovative engineering for regions of freely-moving sea ice, deglaciation, and shifting permafrost in an environmentally sensitive manner all require new knowledge and new engineering approaches. This Ice, Climate and Energy cluster will focus on issues related to the Arctic. It builds on and expands programs in this area in the Thayer School of Engineering, the Earth Science Department and the Institute of Arctic Studies by hiring three new faculty, who will work across disciplines. Two of these new faculty will advance understanding of sea ice and its impacts on other aspects of the earth, e.g. atmosphere, ocean biota, and on human activities, while the third faculty will develop computational approaches to complex problems related to high-latitude climate and the energy sector.

The cluster will also fund an annual symposium of Ice, Climate and Energy, a post-doctoral fellowship and several undergraduates who will work full time during an off term with a faculty member.

Breaking the neural code

Rapid progress is being made on understanding how information is encoded in patterns of brain activity, and Dartmouth is at the forefront of the emerging field of neural decoding. Neural decoding involves concerted work by cognitive neuroscientists, neurophysiologists, mathematicians, computer scientists, and engineers, among others. The goal of this proposal is to capitalize on Dartmouth's strengths in these fields and foster interdisciplinary collaboration to make Dartmouth a world leader in computational neuroscience.

Even with existing strengths, Dartmouth needs to pursue a farsighted vision to stay at the forefront of innovation in neural decoding. Brain science in the 21st century is moving in the direction of population codes and circuit-level analysis that will pave the way to cracking the neural code and addressing the mind-brain question. To accomplish these goals, Dartmouth needs a critical mass of investigators with vibrant research programs in the areas of neural systems.

Specifically, we propose hiring three new faculty in the School of Arts and Sciences, the Thayer School of Engineering, and the Geisel School of Medicine: an experimental computational neuroscientist, a computational scientist with a focus on neural decoding, and a neurophysiologist with a focus on brain-computer interface. Because these faculty will have appointments in different departments, additional programmatic funds will support activities and staff to facilitate collaboration and intellectual exchange among these investigators and other existing faculty.

Health Care Delivery Science 

Dartmouth is well positioned to establish international leadership in the field of health care delivery science.  With the addition of seven new faculty members to be recruited over a three-year period, Dartmouth can build on its current strengths to establish leadership in three areas of scholarship  -- health behaviors and patient engagement; improving care delivery and implementation science; and tracking medicine through measurement and reporting.  Academic leadership combined with partnerships with delivery systems here and elsewhere will enable Dartmouth to achieve impact on one of the most important and complex social challenges facing the U.S. and other countries: the interrelated problems posed by the rising burden of chronic illness, remarkable disparities in access and quality, and unsustainable increases in health care costs. 

The proposal to recruit up to seven new faculty members is based on establishing reasonable expectations for sponsored research funding, securing the additional endowment support for the proposed health care delivery science cluster, and taking advantage of an existing open endowed professorship.  While focused on research, this initiative will create major new educational opportunities for Arts and Science students, MPH and MS students in health care delivery science, business, engineering, and medical students as well as residents and clinicians in health care.  This emerging scientific area lends itself to a multi-disciplinary approach that reaches across the Dartmouth campus and capitalizes on the relative absence of barriers to collaboration to foster and develop an academic area where the College can attract the best students and faculty and can continue to be recognized as being at the top of the field.

Sustainability Science and Governance

Societies face important challenges in the twenty-first century as people across the planet strive to reverse, mitigate, and adapt to local to global environmental degradation while improving human well-being and reducing poverty. The impacts of human activity have aggregated at a scale and intensity that have pushed several Earth system processes – climate regulation, biodiversity maintenance, and nitrogen/phosphorous cycling – into potentially unstable territory. Further stressing these processes would likely hasten Earth’s transition from the Holocene to the Anthropocene, altering the environmental conditions and ecosystem services that support human livelihoods and economic activity.

Food and energy systems, which are predominantly high throughput open-loop systems that generate large negative social and environmental externalities, are major drivers of this unfolding trajectory. Accordingly, achieving a sustainable future will require policies and institutions that facilitate a transition towards low-impact production techniques and consumption patterns in the energy and food sectors.

Building on Dartmouth’s existing strengths in fields such as environmental studies, ecology, and energy technology, this cluster will lead to the creation of three faculty positions in the fields of agro-ecology and food systems, global change biology, and energy analysis and policy that will complement existing activities and resources while giving rise to new synergies. The overarching aim is to foster interdisciplinary research and education in Sustainability Science and Governance, linking theory to praxis concerning these cross-cutting challenges.

The Challenges and Opportunities of Globalization

Globalization is one of the most powerful forces shaping the early 21st century.  The world continues to experience tremendous growth in the cross-border movement of ideas, capital, products, and people.  But globalization has also brought risks and tensions.  It has jeopardized economic and financial stability.  It threatens social cohesion in many countries.  And it often constrains the choices of people and nations that seek to control their own destinies.

Greater connectivity of the world is surely not new.  Yet the current forces of globalization present humanity with deeper and wider opportunities and challenges than before.  Today, more than ever, leaders and people around the world need insight and guidance from the academy to craft a more stable, productive, and just world.

With widely recognized strengths in economics, business, and international relations, Dartmouth is uniquely positioned to provide this thought leadership.  A significant expansion of faculty clustered in this area will enhance Dartmouth’s ability to have faculty, students, and staff at the forefront of innovative scholarship, teaching, and practice.  What is sorely needed is evidence-based leadership to acknowledge, understand, and shape the forces of globalization for the better.  That is precisely the calling to which this cluster aspires.

Last Updated: 6/9/15