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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.


Dartmouth has received funding for four academic clusters:

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


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.

Cybersecurity, Technology, and Society

Advances in information technologies present profound opportunities to address some of the world's most pressing problems; yet, they also create some of the most significant security challenges and risks in our increasingly networked world. Large industrial, government and university computing systems and small personal devices alike are bombarded daily with cyber attacks designed to steal trade secrets, financial records, and personal health information, to name just a few. As we become increasingly dependent on the Internet to secure our homes, transport us, and maintain our pacemakers – the emerging "Internet of Things" – we relinquish personal control and are expected to trust these systems to be secure and private. Addressing these and related challenges requires an understanding of both the information technology and the way individuals and organizations use it. Dartmouth's strength in cross-disciplinary collaboration involving not only engineers and computer scientists, but also social scientists, and business and government researchers, provides the foundation for meeting the challenges of securing our cyber future.

This proposed cluster, working in conjunction with the existing Institute for Security, Technology and Society, will expand an existing collaborative faculty network to achieve the critical mass needed to become a center of excellence in interdisciplinary cybersecurity research, and to be at the forefront of cybersecurity education and experiential learning.

Digital Humanities and Social Engagement

Digital Humanities is an umbrella term for research and teaching that combines the longstanding concerns of the humanities with computing technologies. Humanists and scientists come together to use computing to answer fundamental questions about the arts, music, film, literature, language, religion, and philosophy. What is belief? What is beauty? How will we remember our ancestors? How do ideas spread? How do people reach understanding despite their differences? How does the way we communicate shape culture?

Digital Humanities and Social Engagement will tackle these questions as social issues conditioned by the pervasive nature of digital media. We will concentrate on issues of diversity, equity, and sustainability. What will our cultural heritage look like in a hundred years or a thousand? How can digital games sustain collective memory and democracy? How can we create digital interfaces that account for the diversity of social, cultural, and linguistic identities across the world? How is the very notion of the "human" changing with the spread of wearable and implantable technologies? The Humanities have always addressed these kinds of "real world" questions. In the digital age, the answers involve interdisciplinary collaboration with computer science, engineering, sociology, medicine, and business.

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.

Precision Medicine and Health Informatics of Cancer

Cancer remains a global health problem. Progress has been astonishing in the last several decades as the emergence of new technologies have allowed definition of the molecular underpinnings of numerous different diseases that manifest themselves clinically as cancer. The focus of Precision Medicine is on the unique molecular changes that can contribute to the development of cancer and the unique genetic makeup of each cancer patient that influences both the occurrence of cancer and its response to therapy. This Precision Medicine platform will evaluate systematically the genetic alterations that lead to an individual's cancer and the impact of normally occurring gene variants underlying both the interaction of cancer with its host as well as the effectiveness of therapeutic interventions.

This initiative will promote understanding of both normal human traits and disease risk; the physiologic basis for optimizing treatment modalities, dosage, and timing; the mechanisms that contribute to the development of resistance to therapeutic interventions; engineering advances in wearable and implantable devices, and the development of the associated health informatics, to monitor patients during clinical trials, improve drug delivery and securely store genetic information about a patient's tumor. By leveraging existing strengths and prior investments Dartmouth will lead in this new paradigm and broadly impact the understanding and treatment of complex questions of human health and disease.

Precision Medicine for Infectious Disease

Everyone knows from personal or family experience the ravages of infections. The human body is constantly bombarded by an ever-expanding variety of bacterial, viral and fungal microbes that cause diseases having a major impact economically and socially. Especially susceptible are the young, the aged, the immune-compromised, or individuals with pre-existing conditions such as cystic fibrosis or other genetic diseases. While vaccines have reduced the incidence of many of these infections and antibiotics can be useful, these are neither possible nor, even when available, effective for all pathogens. Clearly, one size does not fit all.
For many of these interventions to be truly effective, they must be based on more precisely treating individual patients with individualized therapies – i.e. Precision Medicine. Through the Precision Medicine for Infectious Disease cluster initiative, Dartmouth is now poised to develop new therapeutic approaches to protect against, or to remediate infections. This team science approach benefits from the existing highly collaborative nature of groups based within the Geisel School of Medicine whose efforts span research into cystic fibrosis, microbial pathogenesis, and immunity to infectious agents – all within a context of embracing the genetic diversity of both microbes and human subpopulations. With the addition of four new faculty researchers via the cluster-hire mechanism, Dartmouth is positioned to build on its research reputation and can become a pre-eminent international leader in personalized medicine for select, high impact, infectious diseases.

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.

Water Resources in a Changing World

Some of the most vexing issues facing our changing world involve challenges to one of our most precious resources – water. Nearly one billion people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water according to the World Health Organization, and a recent World Economic Forum on Global Risks cites access to clean and adequate water supplies as the #1 global risk. Dartmouth has a successful and distinctive history in pioneering interdisciplinary programs focused on water issues. This history provides an established infrastructure on which to leverage a cluster hire to fully realize the potential of Dartmouth's diverse strengths and synergistically tackle the complex issues of water resources and their representation.

Through this initiative, we envision new faculty hires in four primary areas: epidemiology, materials engineering, bio-geoinformatics, and film/media studies. Aims include broadening understanding of water sources, scarcity, and contamination, and exploring ways to optimize technical and social solutions that balance societal and environmental water needs. By building on these areas and Dartmouth's notable achievements in the areas of social and human health impacts of water contamination, research translation and risk communication, the cluster will position Dartmouth to gain national and international recognition as a resource for global water issues.

Last Updated: 7/22/15