Rensselaer Research From 1,500 Feet

by Mark Marchand on July 6, 2011

It’s not often I get to mix my off-hours pursuit and use of Bernoulli’s principle with my day job of communicating the great things happening here at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute – especially scientific research and education. A recent Sunday presented such an opportunity. With one of the best weather weekends in the last six months beckoning, I cranked the engine of a rented Cessna 172 airplane into life over at Schenectady County Airport. With my Nikon D-5000 digital single-lens reflex camera in the seat next to me, I climbed away from Schenectady. Working with radar controllers at nearby Albany International, I navigated east toward our campus at about 1,800 feet. When I arrived after a five-minute flight, using the Hudson River as the primary navigation waypoint, I realized I was lucky in terms of lighting. The 11 a.m. sun was fairly bright, and high enough so that shadows were limited.

Above is one of my first shots as I started to circle campus, and before I dared to fly lower for some closer angles. In the lower portion of the image you can see downtown Troy. It’s also easy to spot one of the most prominent features of the Rensselaer campus in the 21st century: the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, or EMPAC. It’s the largest building near the center of the frame, with a white roof and blue sides. In addition to containing one of the region’s best performing arts centers, some of the most fascinating research taking place at Rensselaer goes on there. Some of the ongoing research there involves what researchers say is the intersection of science and technology with the arts. Above EMPAC (east on the compass) you can begin to see some of the core campus.

Continuing my initial circumnavigation and beginning a slow descent, here’s a look west as I flew along the east side of campus. That’s the Hudson River running from south (left) to north. You can begin to get a better look at some of the other major campus components. One of the more prominent ones is the blue-roofed, “L”-shaped building near the center. That’s our Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, or CBIS. This is primarily a research center at Rensselaer. Opened in 2005, it’s the stage for some of the most advanced biotechnology and related research going on today – ranging from exploration of stem cells to development of a synthetic version of heparin – one of the most widely used drugs in the world today.

Okay, time to fly a bit lower. I did discover that it is somewhat challenging to fly an aircraft and maintain a safe airspeed and angle of bank while composing shots on the camera. And on more than one occasion, I had a beautiful shot lined up only to have a quick burst of minor turbulence shake my hand and ruin the shot. As I flew around campus the second time, I descended to about 1,100 feet. This shot was taken from the north, looking south. On the right is a good view of the core academic campus. A prominent feature there is one of the tallest buildings on campus: our Low Center for Industrial Innovation (tan-colored on the left side), home to classrooms and labs such as our well-known terahertz research facility. On the left, separated by Fifteenth Street, is the side of campus more associated with student life. On the lower side of the shot you can see the square-shaped Student Union building. Just above you that, you can see the older blue/green-roofed complex, comprised of our Robison Pool, Alumni Sports and Recreation Center, and Mueller Center for sports and fitness. You can also see the pedestrian bridge spanning Fifteenth Street, which can be a pretty busy place if you happen to be there between classes.

Below is a look at another relatively new feature on campus: our East Campus Athletic Village. Opened in 2009, it’s the most extensive athletic investment Rensselaer has made in its history. On the right is the newest structure: the new football field and office/arena/fitness complex. Just to the lower left is the older Houston Field House, where our Division One men’s and women’s hockey teams play.

Here’s another look at the main campus, this time from the south. The student union and athletic complex are now on the right, and the core campus is on the left. There’s a lot of things to point out there, ranging from our primary School of Engineering facility – the J. Erik Jonsson Engineering Center (center; darker brown) to our School of Science headquarters, the Jonsson-Rowland Science Center (just in front of the engineering center, lighter brown and L-shaped). To obtain an overview of everything else, here’s a good map.

Here’s one last shot. At this point, I was back over the Hudson River to the west, and looking back east across the campus. Once again, you can see EMPAC on the lower right. I decided to include this shot because the appearance of the small, brick building on the lower left – across the street from EMPAC and partially obscured by some trees – belies the terrific work taking place there. That’s the Winslow Building, home to our relatively new Tetherless Word Constellation. This is the location of some of the world’s most advanced, visionary research and teaching on the new field of web science. The three primary constellation professors there – Jim Hendler, Deborah McGuiness, and Peter Fox – along with other researchers and professors and their students are leading the charge on where the Worldwide Web is headed. Poke around their web site; you’ll be amazed at what they are working on.

There’s a lot more I could point out, but I’ll sign off for now. I’ll apologize for not getting lower for some closer shots, but caution and safety ruled the day on my first outing over campus. There’s some terrific research and teaching taking place here. Poke around the rest of our website and you’ll be amazed.