DR SHIRLEY Ann Jackson stands out clearly among the leaders of visiting academic delegations.
She shines not only because of her charismatic personality but also because of her macro view on research – she sees interdisciplinary research as the platform for innovation that will ensure national security for nations.
As president of New York's Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), she recently led a nine-member group to enhance ties with academics in Tianjin and Beijing (China), the Biopolis (a centre for biomedical research in Singapore), Universiti Tenaga Nasional (Uniten) in Malaysia and Hong Kong.
All these institutions have strengths in four key areas – energy, nanotechnology, materials science, biotechnology and information technology.
Described by Time as “the ultimate role model for women in science”, Dr Jackson is also the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission's chairman and on the board of directors of the New York Stock Exchange. She is passionate about upholding RPI's tradition of introducing innovations.
Her recent visit to Malaysia – her second to the country – saw her meeting with Higher Education Department director Datuk Prof Dr Hassan Said and the Prime Minister's science advisor Tan Sri Dr Ahmad Zaharudin Idrus.
“We are here to discover mutual interests,” she said.
“We would like to build a relationship with Uniten because the university was started by a utility power company,” she added, saying that energy was important as technological development depended largely on the availability of relatively inexpensive sources of energy.
Dr Jackson also highlighted possibilities for research collaboration in biotechnology, especially in functional tissue reengineering and regenerative medicine.
“Regenerative engineering concerns working with tissues to accelerate healing and growth, and involves expertise across disciplines. It incorporates the application of information technology for mathematical modelling, nanotechnology and biology,” she explained.
As human health affected global security, governments had recently set up policies and public health resources to contain the cross-border spread of diseases like HIV/AIDS and SARS, she added.
Dr Jackson's team at RPI had worked with enzymes to develop less expensive drugs with fewer side effects so as to improve the quality of life.
“We want to work with local institutions and the authorities. We would like to organise student and faculty exchanges, internships and joint research projects between universities and corporations,” she said.
“We want to have low walls; we want to encourage interdisciplinary work between faculties,” she added. – BY ZECH PHARAMOND