A portrait of Martha Pollack

‘Design Tech’ Exemplifies Cornell’s Ethos of Creativity and Collaboration

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By Martha E. Pollack

As any Cornellian will tell you, Cornell University is unique within the Ivy League. What makes us unique is not any one characteristic, but the combination of our differentiators: we are simultaneously rural and urban, land grant and Ivy League, a private institution with a public commitment. We bring to our world-class academics a distinct institutional ethos, combining civic responsibility with a deep tradition of cross-disciplinary collaboration.

It is an ethos that makes us uniquely well placed to explore and solve some of the most complex challenges now facing us—challenges that do not fall neatly into a single discipline, but that demand the tools, the expertise, and the deep collaboration of multiple fields to solve.

One of Cornell’s newest academic departments, the Department of Design Tech, is an example of this kind of collaboration: a multi-college, transdisciplinary initiative spanning the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning; the Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science; the College of Engineering; the College of Human Ecology; and Cornell Tech in New York City.

Born out of the Provost’s Radical Collaboration initiative, Design Tech brings together faculty at the intersection of design and emerging technology who are pioneering innovation, research, and teaching across the ways we design and make the spaces in which, and objects with which, we live.

Design Tech brings together faculty at the intersection of design and emerging technology.

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Advances in design computation and visualization and in fabrication technologies, from 3D printing to digital manufacturing, have opened enormous new possibilities in how we design and create everything from nanoscale robots to cityscapes. At the same time, the ways we live are being rapidly reshaped by new technologies, from AI and quantum computing to genomics and synthetic biology—creating new intersections of the digital, the physical, and the biological.

It is a moment that demands the development of a new kind of expertise: one that combines expertise in design with expertise in the emerging technologies that will enable us to bring so many new possibilities to life.

Our Design Tech faculty approach design from a diversity of perspectives, with backgrounds that range from biology to computer science, information science to engineering, medicine to architecture. Their research explores areas from human/autonomous system interaction to zero-waste digital fashion design, to robotic fabrication and 3D printing, to biomimicry and bioinspired design, sustainability, and beyond.

In the fall of 2024, the new department will welcome its first cohort of students to an entirely new Cornell degree, the Master of Science in Design Technology—a visionary new two-year research and project program offered jointly by the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning and Cornell Tech. It is an experience designed for ambitious and creative students from diverse disciplinary backgrounds, providing the training that will enable them to apply their knowledge to the design, fabrication, and production of new tools, products, interfaces, and materials.

The ways we make things today—and, more importantly, the ways we’ll be able to make things in the future—are being radically altered and advanced. Developing new expertise in the space between technology and design is key to making the most of those advances, as is applying emerging technologies in the most effective ways to answer human needs, human challenges, and the built environment—now and in the generations to come.

Top: Photo by Jason Koski / Cornell University.

Published July 28, 2023

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