C. Science and engineering for a world in need

It would be easier (and less expensive) not to invest in science and engineering research at the highest level. But these areas are indispensable to addressing some of the most profound questions facing humanity. While many of the topics listed below are centered in the Colleges of Science and Engineering, they also extend in meaningful ways to every college or school. To be a great university in the 21st century is to be excellent in science and engineering broadly understood.

  1. Part of that investment will be in facilities.

    Research Building Constructio
    Notre Dame’s recent investment in science and engineering faculty and facilities has been impressive and welcome. The infrastructure needs over the next generation, though, will be unprecedented. The University still maintains six major science and engineering buildings initially constructed before 1985. 27 Some individual laboratory spaces within these buildings are satisfactory, even state-of-the-art, but the overall organization of the space is not. In an era when team science involving many collaborators is increasingly the norm, these older facilities need considerable renovation, occasionally demolition, to advance research. The costs of these projects, cumulatively, will be as significant as any academic capital projects in the University’s history. Properly managed, though, these new facilities should position Notre Dame’s scientists and engineers for success in coming decades.


  2. Part of that investment will be in three thematic areas: health and well-being, the environment, and data and computational science.

    1. Health and well-being. Catholic social thought is anchored in a conviction that all humans possess dignity, a belief that also provides a grounding for research and discovery that advances health and well-being. In the next decade, we will grow and fortify our health-related research and education activities as the cornerstone of our commitment to making discoveries and translations that improve health and well-being for all humans, with particular attention to those who are marginalized by modern healthcare systems.

      One part of this commitment will be a focus on physical ailments and diseases. Many of the fundamental advances in biomedical research today — including understanding, detection, and treatment of diseases — occur at the intersection of bioengineering and the life sciences. While the lack of a research-oriented medical school with a local teaching hospital is often perceived as a limitation,28 it also untethers the University from a singular, resource-intensive medical entity, providing greater flexibility for faculty and students. Notre Dame already boasts a number of departments, centers and institutes that touch various aspects of human health and well-being in bioengineering, the life sciences, and social and data science. 29 We also have a distinguished history of research strength in infectious diseases, as well as emerging programs in areas such as neuroscience. The recent investments in multidisciplinary science buildings, McCourtney I and McCourtney II, also enable the seeding and fostering of team science in these areas.

      A University-level health research initiative focusing on bioengineering and life sciences — or BELS — will span departments in Science and Engineering, and centers and institutes connected to these areas. While other institutions have shown the impact of such an aligned approach,30 Notre Dame will be distinctive by focusing on research often neglected by large medical institutions — rare diseases and health inequities for people with minimal access to primary care. These align with our Catholic responsibility to pay particular attention to the most vulnerable and do not require a medical school to make significant advances.

      A second part of this commitment will be to address mental health. The United States is in the midst of a mental health crisis. Suicide rates have been rising in every demographic group in the U.S. for more than 20 years, and are elevated across almost all psychiatric conditions. Fewer than half of children and adults with a mental health disorder receive treatment. 31 Notre Dame can be a leader here. A partnership between Notre Dame’s Department of Psychology (and related entities such as the Shaw Center for Children and Families and the Notre Dame Suicide Prevention Initiative) and Notre Dame’s Division of Student Affairs will serve as a national model. The University will build a state-of-the-art mental health clinic in South Bend. It will focus on three core areas of research and service: suicide prevention, trauma, and substance use. This effort will assist students and community members with severe mental health challenges by using evidence-based research to develop new treatments and sending ND-trained care providers into South Bend and communities across the country.

    2. Climate change and the environment. Pope Francis is perhaps the world’s leading environmentalist, and Laudato si’ (2015) is his most influential encyclical. This commitment to preserving what the pope calls our “common home” presents Notre Dame with a responsibility and an opportunity. The responsibility is to make a significant research and educational contribution. The accelerating challenges posed by climate change and its impact on food security, energy, and water systems threaten the ability of vast swaths of humanity to live lives of dignity. The deterioration of the environment is especially acute in areas of the Global South already marked by deprivation.

      Our opportunity is to build something distinctive and excellent. The interconnectedness of the problems can make it difficult to spot intellectual pathways. Current strengths include expertise in energy transition to renewable fuels (Engineering), clean water (Science), ethical investing (Business), sustainable urbanism and environmental design (Architecture), environmental policy (Keough School), environmental humanities (Arts and Letters), and real estate (Fitzgerald Institute for Real Estate). The University also possesses one of the great freshwater research sites in the world at Land O’Lakes in Wisconsin. Assembling these pieces into a collaborative whole — when every major university is concerned about these issues — is the next challenge. Notre Dame is especially well-poised, though, to draw the connections between the social and environmental dimensions of this crisis and in so doing make a major contribution.

    3. Data and computational science. Data and the information data provides are ubiquitous in our professional and personal lives. Notre Dame’s strengths in data and computational science are considerable. They include three academic departments: Information Technology, Analytics, and Operations in the Mendoza College of Business; Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics in the College of Science; and Computer Science and Engineering in the College of Engineering. They also include clusters of faculty and students in a range of disciplines — from biology to economics to psychology to the Navari Family Center for Digital Scholarship in Hesburgh Library — where computational training has become an essential part of the scholarly and educational toolkit. The recently launched Lucy Family Institute for Data and Society has grown rapidly, developing new data research initiatives, engaging with state and regional partners, and supporting faculty hiring in data science and related areas. Hesburgh Libraries manages massive amounts of data in support of these scholars, as do the Center for Research Computing and the Office of Information Technologies.

      Pervasive interest in data and computational science has already prompted pedagogical innovation, with the relatively recent formation of a new department focusing on information technology in the Mendoza College of Business, a B.A. in computer science offered through the College of Arts and Letters, and data and computer science minors across the University. Student interest in all of these projects is considerable. The challenge is to build on existing majors, minors, and degree programs so that every student has access in the classroom and through experiential learning to this important field of study.

      What greater alignment would look like in the next generation is not yet clear. An institute or another organizing structure could provide the support necessary to grow research activity, enhance research infrastructure, and deepen teaching capacity. These opportunities require reflection on near-term solutions and aspirational growth.

Closeup of a pipette filled with yellow liquid being used to fill a tray of vials.


27. ^ Cushing Hall of Engineering (1933); Nieuwland Science Hall (1952); Radiation Research Building (1963); The Paul V. Galvin Life Science Center (1967); Fitzpatrick Hall of Engineering (1979); Stepan Hall of Chemistry and Biochemistry (1982).

28. ^ The University does enjoy a special relationship with a satellite campus of the Indiana University School of Medicine, located adjacent to campus with some shared facilities, but this does not include clinical research.

29. ^ Core departments such as Chemistry and Biochemistry, Biology, and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering lead this effort, as do centers and institutes such as the Berthiaume Institute for Precision Health, Boler-Parseghian Center for Rare and Neglected Diseases, Eck Institute for Global Health, Harper Cancer Research Institute, Lucy Family Institute for Data and Society, Warren Center for Drug Discovery, and the W.M. Keck Center for Transgene Research.

30. ^ The Georgia Institute of Technology made a concerted effort in the early 2000s along these lines, and it led to a seven-fold increase in National Institutes of Health funding over two decades and the No. 1–ranked bioengineering department in the United States.

31. ^ NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness, “Mental Health by the Numbers,” updated April 2023. Accessed June 20, 2023.