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Reinventing discovery at major research universities

$500 million complex drives Purdue's large scale interdisciplinary research

Purdue University's innovative interdisciplinary research complex known as Discovery Park has become a $500 million magnet for luring some of the brightest faculty and researchers from around the world. Indeed, Discovery Park is leading a global university movement, now joined by Harvard, Cornell, Arizona State, the University of Florida and others, for redefining the academic culture for research and discovery.

With $51 million from the Lilly Endowment and $5 million from the state of Indiana for a nanotechnology center, Purdue has created an environment in which major global challenges — namely alternative energy, health care, global competitiveness, homeland security, cancer and the environment — are examined objectively, generating new ideas and direction for future generations.

In that time, Purdue has recruited 300 faculty members, and many were drawn to the university by Discovery Park's new research facilities and equipment. Since its launch, the park has helped Purdue launch 30 companies and generate 40 patents based on university research. "Through Discovery Park, we're redefining the public university," says Purdue President France A. Córdova. "We're reinventing how discovery takes place at a research institution."

Led by Discovery Park's efforts in leading many of the university's large-scale research projects, Purdue's sponsored funding surged to a record $342 million in 2008-09.

In the largest funded research proposal in its 140-year history, the National Science Foundation awarded Purdue a $105 million project in September 2009 to spearhead the George E. Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation, or NEES.

Purdue scientists also are collaborating with doctors and technologists at the Oncological Sciences Center, as well as researchers at the Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering, to help develop these ideas and bring them to market.

With the volatility of oil prices, the urgency for a solution to the world's reliance on fossil fuels is as great as ever. Enter Purdue's Energy Center, a part of the university's Sustainability Initiative in Discovery Park that is focused on a portfolio of new technologies for developing cleaner, secure and abundant forms of energy.

Collaboration Sparks Discovery

As resources are being consumed at unprecedented rates, the Center for the Environment is working closely with the Energy Center and the Purdue Climate Change Research Center to examine how to protect the environment while sustaining a global economy. Researchers are studying how to model and predict the impact on ecosystems, monitor environmental quality, manage natural resources, and develop technologies to create a cleaner environment.

Scientists at the Bindley Bioscience Center work closely with engineers at the Birck Nanotechnology Center to pioneer new cancer treatments. One such device is a tiny micro-sensor that can be implanted within a cancerous tumor to allow doctors to detect the amount of radiation treatment a patient is receiving.

Doctoral student Tannaz Harirchian holds up special chips provided by Delphi Electronics and Safety

Birck research focuses on metamaterials that may help render objects invisible.

Researchers are studying how to diagnose diseases earlier and assist pharmaceutical companies in making drugs to target a specific cell for a specific purpose. They're reaching out globally, developing a low-cost diagnostic tool to detect the AIDS virus. The tool has great value in Africa, home to 28 million people who suffer from AIDS. Worldwide, 40 million have AIDS, which kills about 11,000 people daily.

"Discovery Park is Purdue's engine, fueling integrated and interdisciplinary research by providing world-class resources and intellectual access to creative minds," says executive director Alan Rebar. "It's where Purdue scientists, engineers and students tackle society's grand challenges, where the vision of today is transformed into the reality of tomorrow."

Impact on Discovery

Since its launch in 2001, Discovery Park has provided a platform for driving Purdue's pursuit of funding for large-scale interdisciplinary research projects. Here is a list of success stories through Discovery Park that demonstrate how teamwork on a university campus is making a difference in the world of discovery:

International research effort focuses on nutrition, breast cancer

The Oncological Sciences Center launched the International Breast Cancer and Nutrition Project on October 18-19, 2010 at an international symposium at Purdue called Breast Cancer Prevention: Nutrition, Communication and Public Policy. The symposium brought together researchers from around the world to better understand how nutrition affects breast cancer. Sophie Lelièvre, associate professor of basic medical sciences and leader of the Breast Cancer Discovery Group at the Purdue Center for Cancer Research, said the medical community has studied genetics and breast cancer for years, but now more researchers are focusing on how lifestyle factors such as nutrition affect the genes related to breast cancer. A growing area of science is called epigenetics, which is a change in the gene's function with no change in the DNA sequence that defines the gene. It has potential to be one of the key aspects of gene control by environmental factors like nutrition. It will be one of the targets for the International Breast Cancer and Nutrition Project.

Learn More | Oncological Sciences Center

Purdue receives $105 million award to lead national earthquake engineering network

Purdue is leading a $105 million project funded by the National Science Foundation to spearhead a center that will serve as headquarters for the operations of the George E. Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation, or NEES. Submitted through the Cyber Center, the grant spans five years and is the largest in the university’s history. Purdue will connect 14 NEES research equipment sites and the earthquake engineering community through groundbreaking cyberinfrastructure, education and outreach efforts. Purdue’s center, which began operations Oct. 1, will be housed at the Discovery Learning Research Center in Discovery Park.

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Purdue to find game changing way to produce biofuels

The U.S. Department of Energy is funding a $20 million effort to create an Energy Frontier Research Center to advance work in biofuels at Purdue. The Center for Direct Catalytic Conversion of Biomass to Biofuels, known as C3Bio and led by Purdue biology professor Maureen McCann, is investigating methods to bypass current processes involving biological fermentation, reducing the need for large and expensive biorefineries and expanding the range of biofuels beyond ethanol. The Department of Energy also chose Purdue's project as one of 16 that will be funded by President Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The project will create at least 20 new jobs for students, postdoctoral researchers and professional staff in Indiana and another eight jobs at partner institutions.

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Purdue kicks off national center to visualize homeland security data

Purdue is leading a $30 million national center called Visual Analytics for Command, Control and Interoperability Environments, or VACCINE, to develop specialized software to help homeland security and emergency personnel respond to and manage a variety of calamities, from disease outbreaks to economic crises. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is funding the new Discovery Park center.

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Research initiative will benefit Hoosiers statewide, say Indiana life sciences leaders

The National Institutes of Health awarded a five-year, $25 million grant to the Indiana University School of Medicine to fund Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute activities at Indiana and Purdue universities. The institute focuses on improving the process by which laboratory discoveries of basic science are transformed into new medical treatments and products - a process called translational research.

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Purdue leads center to simulate behavior of micro-electromechanical systems

The National Nuclear Security Administration awarded a $17 million cooperative agreement for a Purdue-based research center to develop advanced simulations for commercial and defense applications. The Center for Prediction of Reliability, Integrity and Survivability of Microsystems, or PRISM, focuses on the behavior and reliability of miniature switches and is one of five new NNSA Centers of Excellence.

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Purdue's Regenstrief Center grows research efforts to design new U.S. health-care system

The Regenstrief Foundation expanded its partnership with Purdue's Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering with an $11 million investment the next five years. The foundation helped create the center with a $3 million gift in 2005. The center is studying how systems engineering, management, science and information technology can improve patient safety and care.

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Purdue-led network awarded $18.25 million NSF grant to grow users, translate nanoscience into nanotechnology

The Network for Computational Nanotechnology received a five-year, $18.25 million grant from the National Science Foundation to support the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative with expanded capabilities and services for computer simulations. NCN, located in the Birck Nanotechnology Center, was launched in 2002 with $10.5 million from NSF to develop sophisticated, high-powered computational tools through what is now known as the nanoHUB. These tools allow scientists from Boston to Beijing to advance nano-related research simply by using their desktop computers.

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Purdue center receives $2.45 million grants for health-care research

The National Cancer Institute issued a national challenge in 2003 to find a cure for cancer by 2015. The Oncological Sciences and Bindley Bioscience centers, with assistance from Regenstrief and the Cyber Center, are responding with an interdisciplinary-driven "Cancer Care Engineering" project. The project's goal: to standardize proteomic tools and technology applications for the discovery and detection of clinically relevant biomarkers for diagnosing and treating cancer.

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Growing the Research Enterprise

  • Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education

    Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education

    Purdue Center for Faculty Success

    • $3.9 million over 5 years from NSF.

    Provides targeted research, programs and University-level coordination to increase the number of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) faculty positions

  • Life and Health Sciences

    Life and Health Sciences

    Indiana Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI)

    • Seeks to increase translational biomedical research and improve the health of the people of Indiana and beyond by improving and accelerating the process for transferring basic science discoveries from the lab to medical treatments and products.
    • NIH-funded partnership between Purdue University and the Indiana University School of Medicine.
    • The Purdue portion draws on foods and nutrition, pharmacy, biomedical, veterinary and Purdue Extension
    • $3.7 million for 5 years from NIH.
  • Sustainability - Energy, Environment and Climate Change

    Sustainability - Energy, Environment and Climate change

    Center for the Catalytic Conversion of Biomass to Bioenergy (C3Bio)

    • Maureen McCann, biological sciences
    • DoE, $15,074,136
  • Security, Defense and Space Sciences

    Security, Defense and Space Sciences

    Center for Prediction of Reliability, Integrity, and Survivability of Microsystems (PRISM)

    • $16.5 million over 5 years from the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), DoE.
    • MEMS devices could replace conventional switches and other electric components, and simulations are required to accurately predict their reliability, integrity and survivability.
  • Cyber and Information Technology

    Cyber and Information Technology

    Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulations (NEES)

    • Julio Ramirez; civil engineering
    • NSF, $105M for 5 years

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The Overview chapter offers a glimpse at the unique features, the latest news, building locations and contact information for Discovery Park.


Learn about how research has been reinvented at Discovery Park, how collaborations among scientists and stakeholders are seeking solutions to grand challenges, and the impacts of discovery.


Discovery Park is delivering on Purdue's land-grant mission to serve the people of Indiana and the nation. Large-scale research drives economic development in a knowledge economy and Discovery Park is the engine.


Activities at Discovery Park transform people's lives. Undergraduates gain hands-on research experience, business plan competitions nurture a new generation of entrepreneurs, and innovative diagnostic tools detect early stages of disease.


To meet today's grand challenges, a spectrum of partnerships are forming at Discovery Park -- international partners, partnerships with foundations, institutions and industry all contribute to advancing learning and research.