GW Research Spring 2014 Edition

From the Vice President for Research

Leo Chalupa

Opening Doors

April 25, 2014

There was a timid knock at the door.

It was late one evening in 1978 at the Cambridge University physiology lab where I was on a fellowship, studying vision. Opening the door, I saw an older gentleman. He apologized for the disruption and asked if I’d mind if he had a look while I conducted my work.

I didn’t mind, and so he stayed for a bit.

“I heard Francis came to visit you last night,” the head of the lab said the next morning.


“Yes,” he said. “Sir Francis Crick.”

Dr. Crick, who helped determine the double-helical structure of DNA, was pursuing an interest in neurobiology at the time and, apparently, would pop into that lab at his alma mater now and then to see what was new.

The point: Anything can happen in a lab—including chance encounters.

It’s a spirit we’re embracing at GW, particularly with two new teaching and research facilities designed to spark ideas and unforeseen collaborations that bridge disciplines: our 14-story Science and Engineering Hall, which in less than a year will bring under one roof researchers ranging from computer and aerospace engineers to biologists, chemists, and physicists; and the first permanent home for the faculty of our Milken Institute School of Public Health, the only public health school in the nation’s capital.

That’s not to say that we’re leaving it all up to chance. We’re making our own luck, bringing together thinkers from across GW through a slate of universitywide research institutes.

This winter we launched a Sustainability Institute, helmed by a former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It joins our recently established Computational Biology Institute and Global Women’s Institute, and we’re in the midst of planning for future institutes that will tackle, among other areas, genomics, autism, and “big data,” comprising almost unimaginably vast and enormously complicated sets of information.

More than two decades after my encounter with Francis Crick, he agreed to co-author a chapter in a book I was editing, published in his final year of life. I can only hope the connections between researchers here will be just as pleasing and long-standing, and their fruits even more enduring.


Leo M. Chalupa
Vice President for Research