Goal 1: Disciplinary Research in the Five Initiatives

researcher in a nanoscience lab wearing cleanroom gear

We will bring distinction to the disciplinary research taking place in our five initiatives through demonstrable increases in intellectual impact and funding.

During the ASRC’s first five years, its five disciplinary initiatives have been securely established as the foundation for growth and fulfillment of its overarching mission. Each focus area has distinguished itself at both the national and international levels, thereby strengthening CUNY’s reputation in these research domains. These accomplishments are supported by several metrics of success, which are detailed in the narrative and statistics presented below. Collectively, the initiatives have created a clear forward momentum for the enterprise as a whole and a trajectory for its continued success in its disciplinary and transdisciplinary aspirations.

Faculty Distinctions and Reputation

ASRC faculty members serve on editorial boards of prestigious journals, have been elected as fellows to scientific societies, and regularly serve in leadership positions in their disciplines. They also participate in programmatic panels, consensus reports delivered to agencies, and briefings given to congressional and regional lawmakers, contributing expertise that influences science policy. ASRC faculty members disseminate research findings to the research community by giving seminars, lectures, and keynotes, and by organizing international conferences and symposia. In addition, the organization of events for local schools and outreach allows the ASRC to impact the local community in New York City’s West Harlem neighborhood.

State-of-the-Art Facilities and Resources

More than 1,000 researchers have been trained to use the equipment in these cores. Growth in the user base and income generated by the core facilities hosting these technologies have been on an upward trajectory and are expected to continue to increase at a fast pace, especially as the newest of the 15 core facilities becomes operational in FY 2020. The ASRC will also recruit an expert in research computing to help advance its IT infrastructure and support, which are essential across all disciplines and for building collaborations across CUNY.

Grant Activity

Given the ASRC’s mission to further scientific knowledge with creative science and train the next generation of scientists, research funding is an essential part of the ASRC culture. ASRC faculty have shown how an overall success rate of 32% in garnering funding (by comparison, federal agency funding rates are typically at or below 20%). Federal awards are especially critical, representing a gold standard in the research community. Significantly, more than four-fifths of the ASRC’s $62 million in funding has come from the Department of Defense, National Institutes of Health, and National Science Foundation, collectively.


Center faculty routinely publish results from their research in top-tier, high-impact journals. Over the span of their collective careers, they have published nearly 1,000 articles in such outlets. This means that center faculty and staff have been broadly cited by other researchers, collectively nearly 200,000 times. Annual citation numbers have increased by 45% during the center’s first five years, highlighting the increased reach of their discoveries within the scientific community. Further, this year two ASRC faculty members—Andrea Alù and Matthew Sfeir—were named Highly Cited Researchers by the Web of Science Group.


Several startup companies were formed as spinoffs to ASRC research team activities. Ongoing collaborations with industry, growth of industry-sponsored research, and industry use of the ASRC core facilities will pave the way for additional opportunities. The recent award to establish a New York State Center for Advanced Technology in the area of sensor technologies will also contribute to building university-industry partnerships and related workforce development programs.

Student Training

Like their mentors, several ASRC students and postdoctoral researchers are themselves attaining a level of distinction as first authors or co-authors in leading scientific journals and recipients of individual research fellowships. Former postdoctoral fellow Ayala Lampel recently started her own independent laboratory as an assistant professor at Tel Aviv University. Also of note, Igor Dikiy, a postdoctoral fellow in the Structural Biology Initiative with Professor Kevin Gardner (GC/CCNY, Chemistry and Biochemistry), was recently named CUNY’s first ever finalist for the prestigious Blavatnik Regional Awards. Students are increasingly co-advised by multiple mentors within the ASRC or across the CUNY campuses, which speaks to increasing interdisciplinary research and training. For example, Professor Rein Ulijn (GC/Hunter, Chemistry), director of the Nanoscience Initiative, co-mentors a graduate student with Professor Stephen O’Brien (GC/CCNY), studying design of nanoparticles for cancer therapeutics and diagnostics, and Professor Charles Vörösmarty (GC/CCNY; Earth and Environmental Sciences/Civil Engineering), director of the Environmental Sciences Initiative, and Professor Zhongqi Cheng (GC/Brooklyn College, Earth and Environmental Sciences) co-mentor a doctoral student from the earth and environmental sciences program. In addition, multiple students combine neuroscience and structural biology to understand protein phase separation in neurons and genetically encoded, light-activated “on-off switches” for neuronal activity.

Additional Measures of Success

Because of its New York City location and outstanding conferencing facilities, the center has already distinguished itself as an ideal venue for national and international conferences. In addition to meetings hosted by ASRC faculty, we have hosted repeated events for the New York City Regional Innovation Node, Girls Who Code, Phantoms Foundation, and the New York Structural Biology Center. News of ASRC research is also reaching the public through press releases, public talks, podcasts, and media outlets.

Social media is now an important avenue for building recognition, and with over 300,000 impressions, 5,000 active engagements, and hundreds of new followers on Twitter over the past year, the center is also taking advantage of this resource effectively.


To build on our reputation as a regional, national, and international center of excellence in research and education within and across the five initiatives, and to advance these domains of scientific inquiry by employing the center’s intellectual and state-of-the-art technological resources, we will:

  • Create a vibrant community of collaborators from the CUNY campuses as well as extramural institutions.
  • Further develop a platform for advanced training of undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral scholars.
  • Establish the center as a preeminent resource of expert knowledge for business, government, and the public at large.

Implementation Plan

To pursue the above objectives, we will:

  • Ensure high visibility and accessibility of the ASRC facilities, both within CUNY and beyond, by broadly advertising these resources through open house visits and multi and single campus in-person or electronic seminars.
  • Expand the use of the center as a strategic meeting point for experts who are connected to our disciplinary and interdisciplinary areas of interest and who broaden our scientific perspectives and networks, including use of excellent meeting facilities to host conferences (e.g., ASRC auditorium) and laboratory space to support national and international sabbatical fellows.
  • Continue and further accelerate the demonstrated level of grant success through a dedicated effort to identify all appropriate federal, state, foundation, and local funding announcements.
  • In parallel, identify funding opportunities that support collaborative disciplinary research with other CUNY faculty as well as grant support for cross-campus training programs.
  • Continue to build our online presence through the ASRC website and social media to garner widespread recognition for accomplishments.
  • Work with The Graduate Center to attract the best domestic and international university students and to attract a diverse graduate student body by helping with recruitment, raising appropriate stipend funding, and supporting workforce development.
  • Apply for appropriate federal training grants to support disciplinary research across CUNY, in partnership with The Graduate Center and colleagues throughout the CUNY system, including National Institutes of Health Institutional Training Grants and National Science Foundation Research Traineeships.
  • Identify, support, and then promote a select number of high-impact discoveries from each initiative that establish a reputation for the ASRC in these areas.
  • Establish a clear plan for media coverage of publications, awards, and other accomplishments from the ASRC that will support reputation building in identified areas.
  • Pursue public-private partnerships and opportunities to patent, commercialize, and/or disseminate discoveries for the public good of society.
  • Continue ongoing outreach activities to educate the local community, particularly middle and high school students, about STEM and continue to build a reputation with the public as an important proponent of STEM research and education.
  • Identify opportunities to support 21st-century, societally relevant policies and decision-making in high-end technology, medicine, and environmental management.

The Five ASRC Initiatives

Mission: To serve as a world-leading center in the development of nanotechnology solutions that are inspired by and integrated with living systems. The initiative achieves this distinction through its focus on a “systems” approach to nanoscience designed through principles found in the living world to ultimately benefit society—in terms of improved industrial processes, environmental remediation, and human health.

Mission: To serve as a world-recognized center for photonics/electromagnetics/wave physics research, making an impact from the fundamental understanding of light-matter interactions to applications in the next generation of computing, sensing, and communications technology.

Mission: To provide a first-class structural biology resource for scientists in the CUNY system and beyond, giving researchers inside and outside of the field access and insight to this interdisciplinary field intersecting biology, chemistry, and physics through our work, our facilities, and our expertise.

Mission: To conduct internationally recognized science in neurobiology with the goals of alleviating the societal burden of mental disorders, training students, and providing resources to CUNY and the local community in Harlem. The distinctive mission of the initiative is to study the impact of the environment on epigenetic regulation of gene expression and on the activity of neural networks in the brain, while creating innovative interdisciplinary solutions to diagnostic and therapeutic challenges.

Mission: To serve as a focal point for experts to join forces, to dialogue, and solve the major 21st-century strategic environmental challenges facing the region, the nation, and the world, capitalizing on state-of-the-art sensor, field, laboratory, and geospatial modeling techniques.

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