The ZJU-UIUC Institute breaks down boundaries between traditional engineering disciplines, and does not plan to establish discipline-based departments. Instead, it creates cross-disciplinary teams and activities, and encourages multidisciplinary knowledge convergence and collaboration. Corresponding to this cross-disciplinary emphasis, classes across systems sciences, data sciences, and sustainability sciences are organized for advanced students. Courses that emphasize entrepreneurship and creative problem solving are incorporated throughout the curriculum. Design courses include students from multiple degree programs, working together. These activities nurture innovators with cross-cutting, multidisciplinary knowledge.
The ZJU-UIUC Institute at the Zhejiang University International Campus is a unique research enterprise for the crucial global challenges of the 21st century. In contrast to a conventional collection of single investigators, the collaborative culture of the center will enable a world-class program. It will attract interest among leading scholars. It will link tightly to industry partners, leading to significant economic development. It will complement existing capabilities on other ZJU campuses and those at UIUC in research areas that demand synergetic multidisciplinary research. The capabilities and organizational structure are intended to serve as a world-leading model for deep multidisciplinary projects and for unique academic education and research training for students in multi-cultural teams, ready for future research leadership.
In the 21st century, we face challenges related to air and water quality, sustainable development, low-carbon energy production, enhancing quality of life in an aging population, improving urban infrastructure, and unleashing the full capabilities of the information age without compromise of privacy and security. Conventional work within isolated disciplines cannot cope with the most exciting opportunities. Solving major challenges requires revolutionary change throughout the research process. For example, clean water resources and freshwater management require innovations in materials, biology and pathogens, real-time flow and contaminant monitoring, water recycling, urban infrastructure, and massive data handling. Water quality monitoring, in turn, requires new classes of electrochemical sensors, electronics and wireless communications, and large-scale data processing. Water, energy, and infrastructure systems are closely linked, with opportunities for co-design and collaborative invention. This is an example that will benefit from new thinking from top to bottom, framing the issues in full context and considering the most fundamental aspects that must be solved.
The research organization is uniquely structured to avoid artificial barriers. For example, research challenges will be linked based on themes rather than on disciplines. Faculty members with different backgrounds will have adjacent offices to facilitate in-depth interactions. Students, at all levels, with a wide range of backgrounds, will cooperate in teams to achieve multidisciplinary cross-project training and enhance their collaborative abilities. ZJUI Research center, unique as a peer partnership across research, education, service, and economic development. The first projects of the center will be organized within three frontier interdisciplinary areas (Fig. 1): advanced materials and devices engineering sciences; information and data sciences; and energy, environment, and sustainable development sciences.
a. Advanced materials and devices engineering sciences
Emerging materials take advantage of properties and structures at nano and atomic scales. A grand challenge is to bring these innovations into a systems science framework, applying them at all scales to enable a technology revolution. Sensors and devices that can detect specific molecules or individual blood cell types must be integrated into applications that include biosensors, environmental sensors, structural sensors, and other purpose-linked sensors.
This interdisciplinary research program focuses on the design and fabrication of nanoscale devices for an intelligent, active medical device or probe, medical robotics, aerodynamics, nano-material for thermal conductivity, nano-photonic & plasmonics devices, quantum electronics, millimeter and THz technologies for advanced wireless communication systems, metasurface and its applications, 3-D integrated circuits and high speed interconnects.
Strong global leadership exists within ZJU and UIUC in nanotechnology, compound semiconductors, nano-photonics, nano-electromagnetics, low-dimensional materials, and biointeractive materials and devices.
b. Information system and data sciences
Global data networks are less than a generation old, and new application ideas (and products) appear on a daily basis. A fundamental challenge is to bring the complete built environment, and the past few centuries of technology advances, into a comprehensive and fully linked data network. The emerging “Internet of Things” is a superficial popular perspective on the challenge. The reality is the opportunity to link billions of sensors, actuators, and computational devices into a global system. Grand challenges within this domain include digital management of transportation, new types of machine learning and artificial intelligence, high-performance computing technologies, and large-scale data integration. A tightly coupled grand challenge relates to privacy and security. In a world with billions of networked sensors and massive sets of interlinked datasets, how do we protect people from accidental or malicious data loss or misuse? Topics of emphasis include information trust, efficient data collection, secure storage, high-performance technology development, and digital manufacturing. Data acquisition will emphasize integrated nanosensors, sparse data acquisition, efficient transmission, and secure storage.
Data have value only when they are interpreted and acted upon. Central efforts in data sciences will address decision support, rapid large-scale data analysis, and data mining for prognostics and diagnostics. One example is agile digital manufacturing, by which a factory can produce small runs or even one-off products as easily and cheaply as million-unit commodities. Agile digital manufacturing will revolutionize industrial production in Zhejiang Province and the Hangzhou Bay region.
c. Energy, environment, and sustainable development sciences
Energy, environment, and sustainable development sciences integrate the infrastructure that supports civilization. Renewable energy, for instance, has far-reaching environmental impact, but requires new approaches for interconnection and control. Electric transportation couples the power grid with urban infrastructure in novel ways. Within this area, research activities include renewable energy integration and high-efficiency utilization, ways to harness data and energy coupling into an “energy Internet,” infrastructure intelligence, and the integration of energy and environment. In the long run, human development must be sustainable and resilient. Multidisciplinary challenges of sustainability and resiliency form the heart of this research area. Linked environmental and energy issues are constraining the development of China and other developing countries. They are impacting the future of even the most developed nations, and aging infrastructure demands proper maintenance and a cycle of rebuilding.
The broad area of energy, environment, and sustainable development sciences combines long-established strengths of ZJU and UIUC. Research conducted within this area strives to study and design energy infrastructure, healthy and safe built environments, and facilities to maximize productive power while minimizing damage to natural environments. At the component and sub-system level, the center will emphasize intelligent building technologies, such as composite materials for insulation and thermal management, components and modular energy-conversion blocks to manage and enhance indoor air quality and comfort, and harvesting of sunlight and solar energy. Heterogeneous system behavior, as well as coupled energy and information flows, will be modeled.