New era of research begins with naming of the Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech
BLACKSBURG — University leaders today announced the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute has a new direction and a new name — the Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech.
The changes reflect the evolution of life science research at Virginia Tech and the university’s ability to continually innovate and refresh its land-grant mission.
“This institute was founded by forward-thinking members of the commonwealth who saw the benefits of using bioinformatics to untangle the mysteries of the genome,” said Chris Barrett, executive director of the Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech. “Fifteen years later, our policymakers are looking for ways to improve human health, habitat, and well-being by understanding how massive systems behave in real time — our new direction shows that we are poised to lead the life sciences in answering that call.”
Born in the 21st century, the study of biocomplexity uncovers connections between seemingly unrelated processes.
“It’s impossible to fully understand the information of the genome without understanding the context of the organism,” said Barrett, who is a professor in the department of computer science in the College of Engineering. “We are building an integrated, scientific program that extends understanding of how interacting systems affect life. The development of tools that can predict, explain, and visualize the behavior of these systems on a massive scale sets Virginia Tech apart from other institutions.”
The institute’s evolving name and research direction embody the university’s efforts to create graduates capable of solving complex problems of a regional, national, and global scale, many of which have yet to be envisioned, according to Virginia Tech President Timothy D. Sands.
“We prepare our students to live and work in a changing, interconnected world, and the planned evolution of the Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech is a fitting example for our process of continuous innovation,” said Sands, who is challenging the university community to engage in a Beyond Boundaries visioning process to propel the university toward 2047 — the 175th anniversary of Virginia Tech.
Meanwhile, as faculty members begin a process of identifying destination areas — proposed areas of growth — institutes are expected to play a vital role, according to Provost Thanassis Rikakis.
“Academia in the 21st century requires a continuous innovation plan and related resources to find the next big, cross-cutting idea,” Rikakis said. “The Biocomplexity Institute is an example of how the university can create responsive structures that will move us forward to become a global leader among land-grant universities.”
Biocomplexity studies are powered by diverse scientific expertise, high-performance computing, mathematics to extract information from massively interacting systems, computational capabilities to understand the extractions, and exceptional capabilities to store information, Barrett said.
The Virginia Tech Board of Visitors this summer approved construction plans for the institute’s new data center. Already capable of processing demographically accurate simulations of the entire U.S. population in a matter of minutes, the improvements are expected to expand the Biocomplexity Institute’s computational capacity tenfold.
The evolving programmatic direction and support of the Biocomplexity Institute is a testimony to the university’s vision of research institutes as agents to channel cross-cutting, multidisciplinary expertise to create opportunities and answer challenges, according to Dennis Dean, interim Vice President for Research and Innovation and director of the Fralin Life Science Institute.
“To gather the talent, set a course, and craft a program that looks at life science from a new perspective—in this case, biocomplexity—is an evolving opportunity for the university and for science,” Dean said. “Dr. Barrett has done a terrific job assembling expertise in synthetic information systems, biological and social computation, and systems analysis of interdependent societal structures to give the Biocomplexity Institute unmatched capability to seize opportunities and solve problems.”
Partners and community members will be invited to see the full range of the Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech’s research at the institute’s annual symposium in April 2016 on Blacksburg campus. The institute also has research offices at the Virginia Tech Research Center in Arlington, Virginia.