Science for Our Planet and Our Future

February 5, 2018

Last week I traveled to Davos, Switzerland, to discuss some of the most crucial challenges facing our planet at the World Economic Forum (WEF). In the past two years, we have showcased Yale’s work in the humanities and in cultural heritage preservation at this global summit. This year, we highlighted Yale’s leadership in science. 

Science is essential to solving major problems that affect millions of people, such as global warming, disease, poverty, and inequality. I learned this lesson early from my father—a polymer chemist. He taught me that science is not something on a chalk board or an abstraction from the “real world.” Instead, science and the results of science are all around us—from food to pharmaceuticals to football helmets. My dad conducted basic research on the effects of radiation on polymers, and toward the end of his career, these findings were applied to designing a safer hip replacement. 

Science plays a role in our daily lives and in our collective future; however, few problems are solved by a single discipline. People with diverse backgrounds and expertise are needed to translate scientific insights into action. That is why our university is such a promising place for innovation. The new Yale Science Building will bring together biologists, physicists, chemists, engineers, mathematicians, and others, increasing the potential for collaboration. Our scientists also work with faculty members in business, law, and other fields to help communities through their discoveries. 

Yale’s leadership on climate change is an important example of how we are combining our strengths to tackle critical challenges. Last week, Yale released the latest edition of the Environmental Performance Index (EPI), an annual scorecard ranking countries on their performance on a range of environmental issues. It is the product of collaboration among scientists, statisticians, and environmental experts. Developed at Yale, the EPI has helped policymakers and world leaders use data to improve policy for over twenty years. 

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication is another interdisciplinary gem: it brings together psychologists, geographers, political scientists, and statisticians to study public attitudes toward climate change. Their research helps us shape messages that will reach a broad audience, including policy makers and voters. Experts agree that climate change is one of the greatest threats to human wellbeing, and universities like Yale must play a role in addressing it.

As I meet Yale scientists—on our campus and around the world—I am reminded of how much they have in common with great artists and musicians. Far more than memorizing facts or conducting rote experiments, science demands improvisation and creativity. Such ingenuity can be seen in the amazing strides Yale researchers are making in precision medicine and quantum computing. 

Precision medicine allows physicians to use genetic analyses to diagnose diseases with improved accuracy and to select the most effective treatments. Yale has been using these capabilities to provide individualized care to cancer patients, improving survival and quality of life. 

Across campus, researchers at the Yale Quantum Institute are working to harness the unprecedented power of data to improve our world. Investigators at Yale created the first electronic quantum processor—a breakthrough in the field. In the future, quantum computers might help us discover new drugs, fertilizers, sustainable energy technology, or ways to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Scientific discovery can help people live longer, better, and more meaningful lives. That is why a bold investment in science—both research and education—is part of my vision for Yale’s future. As we seek answers and solutions to problems of global importance, Yale will continue to support innovative thinking and teaching that benefit the world.