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Researchers have 'opportunity' to help solve world’s problems

By CORY NEALON

Published January 24, 2013

Timothy Killeen

Timothy Killeen

The term “sustainability,” as it relates to using Earth’s resources wisely, can be problematic, Timothy Killeen, president of the SUNY Research Foundation, said Friday during a visit to UB.

It could, he told roughly 60 faculty and staff members gathered in the Center for the Arts, be interpreted as maintaining some type of miserable but persistent universe. In its place, he argued for the use of “thrivability,” which is similar but implies a sense of progress.

“Just try it out a few times,” said Killeen, also SUNY’s vice chancellor for research, acknowledging that it may sound odd initially.

The theme of thrivability was spread throughout a roughly hour-long speech that Killeen delivered at UB, SUNY’s largest and most comprehensive university. The speech borrowed heavily from his immediate past job as the National Science Foundation’s assistant director for geosciences. In that position, Killeen managed an $880 million portfolio for scientific research and high technology economic development.

He highlighted several aspects of his tenure at NSF, particularly facilities built, such as the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center in Cheyenne, which will help researchers better calculate climate change, and the R/V Sikuliaq, a $200 million state-of-the-art boat designed for Arctic research.

While UB and SUNY might not land such high-profile climate change research projects, the university and the SUNY system have a tremendous opportunity to tackle issues that threaten the well-being of New York, the United States and the world, he said.

“Unless we take this challenge on, we will have missed an opportunity” to conduct rigorous scientific research that will benefit Earth for generations to come, he said.

Researchers must not only seek state and federal funding, but also international partnerships, he said, adding that they must continue, when possible, to integrate students into their work as well.

In addition to conducting groundbreaking medical, engineering and social sciences research, UB researchers are working across the globe studying everything from the polar ice sheets to volcanoes. Their work, combined with the university’s commitment to offset its carbon emissions by 2030, appears to put UB in line with Killeen’s goals.

Killeen, who started his dual role at SUNY in June, spent the majority of his career at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, serving both as a faculty member and administrator. A member of the National Academy of Engineering, he was director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., from 2000-08.

He earned a PhD in atomic and molecular physics from University College London in the United Kingdom.