The quest and the climb

fresh aorta 

Structure for life

In a section of artery, living cells (blue) populate fibers of the matrix (green), forming new tissue. Dan and Agneta Simionescu have developed a method that could vastly improve implants to repair failing parts of the body.

If you’d like to read more about the ramifications of this research, take a look at the matrix, reloaded.

Image courtesy of the Simionescu lab.

As a public university, Clemson strives to help the state and nation compete in “the knowledge economy,” as people have called it. We hear debate about what that economy entails, but several points seem clear: The knowledge economy is global, it is driven by information and innovation, and it changes rapidly. This, by the way, also describes the nature of modern research.

Today, knowledge is far more than a static set of facts. It’s a dynamic ability, an active mindset, a way of thinking that constantly tests old assumptions, digs for new information, forges new connections, and builds a broader, deeper understanding. In short, knowledge is a quest and a climb, not a summit we attain and then stop climbing.

I cannot think of a better example of this approach than the work of Dan and Aggie Simionescu, two extraordinary scientists who are regenerating tissue to repair failing heart valves and many other body parts. Their research is truly global, with collaborations around the world. It thrives on change and innovation. By working with surgeons in the Greenville Health System, Dan and Aggie never lose sight of the real-world practicalities of helping patients and saving lives. And, at every step of the way, Dan and Aggie’s students absorb not only the facts of science and engineering but the habits of working that will help them succeed.

Here is what Martine LaBerge, department chair in bioengineering, has to say: “Dan and Aggie Simionescu exemplify the value of partnership. They have built strong collaborations with clinicians and scientists across the U.S. and in several countries, and with these collaborations they are showing how the new translational biomedical research is changing the way medicine is done. Their work is also a catalyst for students, at both the graduate and undergraduate level. Dan and Aggie are two of the best educators in the department. At Clemson, we educate thinkers and leaders, and research is vital to that goal. Our students are the point.”

In this issue of Glimpse, you will find multiple examples of the principle that students are the point. Take a look, for example, at Curtiss Fox, whose research as a Clemson student led to a sophisticated new simulator for testing and improving the electrical grid we depend on for power. Today, Curtiss is director of operations for the Duke Energy eGrid, managing the very technology he helped to conceive. Or sample the top-quality work of student filmmakers in Digital Production Arts, whose animations measure up to the rigorous standards of their mentors at DreamWorks. Or consider several examples of how students and their mentors are using computer-based simulations and robotics to improve patient care.

In each of these examples the value of research goes far beyond the final product. Our students are acquiring the habits along with the know-how. They are learning the quest.

R. Larry Dooley

Interim Vice President for Research