COLUMBIA ENGINEERING - YESTERDAY AND TODAY
A COLONIAL CHARTER
Since its founding in 1754, as King’s College, Columbia University has always been an institution both of and for the City of New York. And it has always been an institution of and for engineers. In its original charter, the college stated that it would teach, among other things, “the arts of Number and Measuring, of Surveying and Navigation, . . . the knowledge of . . . Meteors, Stones, Mines and Minerals, Plants and Animals, and everything useful for the Comfort, the Convenience and Elegance of Life.”
THE GILDED AGE
As the city grew, so did the School. King’s College was rechartered as Columbia College in 1784 and relocated from the Wall Street area to what is now Midtown in 1857. Students began entering the new School of Mines in 1864. Trained in mining, mineralogy, and engineering, Columbia graduates continued to make their mark both at home and abroad.
Working around the globe, William Barclay Parsons, Class of 1882, was an engineer on the Chinese railway and the Cape Cod and Panama Canals. Most importantly for New York, he was chief engineer of the city’s first subway. Opened in 1904, the subway’s electric cars took passengers from City Hall to Brooklyn, the Bronx, and the newly renamed and relocated Columbia University in Morningside Heights.
A MODERN SCHOOL FOR MODERN TIMES
The School of Mines became the School of Mines, Engineering, and Chemistry in 1896, and its professors included Michael Idvorsky Pupin, a graduate of the Columbia College Class of 1883. As a professor at Columbia, Pupin did pioneering work in carrier-wave detection and current analysis, with important applications in radio broadcasting. He is perhaps most famous for having invented the “Pupin coil,” which extended the range of long-distance telephones.
An early student of Pupin’s was Irving Langmuir. Langmuir, Class of 1903, enjoyed a long career at the General Electric research laboratory. There he invented a gas-filled tungsten lamp, contributed to the development of the radio vacuum tube, and extended Gilbert Lewis’ work on electron bonding and atomic structure. His research in monolayering and surface chemistry led to a Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1932.
But early work on radio vacuum tubes was not restricted to private industry. Working with Pupin, an engineering student named Edwin Howard Armstrong was conducting experiments with the Audion tube in the basement of Philosophy Hall when he discovered how to amplify radio signals through regenerative circuits. Armstrong, Class of 1913, was stationed in France during the First World War, where he invented the superheterodyne circuit to tune in and detect the frequencies of enemy aircraft ignition systems. After the war, Armstrong improved his method of frequency modulation (FM), and by 1931, had both eliminated the static and improved the fidelity of radio broadcasting forever. The historic significance of Armstrong’s contributions was recognized by the U.S. government when the Philosophy Hall laboratory was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2003.
As the United States evolved into a major twentieth-century political power, the University continued to build onto its undergraduate curriculum the broad range of influential graduate and professional schools that define it today. Renamed once again in 1926, the School of Engineering prepared students for careers not only as engineers of nuclear-age technology, but as leaders engaged with the far-reaching political implications of that technology as well.
After receiving a master’s degree from the School in 1929, Admiral Hyman George Rickover served during the Second World War as head of the electrical section of the Navy’s Bureau of Ships. A proponent of nuclear sea power, Rickover directed the planning and construction of the world’s first nuclear submarine, the 300-foot-long Nautilus, launched in 1954.
TECHNOLOGY AND BEYOND
Today, The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, as it was named in 1997, continues to provide leadership for scientific and educational advances. Even Joseph Engelberger, Class of 1946, the father of modern robotics, could not have anticipated the revolutionary speed with which cumbersome and expensive “big science” computers would shrink to the size of a wallet.
No one could have imagined the explosive growth of technology and its interdisciplinary impact. Columbia Engineering is in a unique position to take advantage of the research facilities and talents housed at Columbia to form relationships among and between other schools and departments within the University. Biomedical Engineering, with close ties to the Medical School, is but one example. Interdisciplinary centers are the norm, with cross-disciplinary research going on in biomedical imaging, environmental chemistry, materials science, nanotechnology, digital government, and new media technologies. The School and its departments have links to the Departments of Physics, Chemistry, Earth Science, and Mathematics, as well as the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the Graduate School of Journalism, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Teachers College, Columbia Business School, and the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. The transforming gift of The Fu Foundation has catapulted the School into the forefront of collaborative research and teaching and has given students the opportunity to work with prize-winning academicians, including Nobel laureates, from many disciplines.
NEW RESEARCH FRONTIERS
Columbia’s technology transfer office, Columbia Technology Ventures, works with faculty inventors to commercialize ideas and brings in millions in licensing revenue annually.
Columbia’s technology transfer office, Columbia Technology Ventures, works with faculty inventors to commercialize ideas and brings in millions in licensing revenue annually. Columbia Engineering faculty have been instrumental in developing some of the most successful inventions in consumer electronics, as well as establishing many of the widely accepted global standards for storage and transmission of high-quality audio and video data. Columbia is the only university actively participating in a broad range of standards-based patent pools, including AVC (Advanced Video Coding), the world standard for audio/video compression that is now one of the most commonly used HD formats and most commonly used in streaming media; and ATSC, a standard developed by the Advanced Television Systems Committee for digital television transmission. It is now the U.S. standard for recording and retrieval of data and HD audio-visual media. In addition to the standards, Columbia Engineering faculty have patents in areas as diverse as modular cameras, carbon capture, a search engine that matches facial features, and even methods to combat virtual reality sickness.
Increasingly, the inventions emerging from Columbia Engineering are developed in collaboration with other researchers, expanding the potential applications for their important work. Programs such as the COSMOS Wireless Testbed, the Columbia IBM-Center for Blockchain and Data Transparency, the Columbia Center for AI Technology, and the Columbia Electrochemical Energy Center are strengthening interdisciplinary capacity and fostering an entrepreneurial and inventive energy within the School. Some of these programs and centers have helped prepare ideas for commercialization, including personalized robotics for use in physical rehabilitation and an implantable device that acts as a minimally-invasive glucose sensor for diabetic patients.
Throughout the academic year, the School hosts many activities and networking events to support its active startup community, including the Columbia Engineering Fast Pitch Competition, Columbia Venture Competition, Design Challenges, Hackathons, and the Ignition Grants program, which funds ventures started by current students.
And for alumni, entrepreneurial support continues. The Columbia Startup Lab, a co-working facility located in SoHo, provides subsidized space for 71 Columbia alumni entrepreneurs to house and nurture their fledgling ventures. The Lab is the result of a unique partnership between the deans of Columbia College and the Schools of Business, Engineering, Law, and International and Public Affairs.
A FORWARD-LOOKING TRADITION
But, for all its change, there is still a continuous educational thread that remains the same. Committed to the educational philosophy that a broad, rigorous exposure to the liberal arts provides the surest chart with which an engineer can navigate the future, all undergraduates must complete a modified but equally rigorous version of Columbia College’s celebrated Core Curriculum. It is these selected courses in contemporary civilization in the West and other global cultures that best prepare a student for advanced coursework; a wide range of eventual professions; and a continuing, life-long pursuit of knowledge, understanding, and social perspective. It is also these Core courses that most closely tie today’s student to the alumni of centuries past. Through a shared exposure to the nontechnical areas, all Columbia Engineering students— past, present, and future—gain the humanistic tools needed to build lives not solely as technical innovators, but as social and political ones as well.
A COLLEGE WITHIN THE UNIVERSITY
Combining the advantages of a small college with the extensive resources of a major research university, students at Columbia Engineering pursue their academic interests under the guidance of outstanding senior faculty members who teach both undergraduate and graduate level courses. Encouraged by the faculty to undertake research at all levels, students at the School receive the kind of personal attention that only Columbia’s exceptionally high facultystudent ratio affords.
THE NEW YORK ADVANTAGE
Besides the faculty, the single greatest resource for students is without doubt the City of New York. Within easy reach by walking, bus, subway, or taxi, New York’s broad range of social, cultural, and business communities offer an unparalleled opportunity for students to expand their horizons or deepen their understanding of almost any human endeavor imaginable. With art from small Chelsea galleries to major museums; music from Harlem jazz clubs to the Metropolitan Opera; theater from performance art in the East Village to musicals on Broadway; food from around the world; and every sport imaginable, New York is the cultural crossroads of the world.
New York is also a major player in high-tech research and development, where Fortune 500 companies traded on Wall Street seek partnerships with high-tech startups in Tribeca and Brooklyn. As part of the research community themselves, Columbia students have exceptional opportunities for contact with industry both on and off campus. Senior representatives of these companies often visit Columbia to lecture as adjunct faculty members or as guest speakers, and undergraduate and graduate students frequently undertake research or internships with these and other companies, oftentimes leading to offers of full-time employment after graduation.
In addition to its ties to private industry, Columbia also has a historically close relationship with the public sector of New York, stretching back to the eighteenth century. No other city in the world offers as many impressive examples of the built environment— the world’s most famous collection of skyscrapers, long-span bridges, road and railroad tunnels, and one of the world’s largest subway and water supply systems. Involved in all aspects of the city’s growth and capital improvements over the years, Columbia engineers have been responsible for the design, analysis, and maintenance of New York’s enormous infrastructure of municipal services and communications links, as well as its great buildings, bridges, tunnels, and monuments.
THE UNIVERSITY AT LARGE
Columbia University occupies three major campuses, as well as additional special-purpose facilities throughout the area. The main campus is located on the Upper West Side in Morningside Heights, and the Manhattanville campus is the newest addition to Columbia University. This open and environmentally sustainable campus will grow over the next decade to encompass more than 17 acres. Further uptown in Washington Heights is the Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC), which includes Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, the Mailman School of Public Health, the New York State Psychiatric Institute, College of Dental Medicine, and School of Nursing. CUIMC is the world’s first academic medical center, and opened in 1928 when Columbia’s health-related schools and Presbyterian Hospital (now NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital) moved to the Washington Heights location. Columbia Engineering’s Biomedical Engineering Department has offices on both the Morningside campus and CUIMC.
Beyond its schools and programs, the measure of Columbia’s true breadth and depth must take into account its internationally recognized centers and institutions for specialized research. These centers study everything from human rights to molecular recognition and hold close affiliations with Teachers College, Barnard College, the Juilliard School, and both the Jewish and Union Theological Seminaries. Columbia also maintains major off-campus facilities such as the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, NY and the Nevis Laboratories in Irvington, NY. Involved in many cooperative ventures, Columbia also conducts ongoing research at such facilities as Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, NY, and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies located just off the Morningside campus.
THE MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS CAMPUS
Columbia Engineering is located on Columbia’s Morningside campus. One of the handsomest urban institutions in the country, the 13.1 million gross square feet (gsf) of the Morningside campus comprise more than 200 buildings of housing; off-campus apartments and commercial buildings; recreation and research facilities; centers for the humanities and social and pure sciences; and professional schools in architecture, business, the fine arts, journalism, law, and many other fields.
From Broadway and 125th Street West to a revitalized Hudson River waterfront, Columbia's 17-acre Manhattanville campus is a welcoming environment of publicly accessible open space, treelined streets, neighborhood-friendly retail, and innovative academic buildings that invite community engagement. It is home to the Jerome L. Greene Science Center, Columbia's Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, the Lenfest Center for the Arts, and the University Forum, an event and meetings space. Columbia Business School has relocated to this campus and plans are underway to develop a new building here for Columbia Engineering, as well. These spaces house cutting-edge research and teaching in brain science, an art gallery, screening room, and performance spaces, and space for active community engagement.
Columbia Engineering occupies four laboratory and classroom buildings at the north end of Morningside campus, including the Northwest Corner Science and Engineering Building, an interdisciplinary teaching and research building. In this building researchers from across the University work together to create new areas of knowledge, in fields where the biological, physical, and digital worlds fuse. This pandisciplinary frontier will advance some of modern society’s most challenging problems in a wide range of sectors, from health to cybersecurity, from smart infrastructure to the environment.
Supporting multiple programs of study, the School's facilities are designed and equipped to meet the laboratory and research needs of both undergraduate and graduate students. The School is also the site of an almost overwhelming array of basic and advanced research installations, such as the Columbia Genome Center and the Columbia Nano Initiative, established to serve as the hub for multidisciplinary and collaborative research programs in nanoscale science and engineering. Shared facilities and equipment to support nano research at the Engineering School include a state-of-the-art clean room in the Schapiro Center for Engineering and Physical Science Research (CEPSR) and a Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM) Laboratory on the first floor of Havemeyer.
Founded in 2012 by Columbia Engineering, the Data Science Institute also sits on Morningside campus as a University-wide resource that spans nine schools, including Journalism, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and Columbia University Irving Medical Center. The mission of the Data Science Institute is to train data science innovators and develop ideas for the social good.
Details about specific programs’ laboratories and equipment can be found in the sections describing those programs.
Columbia Engineering Computing Facilities
The Botwinick Multimedia Learning Laboratory at Columbia University has redefined the way engineers are educated here.
Designed with both education and interaction in mind, the lab provides students and instructors with:
- 48 desktops
- A full set of professional-grade engineering software tools
- A collaborative classroom learning environment
The lab is utilized in some of the School’s introductory first-year engineering projects, as well as advanced classes in modeling and animation, technology and society, and entrepreneurship.
Columbia Engineering’s Makerspace provides students with a dedicated place to collaborate, learn, explore, experiment, and create prototypes. Students can utilize the space to work on a variety of innovative projects, including independent or group design projects, product development, and new venture plans. This facility fosters student creativity by bringing together the workspace and tools for 3D printing, laser cutting, computeraided design, physical prototyping, fabric arts, wood and metalworking, jewelry making, sewing and embroidery, stained glass making, electronics, and software.
Located on the fourth floor (campus level) of the Mudd Building, Carleton Commons and Blue Java Café/Chef Don's Pizza comprise 3,200 square feet with seating for 160 and areas for casual meetings, individual and group work, and quiet study. Carleton Commons gives students a dedicated and comfortable space to gather, relax between classes, or meet and work with one another on problem sets or projects. The new design also enables flexible and reconfigurable use of the space for larger gatherings and special events.