From the outside looking in, the past half-year would seem to have been even more hectic for Mariana Figueiro and the Lighting Research Center (LRC) staff at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) than for the rest of us just dealing with the surging pandemic. But Figueiro reports that the announced move of the center to Rutgers University and then a more recent change of course to Mount Sinai Hospital was simply driven by logistics and a desire to grow the influence and industry benefits of the center. And indeed, Figueiro and the majority of the LRC staff will move to work under Mount Sinai in Manhattan in early 2021, even while the engineering and technical operations remain in Troy, NY.
We were surprised to learn in late summer that Figueiro would leave the LRC for Rutgers to create a new research center for solid-state lighting (SSL) and join the faculty at the teaching medical school. We quickly learned that most of the LRC staff would transition to the new Rutgers center, as we wrote in early September. But we have since learned that the transition planning goes back much further.
A potential move from RPI was driven all along by the desire to have access to a medical teaching facility to increase the center’s ability to perform health-related research. From day one of the planning, however, Figueiro said the central theme was to “keep the band together as a unit” with many of the staff having worked at the LRC for decades.
The opportunity to move the lab staff to Mount Sinai emerged before the opportunity at Rutgers. And Figueiro had pursued the Mount Sinai opportunity. But as those negotiations were ongoing, Manhattan became the largest COVID-19 hotspot in the world. The negotiations had always assumed that the existing staff would remain in Troy, although Figueiro knew she would be spending significant time in Manhattan and other staffers would be in the city as well on a recurring basis.
With no sure vision as to how the pandemic would play out in New York City, the opportunity at Rutgers emerged to transition the LRC work to that teaching hospital. And ultimately that move was publicly announced, as mentioned earlier. But the logistics stifled the process. Legal regulatory issues between the states of New Jersey and New York would not allow the LRC staff to become Rutgers employees while working from Troy, NY.
Figueiro then turned back to Mount Sinai where the university and hospital still wanted her and the LRC team onboard, and the severe lockdown in New York by Governor Andrew Cuomo had greatly diminished COVID-19 infections. All of the details of the new Mount Sinai center are not known at this point. But Figueiro said the new research center would be announced by the end of the year. She sees the change as the “LRC just changing institutions.”
Figueiro said Mount Sinai will provide more opportunity for the center to grow. Moreover, the staff can expand the breadth of their research to include things such as germicidal ultraviolet (UV) technology. She said, “The LRC is the people.” And all but five of the research staff will make the move.
One well-known figure who will remain at RPI is Nadarajah Narendran, who has been director of research at the LRC. We ran an article back in 2018 that charted Narendran’s contributions to the LED industry and standards setting. Most recently, Narendran has focused much of his effort on 3-D printing in SSL applications, and he has presented several times at our Strategies in Light event on the topic. Narendran is tenured and settled at RPI, but Figueiro said the new center will still collaborate with Narendran on some projects.
Figueiro also said the new Mount Sinai research center will be good for the SSL industry. “It’s going to be a great service for the lighting community,” said Figueiro. “We need more access to clinical field studies.” And the new work will include areas such as artificial intelligence (AI).
For now, no one knows what the new center will be called or from what location in Troy it will operate. There is a chance that the LRC name could be transferred or it may stay with RPI, with the Mount Sinai center adopting a new name. And Figueiro also said the new center will collaborate with Rutgers where the new center almost landed.
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