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From the Director
We take a lot for granted—such as our mobility, both physical and virtual, the ability to have goods delivered to us when we expect them, and finding our preferred brand of cereal on the supermarket shelves. Only when disrupted do we take notice—road closure, major accident, snow storm, labor action, car breakdown. It is therefore a double-edge sword for transportation researchers and professionals when the general public increasingly becomes aware of mobility and of the transportation systems that provide it. On the one hand, it probably reflects experience with some disruption or noticeable degradation in service. On the other hand, it creates an opportunity to impress upon our society and elected representatives the need for solutions, and the significance of the work conducted at research centers such as ours.
Transportation remains at the core of several major concerns and challenges for our society. These problems have a global dimension, yet impact every locality. Concerns about energy and sustainability, economic growth and development, quality of life in congested cities, loss of life due to unsafe behaviors, infrastructure renewal, constrained financial resources, and inadequate institutional structures, are only a few of the strategic concerns that drive the transportation research and policy agendas.
Transportation research at Northwestern matters-- it may not lead to a cure for a rare disease, but it will help patients receive the treatment they need, and specimens reach laboratories with unique diagnostic equipment. It may also help characterize and prevent pandemics through advances in network science that allow accurate prediction of global migratory patterns. Especially in the wake of disasters, the logistics of aid delivery and health service provision critically determine how many lives can be saved and how quickly the impacted population can stand on its feet. Our faculty’s research into humanitarian logistics and disaster planning and relief is leading the way for advancing operations research models and algorithms to address the unique challenges of these extreme environments.
NUTC research is expanding the sphere of transportation and mobility research to encompass the entire user experience—from origin to ultimate destination, and every step in between. Bringing together design of the physical environment, connectivity through information technologies, along with improvement in operational processes, a new initiative is targeting nothing less than reinventing the user experience in transportation. Opportunities derive from technological innovation, and call for new thinking in the realms of policy and service delivery models. Areas once at the periphery of the field have increasingly moved towards the core. By providing a synergistic environment for different disciplinary perspectives and specialties to come together, NUTC research enables novel problem definitions, perspectives, approaches and solutions to transportation, mobility and logistics problems.
For over a half century, the Transportation Center has played a key role in defining the field through fundamental as well as application-driven and industry-relevant research, along with excellent educational programs that continue to produce transportation leaders in academia, industry, and government. Successful research centers adapt, and set the pace for innovation in the field. With over 55 faculty affiliates from all parts of Northwestern’s world-class programs, strong industry engagement, and a web of collaborative connections with local, national and international agencies and research entities, NUTC offers a unique think‐tank and laboratory for cross-disciplinary research that matters.
This progress report is intended to highlight a year in the life of the Transportation Center community—an intellectually rich and diverse community of students and faculty, of researchers and dedicated staff members, loyal alums, our industry partners through the Business Advisory Committee (BAC), our special interest groups in aviation (Icarus Society) and rail (Sandhouse Gang), and a growing network of collaborators and friends in the region and around the world. We hope it will convey the breadth and richness of our activities in research, education, outreach and industry engagement, the distinction of our faculty and students, and the excitement and dynamism of our community.
Northwestern University Transportation Center
William A. Patterson Distinguished Chair of Transportation