Welcome to the College of Science and Letters
Welcome to the College of Science and Letters, the academic core of Illinois Institute of Technology. Through its seven departments, CSL awards undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees and provides required courses for nearly every IIT undergraduate major.
CSL focuses on connections—how our college and its faculty and students are connected to each other and the outside world, and how these connections play an increasing role in defining the college.
Why? Simply, if we had to identify the defining characteristic of the early 21st century, it would be as the Connected Age, much as earlier ages were defined as the Industrial, the Machine, and the Electronic Ages.
The Internet and email are only a generation old. With origins dating back to government research in the 1960s, they became more widely used by the scientific community in the 1980s—I well remember sending—laboriously—my first email from Oxford to Chicago in 1986! Now more than a quarter of the world's population uses this ever increasingly powerful tool to communicate and share knowledge and ideas.
The impact of this explosive growth on our ability to communicate with each other and with devices and machines is only just beginning to appear. Some of this impact is just due to the increased speed of communication—recall the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812 was fought two weeks after the peace treaty ending the war had been signed—the news was in the mail. Now we are able to manage conflict remotely and almost instantaneously. More prosaically, perhaps, the experiment I participate in at CERN's (European Organization for Nuclear Research's) Large Hadron Collider can be operated remotely from a control room at Fermilab outside Chicago, even though the experiment is located in Geneva, Switzerland, some 100m below ground.
It's not just speed that is having the major impact, though. It is the sudden ability to contact and link large numbers of people simultaneously in complex multi-party discussion and information sharing—the phenomenon known as social networking. This is changing the world. Knowledge has become a commodity available to all more or less simultaneously and at essentially no cost. Already we see how areas previously controlled by access to knowledge restricted to a privileged few have been transformed. This has transformed both old and defined new markets and brought with it a number of important and crucial consequences and issues.
First, how do we understand and manage this phenomenon?
At a fundamental level, the network of information flow has many similarities to other networks—the network of neurons in the nervous system, the rate at which scholars cite each other's work, etc. Curiously, the study of such networks has longstanding connections to IIT through the seminal work on graph theory by distinguished mathematics faculty member Karl Menger, continued to this day by applied mathematics faculty Ellis, Kaul and Pelsmajer. An essential tool in the visualization of such networks is the so-called Fruchterman-Reingold algorithm, originally published some 20 years ago by Ed Reingold of our Computer Science Department.
At the human level, we have all seen the power of social networks in the recent phenomenon called the Arab Spring—how the freedom in information transfer enabled dissident groups to organize and overthrow longstanding oppressive regimes—hopefully leading to more egalitarian societies in this explosive region. Libby Hemphill in CSL's Lewis Department of Humanities studies precisely how people influence each other in these collaborative settings.
Yet, as always, there is a darker side to all new technologies. We all know that any electronic information essentially exists forever and is therefore open to discovery or transmittal by people other than the original intended recipients. Major issues therefore arise at all levels—for the nation in areas of national security (WikiLeaks) and for individuals (identity theft). CSL is connected to these challenges—in the national security arena through the work on data integrity and security in our Computer Science Department, and in the area of personal privacy through the widely acclaimed work of Social Sciences Chair Chris Nippert-Eng.
At the fundamental level, we know that even the most elementary objects, e.g., electrons, are modified by their mere existence through their interactions with their surroundings. It must be true therefore that the profound changes in the ways in which we connect and interact with each other will have enormous consequences in the ways in which we behave—both as individuals and collectively.
Dean, College of Science and Letters