Frontiers Conference at the University of Pittsburgh

University of Pittsburgh researchers play a leading role in a White House conference, co-hosted by Pitt and Carnegie Mellon, on the future of innovation.

Pitt @ The Conference

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Some of the most famous words spoken in human history were delivered on the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on November 19, 1863. It was the dawning of a new era—as was the signing of the declaration of independence and the 1787 US constitution in Philadelphia, less than 100 years previous.
“Ready to dock this bad boy, Mr. President?” “It’s a go, Mr. Chancellor.” The above is almost certainly the conversation President Barack Obama and Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher did not have as they operated the Boeing CST-100 Starliner Simulator in Pitt’s Alumni Hall demo area during the White House Frontiers Conference.
In the summer of 1977, Freda C. Lewis-Hall’s mother died of a stroke. Dr. Lewis-Hall was in her first year studies at the Howard University School of Medicine and was more deeply awaken to the fact that when it comes to caring for patients, individual patients need to be at the center of that care. Dr. Lewis-Hall knew of the Framingham Heart Study from the 1950s, which provided general and what is now common knowledge on the “risk factors” or the dangerous effects of smoking, hypertension and high cholesterol as they relate to heart disease.
Marcia Lindstrom grew up in rural Mississippi. She was a small-town girl who loved music and words. So, how did she get to the University of Pittsburgh's Alumni Hall, where she stands practically in the middle of the room, showcasing a virtual reality set that gives users big goggles and the anxiety of being up close to a rocket as it rattles and shakes, preparing to launch to Mars.
On the chilled October morning of the White House Frontiers conference, innovators from across the country gathered in Pittsburgh to discuss new frontiers in science and technology--from driverless cars to missions to Mars. But to presenter Michael Boninger, the ultimate frontier is much closer to home. “The next moon shot is the brain,” he said.
The possibilities are endless: a functioning economy on Mars, robots building structures in space, space stations with 3-D printers to replace broken equipment, farming vegetables on another planet. The breadth of current space exploration and research—both by NASA and private-sector companies—is incredible. Or, as Ellen Stofan, NASA’s chief scientist, concluded at the end of a panel discussion on humans living in outer space, “This is amazing. We really are on our way to Mars.”
Esther Bush, head of the Urban League of Pittsburgh, is just finishing her morning coffee, when she moves the fifth floor of the University of Pittsburgh’s Alumni Hall to listen to the speakers and panelists with the Personal Track at the White House Frontiers conference. For two decades, Ms. Bush has been pushing people who are underserved across obstacles, helping them with housing, job opportunities, and educational choices. She’s at the conference to continue her work of helping those who are invisible into new frontiers.
Alexis Chidi's educational trajectory is emblematic of today's events, so it's fitting she should introduce President Barack Obama during the Frontier Conference’s plenary session. A little background on the vaunted speaker:
Are you one in a million? In the buzzing Exhibit Hall at the White House Frontier Conference, folks line up in front of a brilliant white background to take their picture holding PACares signs in front of "I'm one in a million" quote on the wall.
George Whitesides is so excited about tourists going into space that he bought tickets for himself and his wife when Virgin Galactic first announced its goal of taking travelers into space. Whitesides is now CEO of Virgin Galactic, created by British entrepreneur Richard Branson, and its sister firm, The Spaceship Company—and Whitesides remains just as sure that he will experience interplanetary travel.
A rousing conversation up in the Personal Track at the White House Frontiers Conference. Pitt's David O. Okonkwo, MD/PhD professor of neuroscience, joins moderator Margaret Anderson from FasterCures (who just made a joke about presidential moderators); Freda C. Lewis-Hall from Pfizer; James Park from FitBit; and Dana Lewis from OpenAPS. The panel has covered genomes, the vital role that failure plays in science, and how to get hospitals and doctors talking to each other to improve patient care. The panel's guiding topic is "Building Science Capacity for the Future of Health."
It was perfectly fitting that Rod Roddenberry Jr. delivered opening remarks this morning during the White House Frontiers Conference session, “Space Exploration and the Thriving American Space Industry.” The son of the late Gene Roddenberry, creator of the Star Trek series, Roddenberry needed little prompting to invoke the most beloved of all time science-fiction space show. “Ladies and gentlemen and fellow humans,” he began. “It's great to be here today and I’m incredibly humbled to be surrounded by some of our planet’s great minds.” 
“Anybody who said we couldn’t do it wasn’t invited back,” Elizabeth Tyler-Kabara, an MD/PhD neurosurgeon at Pitt, explained to me at the Frontiers Conference Exhibit Hall. She’s part of the “Restoring Movement and Touch with Brain Interfaces” exhibit, where they’re demonstrating perhaps the coolest technology in the hall. Around 2007, Tyler-Kabara, Andrew Schwartz, Jen Collinger, and others at Pitt were plotting an ambitious project—controlling a robotic arm with only the mind.
Yesterday CNN published a piece by President Barack Obama in which he presents his plan to get humans to Mars by 2030. Obama is visiting the University of Pittsburgh as part of the White House Frontiers Conference, at which interplanetary exploration will be a major focus.
In a recent interview with Wired, President Barack Obama outlined his vision for the future of artificial intelligence, saying that it holds the potential to "create a vastly more productive and efficient economy." Such an economy, he said, could "generate enormous prosperity and opportunity" across the globe. The interview with Wired came just before the White House Frontiers Conference hosted at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University.