When Roland W. Schmitt retired from his job as a senior vice president of General Electric Co. and director of GE’S Research and Development Center on January 31, he had little time to spend in leisure activities. On March 1, the 64-year-old physicist became the 16th president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY He takes over an academic institution that is unique in its links with industry RPI has centers dedicated to interactive computer graphics, manufacturing productivity, composite materials and structures, and multiphase phenomena. The institution boasts its own industrial park, populated by a variety of technology-based companies. And the campus possesses “incubator space” designed to nurture small companies during their critical formative stages. Such cooperation has benefited both RPI and industry but now Schmitt faces the question of how strongly the institute should commune with industry in the future.

In a wide-ranging interview with science writer Peter Gwynne,...

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