Published March 22, 2021

Bold concepts and visionary proposals have energized the university from its inception—and, with the proper support, created a brighter future for everyone.

Life-saving medicine extracted from soil. Visual art performed like theatre. A robotic marine vehicle with record-breaking range.

All were born in the creative crucible that is Rutgers. But they didn’t appear by magic. If every great achievement begins with an idea, it is also true that those ideas require resources, collaboration, and organizational support. Rutgers has provided those ingredients time and time again.

Through the years, countless innovations have sprouted up in Rutgers classrooms or research labs. Others have happened after students graduated—when, as professionals, they drew upon their Rutgers educations to bring about momentous change.

Whether great ideas begin in the minds of students, alumni, professors, or other community members, they are always worth nurturing—and celebrating. Here is a sampling of achievements that sprang from the innovative spirit hardwired into the Rutgers landscape:

  • 1864–Professor George Cook’s intensive study of New Jersey’s terrain becomes the model for the U.S. Geological Survey.
  • 1934–The Rutgers tomato, a joint venture between the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station and Campbell Soup Company, soon becomes the dominant commercial tomato of the mid-20th century.
  • 1943–Soil culture research by Selman Waksman RC1915,’16 and graduate students Albert Schatz AG’42,’45 and Elizabeth Bugie DC’42, GSNB’44 leads to the discovery of streptomycin, the first effective treatment for tuberculosis. Waksman later receives the Nobel Prize.
  • 1958–Allan Kaprow stages the first “happening,” a combination of art and performance, at Douglass College’s Voorhees Chapel. Art historian Joan Marter later says, “Rutgers was clearly the place to be for experimental artists during the late 1950s and early 1960s.”
  • 1969–Rutgers College sophomore and Black activist Lionel Cuffie RC’72 founds the Student Homophile League, the second gay rights student group in the nation.
  • 1971–The Women’s Rights Law Reporter, the first legal periodical of its kind in the United States, is established at Rutgers. Its first faculty adviser is Rutgers–Newark law professor and future Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
  • 1983–Donna Wong NUR’70 co-creates the Wong-Baker FACES pain rating scale to help children effectively communicate about their pain, enabling practitioners to develop better treatment and support.
  • 1994–History professor David Levering Lewis receives the Pulitzer Prize for the first volume of his biography of W.E.B. Du Bois and another Pulitzer in 2001 for the second volume. The author lauds Rutgers’ “enlightened policies about teaching and research that have been unfailingly reinforced by generous research stipends.”
  • 2009–Rutgers students and scientists launch RU27, the first undersea robotic glider to cross the Atlantic. In 2010, Rutgers’ Center for Ocean Observing Leadership sends undersea gliders to monitor the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
  • 2012–A test developed by Rutgers New Jersey Medical School infectious disease expert David Alland detects tuberculosis in less than two hours, revolutionizing diagnosis and treatment.
  • 2017–The Rutgers student-alumni start-up Roshni Rides wins the $1 million 2017 Hult Prize for developing a rickshaw transportation business. It has the potential to benefit refugee camp occupants around the world.
  • 2020–New hope arises in the battle against COVID-19 when the FDA approves a saliva-based diagnostic test developed by Rutgers professor Andrew Brooks. It promises to dramatically increase the speed and quantity of testing.

And the pattern continues. Transformative ideas take shape every day in Rutgers’ vast rehearsal space, preparing for a debut on the global stage. The ability of these ideas to grow and enrich the tapestry of human life depends on the resources committed to their success and the success of the people who produce them.

Are you interested in supporting and advancing bold ideas at Rutgers? You’ll find many opportunities to do so on Rutgers Giving Day, a yearly event that brings the university community together to better the world. Mark your calendar for March 24 and join in by supporting your favorite Rutgers school, program, or research area.

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