The creation of ICTAS represents an ambitious plan that has been evolving at Virginia Tech since the late 1990's, when Bill Stephenson, then the dean of the College of Engineering, helped lead an initiative to raise the university's research stature. Based on detailed analyses of factors that contribute to national rankings and on benchmarking top-line universities, Stephenson, Malcolm McPherson, then the associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Engineering, and other stakeholders developed a plan for an interdisciplinary research institute that would foster collaboration between scientists from different fields and catalyze discovery in emerging research areas.
In April 2000, the newly inaugurated president of Virginia Tech, Charles Steger, announced the goal of raising Virginia Tech into the ranks of the nation's foremost universities by 2010. Virginia Tech would become an institution that would attract the world's best teachers and researchers and, hence, provide the finest education for students and ensure a path to vibrant economic development in Southwest Virginia and the Commonwealth. The administration envisioned that the best way for Virginia Tech to achieve this ambitious goal was to leverage the colleges' existing strengths and build on synergies between talented faculty, so ICTAS became a critical part of the university's rise.
When Richard Benson joined Virginia Tech as dean of the College of Engineering in 2006, he made the young institute a priority for his administration; later that year, Roop Mahajan was recruited to be ICTAS' first permanent director. With support from Benson, Mahajan led a decade of extraordinary development at the institute, before stepping down in 2016. During his tenure, the institute grew to encompass three buildings on the Blacksburg campus, where faculty and students work together in specialized interdisciplinary labs; the institute also has a footprint in the National Capital Region and in India. The number of faculty and students supported, and research expenditures by supported faculty, have all grown by an order of magnitude, and the institute has contributed to groundbreaking, high-impact research in nanoscience, sustainable water, autonomous systems, and other areas. In the years ahead, it is poised to grow further, continuing its mission to advance transformative, interdisciplinary technologies that can create a sustainable future.
ICTAS is entrepreneurial and presents a strong link to economic development for the entire Commonwealth. ICTAS is designed to create a seamless path from fundamental research through applied research and development to technology transfer. It is problem oriented with the goal of finding solutions and provides better resources for solving larger problems and for obtaining better results. ICTAS presents a case for advancing humankind through collaborative research and represents a strong link among all research universities in Virginia.