As I drive onto the Emory campus each morning, I can’t help but marvel a little.

This is an impressive place. Its buildings are beautiful, its resources plentiful, its setting lovely and well kept, its facilities state of the art. And it’s forever busy; its streets and sidewalks are literally never still, and at night, its windows are a constantly changing constellation of lights. Within a thousand walls, it buzzes and clicks, whirs and sputters and hums, a million circuits aglow with signals.

Of course, somebody has to keep all those lights on, and Emory is fortunate to attract its share of funding—including many generous gifts and grants that support both the university’s infrastructure and the work being done within it. This issue of Emory Magazine is filled with examples.

Every element of this framework is valuable and important to the university’s mission. But in this special issue devoted to research, the spotlight shines brightest on another, less tangible, more vital resource: minds at work.

The faculty and students featured in this magazine are here because they are relentlessly curious, instinctive thinkers, compelled to question and driven to pursue answers. And they don’t hesitate to cross the lines of academic disciplines to put their heads together with fellow scholars.

There’s Andrew Hoover 20C, an undergraduate premed major who was so intrigued by the 1920s-era diaries of Emory professor and traveler William Shelton that he took a detour from his neuroscience and behavioral biology classes to explore, creating an interactive website that traces Shelton’s steps.

There’s Rafi Ahmed, a renowned immunologist who was parsing out how T cells respond to chronic infection when it became clear that his research had major implications for cancer treatments, too. He’s now collaborating with Winship researchers and making progress toward a clinical trial.

There’s Thomas Gillespie, an environmental scientist whose gritty, groundbreaking work in Madagascar has built new awareness around the urgent need for conservation, since it seems humans and animals swap germs a lot more easily and often than we previously thought.

There’s David Katz, a cell biologist who accidentally discovered a gene function that could help ward off diseases like Alzheimer’s before they start.

There’s Joseph Crespino, a history professor who mined thousands of pages of newspapers and letters in his deep research for a fictional biography of Atticus Finch; and Erin Tarver, an assistant professor at Oxford who brings the weight of classical philosophy to her analysis of professional sports.

As far as I know, there is no formula for calculating the worth of individual, original thought. But the mysterious processes and connections that spark and catch fire every day, quietly and invisibly, inside the heads of Emory’s faculty and students are the truest natural resource that universities have. That’s what really keeps the lights on.

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