The Imaging Research Center is a digital media research lab, founded in 1987. As part of a public university, it is a place that brings together researchers and scholars from all disciplines to rethink and remake media by developing and using new technologies to serve public interests. That is purposefully broad, but can be distinguished from most research produced in the commercial sectors of media and media technology in that the IRC will explore solutions that may never return a direct profit themselves—such as those intended to meet challenges in education or public health—but which are investments in society as a whole.

In addition to projects with immediate potential for application, we do basic research. We work with artists to expand the visual language of digital media; we experiment with new forms of non-fiction storytelling; we build and test new forms of visualization to support "systems thinking." We research and develop new forms of public media to improve democracy by engaging citizens in co-creating knowledge, vision and strategies for social change with policymakers and academics.

We are passionate about the expanding role of research centers and institutes in higher education. We believe that the IRC and other standalone centers, because we exist outside the discipline based structure of academic departments, can host, pursue and model inter- and transdisciplinary research in ways that can be more challenging for researchers working exclusively within departmental structures. Last but not least, as a center, the IRC plays an important educational role in the education of UMBC's students. We don't teach classes per se, but instead, work with undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students every day in collaborative, creative, real-world research projects that complement their classroom education. This is progressive education model that works. In the IRC, students build project portfolios that boost their early careers.