Fall 2018 – Note from the Research Board Chair

(From Fall 2018 Newsletter) Dr. Rita Colwell, University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University

As the challenges of our time become ever more complex, there is a detectible shift occurring in the scientific community toward convergence research. Convergence, simply interpreted, is the idea that complex scientific problems require integration of multiple disciplines, including physical sciences, mathematics, engineering, and social sciences, if those challenging problems are to be solved.

In 2018, the National Science Foundation (NSF) released a Dear Colleague Letter focused on convergence research, identifying it as one of NSF’s 10 Big Ideas for Future NSF Investment and defining convergence research as “research driven by a specific and compelling problem,” requiring “deep integration across disciplines.” The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) exemplifies convergence research, according to the NSF definition. GoMRI was initiated in response to a specific and compelling problem and was designed to determine the effects of the largest oil spill event in the United States – Deepwater Horizon. GoMRI scientists are drawn from a wide variety of backgrounds and began working together after the spill to evaluate and understand impacts of the event and prepare response to future spills. Discoveries achieved by scientists working in the program have proven invaluable, notably because they are comprehensive, robust, and based on multidisciplinary science. The GoMRI program supports researchers not only in physical, biological, and chemical oceanography, but also in social sciences, veterinary medicine, engineering, environmental modeling, and public health, inter alia. GoMRI researchers collaborate across institutions and with first responders, federal agency scientists, policy experts, and external outreach partners. The primary focus is on the study and sharing of research discoveries made in the Gulf of Mexico and in geographically relevant areas around the world. GoMRI-funded consortia provide a critical model showing how researchers across different institutions work together effectively to address key scientific questions linked to an important societal need.

In 2014, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine published a consensus report titled Convergence: Facilitating Transdisciplinary Integration of Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, Engineering, and Beyond. The report highlights the importance of convergence research to address complex challenges and, perhaps more importantly, provides examples of organizations carrying out convergence research. Some of the lessons learned are shared. Clearly, GoMRI provides a model for a scientific program encouraging convergence as a strategy. It is our hope that GoMRI will serve as a success story that highlights both the importance and the value of this emerging trend for science.

[Back to the Fall 2018 Newsletter]