Monday, October 20, 2003 (SF Chronicle)
Bringing scientists into collaboration/Top schools create new research
By David Perlman, Chronicle Science Editor
The world of science is changing swiftly today as researchers in fields
widely diverse as physics, medicine, genetics and engineering find
themselves working together in new academic melting pots.
With funding from government, foundations and industry, at least half a
dozen universities are creating new research institutions where the
watchword is "interdisciplinary collaboration," including Caltech, MIT,
Princeton, Stanford, the University of California and the University of
"All the exciting stuff in science is happening now at the interface
between engineering, biology and the physical sciences," says Michael
a physicist at UC Santa Cruz now deeply involved in linking medicine
nanotechnology (the development of devices that operate at the "nano"
Behind this new trend is a realization that many of the toughest
in medicine and biology cannot be solved in the traditional way -- with
scientists pursuing their work in isolation. Promoters of the new approach
predict it will yield both expected and unexpected benefits.
In the latest collaboration, three major California
linking their medical and engineering researchers in efforts to develop
advanced bionic devices that could one day be implanted in patients facing
such devastating disorders as blindness, paralysis and the many
impairments caused by strokes.
With $34 million in grants from the National Science Foundation, the
Center for Biomimetic MicroElectronic Systems will be based at the
University of Southern California and will link with scientists and
engineers at UC Santa Cruz and the California Institute of Technology, who
will collaborate in both basic research and ultimately in development of
A major feature of the venture will also be to train students -- even
the high school level -- for careers in the fast-growing field of
medically-focused nanotechnology, according to the agency.
At UC Santa Cruz, Isaacson notes that although basic research and early
efforts at creating prototype devices to meet those goals are best done in
university research centers, ultimately only industry would be equipped to
bring workable "bionic" implants to the marketplace.
At the Washington-based National Academies, which includes the National
Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute
of Medicine, a $40 million grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation is
financing a new 15-year "Futures Initiative" aimed at "stimulating
interdisciplinary research at the most exciting frontiers to
counterbalance specialization and isolation."
The first Keck-sponsored event will be a major interdisciplinary
conference in Irvine next month on "signaling" -- from cell signaling in
neuroscience to computational signaling in physics -- with many more to
"What we need," says Bruce Alberts, a noted UCSF biochemist who is
president of the National Academies, "is to get computer scientists
together with ecologists, and physicians together with physicists because
too often they tend to focus on their own little worlds. It leaves too
many critical areas of research unexploited."
And at UCSF, scientists are creating a new Institute for
Biotechnology and Quantitative Biomedical Research -- known as QB3 -- with
$100 million in state funds and the expectation that scientists at
Berkeley and Santa Cruz too will eventually be working together on joint
ventures sponsored by the new institute.
A building on UCSF's new 43-acre campus at Mission Bay is under
construction to house the new QB3 institute, where scientists will focus
their expertise in physics, mathematics and chemistry to solve major
problems of systems biology that can lead to major new developments in
human health, according to Marvin Cassman, the institute's new director.
E-mail David Perlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2003 SF Chronicle