Saturday, September 19, 2009

Working Together

Any major efforts from the science community to tackle social problems on a commensurate scale will require the collaboration of many scientific disciplines, which already happens in many areas, NASA being one.

This approach from the National Research Council looks at biology and offers some collaborative efforts that show some promise.

An excerpt from the news release.

“WASHINGTON -- A report released today by the National Research Council calls on the United States to launch a new multiagency, multiyear, and multidisciplinary initiative to capitalize on the extraordinary advances recently made in biology and to accelerate new breakthroughs that could solve some of society's most pressing problems -- particularly in the areas of food, environment, energy, and health.

“The report was requested by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, and U.S. Department of Energy, which asked the committee that wrote the report to look at how best to build upon recent scientific developments such as the Human Genome Project.

“Advances in many technologies have allowed biologists to observe life at levels of detail that were once thought impossible. Interpreting the vast amounts of data being generated by these innovations and developing practical solutions to major challenges will require collaboration among scientists and engineers from many disciplines. And despite the potential of these recent advancements, the committee said that the design, manipulation, and prediction of complex biological systems needed for practical applications are "well beyond current capabilities."

"The committee used the term "new biology" to describe an approach to research where physicists, chemists, computer scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and other scientists are integrated into the field of biology to create the type of research community that can tackle society's big problems. "'The new biologist' is not a scientist who knows a little bit about all disciplines, but a scientist with deep knowledge in one discipline and a 'working fluency' in several," the report says. To be sure, biologists are already working successfully in many instances with other scientists and engineers. But for collaborations to take advantage of advances in imaging, high-throughput technologies, computational science and technology, and others, a major new initiative is needed, the committee concluded.”