Enhancing Multidisciplinary Activities

Increase the number of specialized summer institutes, each sustained for at least 5 years, organized around a core of committed senior scientists and mathematical scientists, and aimed at fostering linkages between the sciences and mathematical sciences.

The Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Program at Woods Hole, described in Chapter 2, could serve as a model for introducing senior scientists, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows to cross-disciplinary research and for sustaining their interest in and commitment to such research. The success of that program lies in the long-term continuity assured by a core group of senior faculty, combined with its educational aspect—the training of graduate students during an intense, summer-long program. The committee recommends that other such institutes be created that are devoted to bridging the mathematical sciences and other sciences and having the same elements of long-term continuity in funding and education. Such institutes would foster the prolonged interactions necessary to establish meaningful cross-disciplinary collaborations, provide researchers opportunities to network with colleagues from other disciplines, and help a core group of researchers establish a sufficient understanding of each other's disciplines to recognize promising research opportunities at the disciplines' interface.

Proposals for such institutes should be subject to vigorous competition and peer review. Based on the committee's experience, an institute could be established and continued for a cost of about $2 million per year. As these institutes mature, costs may decrease—the cost of the well-established Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Program, for example, is currently about $150,000 per year.

Encourage existing large-scale programs (such as research institutes, NSF science and technology centers (STCs)) or Department of Defense-University Research Initiatives (multidisciplinary university research initiatives) to develop targeted initiatives when promising ideas need new linkages between science and the mathematical sciences.

Existing large-scale programs provide an infrastructure that can be leveraged to build new math-science linkages. Agencies can encourage centers to explore new research topics at little additional cost, as the centers already have the framework in place to run workshops and pursue novel directions. For example, the NSF-STC for Discrete Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science (DIMACS) sponsored workshops on mathematical support for molecular biology from 1994 to 1996. These workshops attracted many biologists, chemists, computer scientists, and mathematical scientists. Also, the Aspen Center for Physics, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Institute for Theoretical Physics, and the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute all sponsored workshops and programs that supported the exciting connections between high energy physics and modern mathematics. These activities provide unique opportunities for networking between disciplines and for educating researchers about problems outside their own disciplines.

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