The other great Minnesota get-together

April 26, 2018
Researchers, including a man in a red pullover, discuss ideas.

Can experts from historically unrelated fields, both in and outside the University, intentionally combine their talents to solve pressing problems?

To answer that question, University researchers and community partners met April 18, 2018 at the Grand Challenges Research Expo in Coffman Union. The expo launched phase 3 of the U of M’s Grand Challenges Research Initiative.

Grand Challenges is all about interdisciplinary research, “the kind needed to address complex issues,” said Executive Vice President and Provost Karen Hanson, whose office leads the initiative.

Star power and lessons learned

Panelists Larry Berger, executive vice president and CTO of Ecolab Inc.; Dorothy Bridges, senior vice president, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis; and Kate Wolford, president of the McKnight Foundation, spoke on how to achieve goals. Berger, for example, told of learning early on the importance of listening to people in communities who will be affected by one’s actions.

Keynote speaker Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, an author and incoming dean of humanities at Arizona State University, noted that “the reward system of research universities is not well set up for interdisciplinary work. Public universities could take the lead here.”

Meeting, greeting, collaborating

In small groups, attendees discussed questions that could lead to new research in five Grand Challenges focus areas: assuring clean water and sustainable ecosystems; fostering just and equitable communities; enhancing individual and community capacity for a changing world; advancing health through tailored solutions; and feeding the world sustainably.

Later, they assembled in new groups—potential research teams—according to topics that surfaced during the discussions. For example, in one group a clinical pharmacologist and a robotics and artificial intelligence researcher, both interested in precision medicine innovation under “Advancing Health,” explored using new technologies for medical purposes.

The Grand Challenges Research Initiative will fund teams whose research is judged to have the highest potential impact.

Read all about Grand Challenges.