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The Space Between

The answers to new treatments for debilitating diseases, ways to outsmart cyber terrorists, or support endangered species could be found on the fringes of disciplines from engineering and neuroscience to geoinformation sciences and health care policy.

The next wave of innovative research from George Mason University was kick-started in 2015 with the help of $500,000 in seed grants from the Provost’s Office.

Since then, the office has funded 31 projects working at the intersections of the disciplines, which could in turn lead to Mason researchers landing larger grants as they continue their research. It’s part of Mason’s strategic plan to support research of consequence.

S. David Wu

To spur research that reaches across fields, Provost S. David Wu organized two symposia where he challenged Mason researchers to develop multidisciplinary projects and apply for seed grant funding. The 2015 symposium focused on health care; 2016’s concentrated on the broad field of security. A third is planned for 2017.

“Provost Wu’s commitment to multidisciplinary research is very deep and is a value he holds dearly,” says Kim Eby, associate provost for faculty development. “Even in these challenging budget times, he has carved out funding so we can move this project forward. The commitment is there.”

More than 60 research proposals were submitted the first year with almost every school and college at the university represented, with groups of the deans co-chairing the symposia and reviewing the proposals. Wu’s call for research proposals has yielded cross-unit teams working on the human organ trade, genetics and chronic pain, obesity in Latino children, and market and human security.

“Investigators from different disciplines approach research in various ways and have distinctive perspectives, and when these researchers collaborate to solve the important and complex multifaceted problems facing society, such as in the broad area of security, innovative solutions are often found that would not be possible with traditional disciplinary approaches,” says Ken Ball, dean of the Volgenau School of Engineering, who co-chaired the 2016 symposium.

Creating new avenues for problem-solving should be a priority of universities, says 2016 co-chair Mark J. Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government. “These symposia are a showcase for an emerging ethic of encouraging and supporting cross-disciplinary collaboration at Mason.”

For more information about the multidisciplinary grants awarded, visit provost.gmu.edu.

Michele McDonald contributed to this article.