Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Convergence: The Catalyst to Transform Scientific Research

by Melvin Greer
 Greer Institute for Leadership and Innovation

A new transformative research approach is gaining global attention and adoption. The scientific opportunities enabled by convergence—the coming together of insights and approaches from originally distinct fields—will make fundamental contributions in our drive to provide creative solutions to the most difficult problems facing us as a society. This convergence provides power to think beyond usual paradigms and to approach issues informed by many perspectives instead of few.

Two entities converge when advances and time channel them to the same point. This is an appropriate way to characterize and address converging research in life sciences and engineering, computation, and physical sciences. Convergence  is an approach to problem solving that cuts across disciplinary boundaries. It integrates knowledge, tools, and ways of thinking from life and health sciences, physical, mathematical, and computational sciences, engineering disciplines, and beyond to form a comprehensive synthetic framework for tackling scientific and societal challenges that exist at the interfaces of multiple fields.

Advanced technologies (i.e. big data, cloud, and high performance computing) are accelerating the impact and innovation obtained via convergence of biology and data science.  With nearly $450 billion annually in research expenditures, Arizona State University is a research leader, partnering with companies like Dell and Intel to transform scientific research. 

Their complex adaptive systems initiative is harnessing the power of advanced technologies to accelerate big data and high performance computing research in complex adaptive systems. They are making medical breakthroughs in areas of cancer and diabetes research.

I’m very excited about the opportunities to investigate the transformative benefits of convergence. My participation in The National Academy of Science expert committee to explore the application of convergence approaches to biomedical research and beyond is a critical first step. This approach is intended to realize the untapped potential from the merger of multiple disciplines to address key challenges that require such close collaborations. One example of the high impact transformation is my research investigation into the impact of synthetic biology on effective utilization of green IT and energy development and deployment systems. Its primary focus is on development of a synthetically generated DNA BioFab that enhances the photosynthetic properties of algae. This research will report on the process of synthetic engineering of natural occurring DNA for a specific purpose, in this case sustainable energy.

Bringing together the insights enabled by rapid progress across multiple disciplines has the potential to transform science for the benefit of society. Its critical we bring awareness of this convergence to a wider range of audiences and stakeholders and catalyze the systematic efforts necessary to harness its power most effectively.

(This post was written as part of the Dell Insight Partners program, which provides news and analysis about the evolving world of tech. To learn more about tech news and analysis visit Tech Page One. Dell sponsored this article, but the opinions are our own and don’t necessarily represent Dell’s positions or strategies.)

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