February 22, 2015
by Carol Lynn Alpert
Jessica, Peter, Carol Lynn, and Karine reunited with other veterans of the 2010 NSF IBIV Ideas Lab last weekend in San Jose to engage in a spirited review of the this unusual approach to stimulating high-risk, high-reward collaborative research. None of us anticipated the quality and sheer quantity of scientific, career, educational, and societal impacts reported during this 3-hour session by PIs from all three imaging and visualization research projects funded through IBIV. NSF Senior Policy Advisor Chuck Liarakos, who briefed the audience on the evolution and goals of the Ideas Lab format, told the group near the end of the discussion that these summary stories had to find a way back to program administrators at NSF, either in writing or in briefings at the agency. In a series of 15-minute talks, the PIs spoke of the great difficulty in forging productive working relationships with collaborators introduced to each other only during the five days of the intensive residential Ideas Lab, and also of their joy at achieving some breakthrough scientific results through these same collaborations, some still being played out. Perhaps the most exceptional finding was of the enormous impact the IBIV funding had on career development and directions for the relatively young set of investigators, some of whom received their first federal grant through this program. The recently completed QSTORM student survey revealed profound implications for the 16 students and post-docs who participated for a year or longer, nearly all of them citing the benefit of the experience working on interdisciplinary teams in helping them pursue new paths in research and industry. The model QSTORM pursued of hiring a roving post-doc, Jianquan Xu, whose year-long experience in three of the four labs spurred knowledge transfer and innovation, was well-noted by all present, including a UK research council attendee who indicated she would bring that concept back to her colleagues. IBIV Ideas Lab facilitator Andy Burnett and IBIV PI Ed Rosa-Molinar noted how rewarding it was to get a chance to hear about some of the more profound and unforeseen consequences of this social engineering experiment in stimulating innovation which they helped to create. Next steps? Chuck Liarakos said he would like to find some way to capture the insights gained at this session in a further report, journal article, or meeting at NSF. All participants agreed.