Collaboration: The New (and Better) Normal

by Eric Grulke, Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies

Research collaboration, a way of life for many engineers, has been a major topic for funding agencies nationwide. Since 2010, there have been a number of new federal initiatives for science, engineering and technology—complex projects seeking real solutions. During the first decade of this century, nanotechnology was a major theme, involving over 20 federal agencies that were brought together by the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office. Today, new federal initiatives include:

  • Big data 1
  • Convergence 2 (research at the interfaces of life sciences, physical sciences and engineering)
  • Advanced manufacturing 3
  • Materials genome 4

Most of these initiatives involve multiple federal agencies providing funding for relevant and complicated technologies, offering high reward for the high-risk investment.

Because the University of Kentucky has Colleges of Medicine; Agriculture, Food and Environment; Engineering and Arts & Sciences on the same campus, we are particularly well-positioned to contribute to collaborative projects in these areas of national need. In fact, over the last few years, over 80% of our awards have been collaborative.

Research on big data within the college spans bioinformatics with our Markey Cancer Center and our Center for Clinical and Translational Sciences to archiving images for the W.T. Young Library. Research in convergence areas includes drug discovery with our College of Pharmacy, medical devices with our College of Medicine and a fundamental understanding of cancer, dental diseases and biological/biochemical processes.

We have recently teamed with researchers at the University of Michigan to win an advanced manufacturing award from the Department of Defense: the American Lightweight Materials Manufacturing Innovation Institute (ALMMII). The ALMMII collaborative will work in four areas: 1) rapidly maturing and demonstrating production scale-up of innovative lightweight alloys, 2) shortening the time for design and integration of new metals into new products, 3) developing more competitive automated manufacturing processes and 4) developing tools and training for the computational materials engineering workforce. This last element has a link to the materials genome effort and builds upon our long-term expertise in light metals.

More interdisciplinary research funding announcements are being made every month; we anticipate more funding success based on our ability to work across disciplinary lines.

  1. Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson, Big Data: the Management Revolution, Harvard Business Review, Oct. 2012. 
  2. Phillip A. Sharp, et al., The Third Revolution: the Convergence of the Life Sciences, Physical Sciences and Engineering, MIT Press, Jan. 2012. 
  3. PCAST Report to the President on Capturing Domestic Competitive Advantage in Advanced Manufacturing, Office of Science and Technology Policy, July 2012. 
  4. John P. Holden, Materials Genome Initiative for Global Competitiveness, OSTP, June 2011.