UI leads global interdisciplinary project

UI leads global interdisciplinary project

CHAMPAIGN -- The University of Illinois is leading a worldwide collaboration with Big Ten universities and others as far away as Singapore to work on interdisciplinary research in business, the arts, humanities, engineering and agriculture.

Professor Joseph Cheng calls a summit planned for Chicago in April "a bold experiment" that will involve leading researchers in industry, government and academia.

The Center for Advanced Study in International Competitiveness, led by Cheng, is part of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, the academic wing of the Big Ten, plus the University of Chicago.

The sponsoring universities are the UI, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Purdue.

The center is also working with universities in Seoul, Korea; Singapore; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Vienna, Austria; and England's Cambridge University.

The big money research has usually been in science and technology, from the Blue Waters supercomputer in Champaign to the $4.4 billion Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland.

Science and technology is a big part of this summit, Cheng said, but so are the social sciences and even the humanities.

CIC Director Barbara Allen said it's "one of the core strategic objectives of the organization to figure out how to connect industry, government and academia in new innovation."

Altogether, CIC institutions garner $7 billion in research grants, twice as much as the Ivy League, Allen noted.

"We want to connect research across campuses to increase the value of the investment made by the federal government and other granting agencies," she said.

"When you connect all these really smart people the tremendous brain power in these institutions and give them access to top laboratory facilities, you can have amazing results."

Other partners include the Federal Reserve in Chicago, Allen said.

"Given the energy here, it will just reverberate. If this is a success, one day we'll have a global presence," Allen said.

Cheng said "international collaboration is very broad but very complex."

In the collaboration, he gave an example of renewable energy.

Along with industry and marketing experts, the matter requires social science input, Cheng said.

"It's important to study the culture of a society and how it views energy, whether as a commercial product to exploit or a resource to preserve," he said.

The collaboration will look at capital development, agriculture, health care, transportation, telecommunications, manufacturing and banking.

The initial project is a startup to see how well it will work over several years, Cheng said. He praised the provosts of the CIC institutions for giving the time the project will need.

Seats are still available for the event, to be held on the Oak Brook McDonald's campus the first two days of April.

More information is available at CIC's website.

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