Thursday, February 22 , 2018, 4:31 pm | Fair 59º

 
 
 
 

Karen Telleen-Lawton: Collaborative Intelligence

When I was in school, we each completed our own homework. Even group projects were generally divided into discrete parts. In college, I had trouble with study groups, requiring a quiet space to do my thinking and processing.

I would learn to be collaborative if I had it to do over.

UCSB has been a leader in interdisciplinary research, recognizing team science is integral to scientific discovery in many fields.

Collaboration is essential foremost because the explosion of information has made it impossible to grasp all angles of an issue. Specialization is necessary for depth of understanding, but interdisciplinary teamwork is essential in many breakthroughs.

“Many important research challenges can be addressed properly only by a large, diverse team of researchers working closely together,” according to Michael Witherell.

Witherell was UCSB’s vice chancellor for research when he addressed a 2014 conference on developing the capacity for team science leadership.

Presenters at the retreat reviewed academic literature documenting that team research is typically more highly cited than research done by individuals.

Santa Barbara neuroscientist Toke Hoppenbrouwers worked with linguistic anthropologist Stanis Sandarupa investigating whether SIDS occurs in Indonesia. Her article, written for an Indonesian journal, will be published in April.

“Collaboration between neuroscientists and engineers can be extremely fruitful, perhaps essential,” Hoppenbrouwers said. “Witness all the medical scanning we do.”

Research on mussels that emerged from UCSB is another recent example of the benefits of collaboration. Megan Valentine, an associate professor in mechanical engineering, was the corresponding author on a paper published in December.

Valentine describes marine scientists and engineers developing materials from biology that can be incorporated into manmade products.

In the paper, mussels provided the inspiration for improving polymer-based materials: the type of material used for products like auto tires and wetsuit neoprene.

The tradeoff between strength and flexibility is one mussels handle well. They have previously been analyzed for their strength properties in wet systems such as the marine environment.

For this research, they developed a dry “iron coordination” bond. They discovered the dry network could maintain greater strength without becoming brittle.

This finding opens up commercial and industrial applications where dissipating energy and recovering shape is important.

“It would make a great cellphone case because it would absorb a large amount of energy, so the phone would be less likely to break upon impact with the floor and would be protected,” said co-lead author Thomas Cristiani, a UCSB graduate student.

Valentine credits “the multidisciplinary and deeply collaborative approach of the research team for the project’s success.”

The work was made possible by an Interdisciplinary Research Group within UCSB’s Materials Research Laboratory (MRL).

Collaborative intelligence expands the depth and breadth of information available, but that’s just the beginning, according to L. Michelle Bennett, deputy scientific director of the Division of Intramural Research at the National Institute of Health.

“It’s the differences that actually drive the innovation and creativity,” she writes.

Hoppenhauers believes the essential nature of corroboration is more situational. She cites the breakthroughs of individual geniuses such as Albert Einstein.

“There has to be an optimal overlap in scientists’ shared language and interest [for interdisciplinary research to work],” she argues. “Perhaps you even need people who like to collaborate and are good at it.”

Nevertheless, now that I understand collaboration to be beneficial for the researcher and the research, I’d like a second chance at some of those problem sets.

I needed a creative partner when I was trying to “mussel” through thermodynamics and differential equations. Viva la difference!

— Karen Telleen-Lawton serves seniors and pre-seniors as the principal of Decisive Path Fee-Only Financial Advisory in Santa Barbara. You can reach her with your financial planning questions at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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