"If you plant two irises next to each other—say one red and one blue—they will hybridize into flowers with unpredictable and wild colors,” said Michael Naughton, professor and chairman of the physics department. He uses this metaphor to analogize the strategy that lies behind the creation of the Institute for Integrated Sciences (IIS) as it seeks to cultivate the multidisciplinary collaborations that are becoming the foundation for 21st century scientific inquiry.
Led by three of the University’s most prolific research scientists, physics chair Michael Naughton, biology chair Thomas Chiles, and Joseph T. and Patricia Vanderslice Millennium Chair of Chemistry Amir Hoveyda, the institute will draw upon faculty strengths in order to foster collaboration in three research sectors in which interdisciplinary work has been proven an advantage: these are molecular biology, synthetic organic chemistry, and the development of complex materials, which are materials whose physical, chemical, or biological properties exhibit unconventional phenomena that can be used in unexpected ways, such as magnetic materials or superconductors.
The institute’s work will build on a collaborative tradition in the sciences in Chestnut Hill that has already paid many dividends in grants and prestige. A team of physicists and biologist Chiles, for example, has invented a technique that uses nanotechnology and magnetic fields to “shoot” foreign DNA into living cells. “A main lesson of science from the last part of the 20th century,” said Naughton, “is that the deeper we see into matter—whether biological or physical or chemical—the less the disciplinary boundaries seem important.”
The institute’s plans include new facilities with open laboratory space, joint seminar rooms, and shared technology—all factors that will make it easier for faculty to develop collaborations. Faculty will be admitted to the institute by application, and for a set term.
Organizers are confident that the institute’s distinctive focus and accomplishments will not only help draw extraordinary faculty scientists to Boston College, but will help students meet the demands of a career in the sciences. “This really helps our graduates,” said Naughton. “Employers are looking for young scientists with both a core expertise and also a wide breadth of knowledge.”