The Interdisciplinary Imperative: Interactive Research and Education, Still an Elusive Goal in Academia. (Book Reviews/Comptes Rendus)

Article excerpt

Rustum Roy, ed., The Interdisciplinary Imperative: Interactive Research and Education, Still an Elusive Goal in Academia. San Jose: Writers Club Press [imprint of, Inc.], 2000, 259 pp.

The Interdisciplinary Imperative is a collection of papers from a conference on "Interdisciplinarity Revisited: Materials Research as a Case Study," held August 30-31, 1999 at Pennsylvania State University. The contributions are grouped around the topics of theory and practice of interactive research; experience in materials research programs; and experience in the fields of science-technology society, social sciences, and medicine. The book ends with a compilation of comments from participants and contains three appendices with author affiliations, short case studies, and the conference program.

The central premise of this book is that interdisciplinary interactions on single campuses are not enough. A more inclusive concept is needed. "Interactive research" ([I.sup.3]R) encompasses three types of interactions: (1) across disciplines in one institution or across institutions (university-industry, university-government laboratories, industry-government laboratories); (2) across research sectors from basic research through engineering to manufacturing within one or across institutions; (3) any combination of types 1 and 2. The history of [I.sup.3]R dates from the late 1950s, when industrial research leaders pushed for more interdisciplinary frameworks. Materials research played a prominent role in early funding programs. Over a forty-year period, many short-term projects emerged, though the discipline-based structure of universities remained intact.

The book's greatest strength is the breadth of contributors' experience in the United States (U.S.), Canada, the United Kingdom (U.K.), Germany, Japan, and Russia. The opening section on Theory and Practice is particularly noteworthy. George Bugliarello, former President of the Polytechnic University of New York, defines the nature of disciplinarity and interdisciplinary, with added comments on criteria of evaluation. Richard Brook, of the U.K. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, describes how "generous generalist" panel members were used to balance discipline-based peer review and the iterative process of project selection. Rustum Roy, the Editor and member of Penn State's Materials Research Laboratory, extracts generic lessons from his career about terminology, institutional structures and interactions, and the role of journals, professional societies, and meetings. He also proposes a restructuring of the University to favor [I.sup.3]R Karim, Marre, and Jentoft join forces from the Universit ies of Tennessee-Knoxville, Dayton, and Case Western Reserve to examine changes in two areas -- electro-optics and computer engineering. In both fields, interdisciplinary work evolved into new disciplines and specialized options for students. The authors classify different types of programs and departments, while weighing impediments and enabling factors.

The format of the remaining contributions varies. Some are full-scale papers, others brief descriptions, such as Robert Cahn's recollection of early materials science in Britain and notes by Patrick Nicholson on McMaster University and Manfred Ruhle on the Max-Planck Society in Germany. Outlined presentations leave readers wondering about the full story, though Lyle Schwartz's bullet points on the shift from multi- to interdisciplinarity in research labs are insightful. …


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