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Combining Research, Markets, and Money

Innovators at 2008 Ideastream discuss the future of research.

At yesterday’s Ideastream symposium, sponsored by MIT’s Deshpande Center, researchers mingled with venture capitalists and investors. One panel featured big names in innovation discussing issues in funding and the necessity of cross-disciplinary studies.

The new Koch Institute was designed particularly for cross-disciplinary research, said director Tyler Jacks. It brings together key researchers in nanotechnology, biology, and infotechnology.

Ernest J. Moniz, director of the MIT Energy Initiative, emphasized that communication and collaboration are important not just across research fields, but also across nontechnical areas. “To have those technologies actually penetrate the market requires interface with management, social sciences, [and other fields],” he said. This is why integrating investors, startups, and venture capitalists with researchers is crucial, he added.

“The tonic for the struggle to achieve cross-disciplinary success is tapping into the young people,” said Frank Moss, director of MIT’s Media Lab. He remarked that the Koch Institute’s plan of designing for physical proximity across disciplinary studies is what the Media Institute has strived for, with a minimal number of walls–and glass ones, at that. Such interdisciplinary focus has led the Bank of America to fund an upcoming Media Lab project looking at effective computing, economics, and media, said Moss. Big companies rarely fund basic research, he noted, but he believes that it’s an early indicator of things to come: “I think over the next few years, we’ll see the industry waking up and seeing [that] basic research is disappearing.”

For a portion of the panel, Moniz and Jacks argued good-naturedly about funding difficulties. Jacks stated that energy research has an easier time getting funding, while Moniz countered that cancer–something that everyone is afraid of getting–would be more of a primary target for funding than energy issues are. “There’s no more reliable enemy than death,” quipped Moniz.

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