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Internal News - 31 July 2006

‘Speed-dating’ to help stimulate new research ideas

Researchers in the departments of Computer Science and Mechanical Engineering have been awarded £400K by the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) as part of its “Bridging the Gap” initiative.

The aim of the programme is to stimulate creative thinking and to assist universities in their strategic approach to interdisciplinary research. The proposal will work towards setting-up an internal environment that nurtures interdisciplinary working with the aim of developing new collaborative research programmes between engineering and computer science.

The proposal was put together on behalf of the departments by Professor Peter Johnson and Professor Gary Hawley.

Professor Johnson, Head of the Department of Computer Science, said: “New horizons are not discovered by following old roads, and we need to work together in a spirit of genuine collaboration to tackle complex research problems”.

Both Departments are part of the two current EPSRC Systems Engineering Doctorate Centres and the proposal builds on the ‘systems’ theme with a focus on creativity in systems design.

Professor Hawley, from the Department of Mechanical Engineering said: “We have looked very carefully at what inhibits multidisciplinary research especially between groups who have never worked together before and common time and common space feature high on this list.”

A number of events have been included in the proposal which, it is hoped, will allow researchers to work together between the two departments. The events have been designed to bring together the work and social space.

Research ‘speed-dating’, for example, is where selected pairings have their teaching ‘bought out’ to allow them to discover each other’s research and build up collaborative partnerships. A competition will award fully-funded conference trips for researchers in the opposite discipline.

An ‘interactive ideas factory’ in both physical and virtual space will allow researchers to engage with each other by addressing real problems and issues associated with complex systems.

Once problem postings have attracted sufficient interest they will move to off-site ‘sandpits’ where routes to solution will be considered by the participants. Research proposals coming from the sandpits will be eligible for seed-funding from the proposal.

Professor Edge, Pro-Vice-Chancellor Research, said: “The proposal is very clear in how it will facilitate and engage academics within the two departments and I will certainly wish to see the examples cited being rolled-out across the University”.