Bridge-building isn’t just about making connections, growing relationships, and finding common goals (though it’s all of those things). It’s also about taking action through hard and coordinated work, sweat equity, and a shared vision to close the gap between one thing and another.

This spring, the University of Iowa’s Research Development Office (RDO), a unit within the UI Office of the Vice President for Research, will launch its own bridge-building initiative to gather the brightest minds across campus for the purpose of connecting novel solutions to complex interdisciplinary problems. The first part of that effort is a survey that will be emailed Feb. 3 to faculty and staff engaged in research and scholarship, asking them to submit their bold ideas in 750 or fewer characters by Feb. 7.

In March, after the ideas are themed and then ranked by UI associate deans for research, campus will be asked to rank the highest scoring themes. This will be followed this summer by two three-day Ideas Labs—and offer up to $50,000 in seed funding—to inspire researchers and scholars to gather and dream up fresh and compelling ideas for confronting some of the 21st century’s most intractable problems. Ideas could range from seeking new approaches to confronting extreme weather events, to addressing underlying problems that contribute to addiction and mental health disease—or something not yet imagined.

RDO Director Aaron Kline said his hope is for the campus to collectively identify a handful of compelling research questions that align closely with the university’s primary research strengths.

The National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration have all used Ideas Labs as a method to facilitate successful collaboration and ideation initiatives. At the UI, in 2018, an Ideas Lab on the topic of opioid addiction energized campus and brought together 30 campus scholars for three days of interdisciplinary brainstorming and problem-solving. Researchers involved with that initiative have secured nearly $5 million in external opioid-related funding.

Kline said other community-building activities will be planned after the new Ideas Lab topics are determined, including Onramp Talks (brief topical talks and ideation activities) and Randomized Coffee Talks (informal interdisciplinary coffee conversations).

“Progress in research and scholarship is incremental and can take decades,” UI Vice President for Research Marty Scholtz said. “But driving that work are big ideas about what’s possible. These Ideas Labs are an invitation to campus to dream big together, and to inspire and inform what may become our biggest and most important discoveries in the 21st century.”

More information about this initiative is available at https://research.uiowa.edu/wanted-bold-ideas-big-challenges.

The Research Development Office is part of the University of Iowa Office of the Vice President for Research, which provides researchers and scholars with resources, guidance, and inspiration to secure funding, collaborate, innovate, and forge frontiers of discovery that benefit everyone. More at http://research.uiowa.edu, and on Twitter: @DaretoDiscover