Although UCLA has many distinguished researchers working at the cutting edge of digital media in the arts, humanities, social sciences, physical sciences, engineering, law, business and medicine, these rich resources have not yet succeeded in coming together in interdisciplinary collaborations in a way that draws upon the diverse and comprehensive expertise at UCLA and pushes UCLA forward as a leader in defining new areas of research and a powerhouse in conducting research in new ways. Granted that some departments such as computer science need to be built up, the problem in general seems to lie less in hiring new faculty than in fostering communication and collaboration among the faculty we already have. A similar problem exists structurally among the many Centers and Institutes that serve as focal points for UCLA research communities with strong stakes in digital media. Each Center and Institute fulfills a crucial need for the research community associated with it, but with some important exceptions such as the Humanities Centers Colloquium, the Centers do not talk with one another in systematic and organized ways. What is needed is a visible and recognized campus point of presence that will act as a catalyst to bring together researchers in digital media for interdisciplinary conversations and collaborations, coordinate the activities of Centers and Institutes concerned with digital media so that they perform not only as individual research units but also as seedbeds for interdisciplinary collaborative work, provide the environment, direction, and support for the development of grant proposals in digital media, and study how IT is used to foster a interdisciplinary and collaborative environment. In short, we need a catalyst that will make UCLA its own experiment for evolving the research enterprise of the future.

The critical success factor for IT enabled collaboration, trans-disciplinary conceptualization, information assimilation and insight is the marriage of humanistic and artistic concerns with the broad spectrum of research areas focusing on societal applications and scientific research. Consider the case of an artist and a scientific researcher in genetics concentrating on DNA research. By collaborating, the artist provides critical insight into how the DNA research might be better visualized and presented to gain more insight into both science and humanistic questions about the DNA research. The DNA researcher provides scientific images and objectives with which the artist can pursue research on presentation and human perception. The importance of this kind of collaboration has been recognized at other institutions leading to such initiatives as cross-disciplinary degree programs in digital media and cross-disciplinary research programs to accommodate an emerging breed of computational generalist and shared immersive and visualization facilities.

In preliminary conversations about how these goals might be accomplished, many faculty have observed that there is a structural asymmetry between the arts and humanities on the one hand, and the sciences on the other, that must be addressed if we are to succeed. This asymmetry should be seen less as a north-south campus issue than as a practical plan for collaboration. In the example above, the artist from her point of view has everything to gain by collaborating with the scientist. She gains knowledge, access to specialized equipment and technological processes, and the opportunity to test her ideas with a specialist who can provide invaluable feedback. All these goods feed directly into her work and help to make it better or indeed to make it possible at all. What does the scientist gain from his point of view? While one can argue the scientist gains ideas about the humanistic implications and artistic values inherent in his work, these are often seen as peripheral rather than central as he strives to succeed in a highly competitive and time-sensitive research environment where a great deal depends on who gets there first. For these reasons, initiatives that are truly interdisciplinary across the arts and humanities on the one hand and the physical and social sciences on the other are unlikely to come out of the sciences. They should rather begin in the arts and humanities and then reach out toward the social and physical sciences through programs that make vivid and real the benefits of interdisciplinary collaborations across these boundaries. Similar considerations apply to artists and humanists who work in digital media compared to computer scientists and engineers. While the artist sees immediately the advantages of involving engineers and computer scientists in his research, the converse may not be intuitively obvious and may need careful nurturing and explanation to become the win/win situation that it can potentially become. For these reasons, we consider it essential that SINAPSE be rooted in North Campus research with its primary facility in this area. At the same time, it also needs a strong South Campus presence. To accomplish this goal, we will ask for space in a South Campus facility, most probably in the new building that will house the California NanoSystems Institute. In addition to these space considerations, SINAPSE requires an organizational structure that does not leave interdisciplinary collaborations to chance but rather builds them in as systemic features of the Institute.

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