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What is Interdisciplinary Research?

New technique for high-speed, low-cost printing of ultra-small lines

Sibel Korkut, a graduate student in chemical engineering at Princeton University, developed a technique for high-speed, low-cost printing of ultra-small lines for possible use in electronics. Her research was performed at the Princeton Center for Complex Materials (PCCM), a National Science Foundation Materials Research Science and Engineering Center.

Credit: Frank Wojcipchowski

The definition of a “discipline” and discussions of the varieties of interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, and trans-disciplinary research have occupied much scholarly debate. Although there is not always agreement on these definitions, it is clear that areas of research are dynamic -- continually emerging, melding, and transforming. What is considered interdisciplinary today might be considered disciplinary tomorrow. 

As a working definition of interdisciplinary research, we refer you to the definition set forth in a National Academies’ report*:
“Interdisciplinary research is a mode of research by teams or individuals that integrates information, data, techniques, tools, perspectives, concepts, and/or theories from two or more disciplines or bodies of specialized knowledge to advance fundamental understanding or to solve problems whose solutions are beyond the scope of a single discipline or area of research practice.”

*Committee on Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research, Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (2004). Facilitating interdisciplinary research. National Academies. Washington: National Academy Press, p. 2.

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