From ArticleWorld

When a single traditional discipline is inadequate to address an important problem, the need for interdisciplinarity arises. This may often arise from a new technology or the latest research developments. One such area is nanotechnology. Quantum information processing is another area that requires the combining of the disciplines quantum physics and computing. The explosion of data generated due to satellites caused the evolution of a science that combines geography, imaging systems and the computational power to process all that information.

In the modern day scientists’ opinion, the solution to problems like global warming and AIDS lies in an interdisciplinary approach. The AIDS virus has proteins that are the targets for a vaccine. However, in order to understand these proteins’ molecular structure, studies like mass spectrometry and molecular modelling might come in handy, to say the least.



It is important to realize that some problems call for the experts to pool their collective skills. Some require that the exprets work on different aspects of a problem and this approach is known as multidisciplinarity. When the experts from the different disciplines pool their resources to find a solution, it results in interdisciplinarity. It all boils down to the degree to which the disciplines are “blended”.


Since interdisciplinarity came about recently, it faces all the problems of a young discipline. For example, people trained in exact sciences tend to believe that their approach is more scientific. The way a physicist approaches a biological problem might not be welcomed by the biologist. Similarly, physicists have a problem dealing with biology, which is replete with exceptions to the rule.

The design of the experiment is very important in proteomics. The biochemists and the proteomics experts need to sit down with the statistician before the experiment is carried out and design it keeping in mind some basic principles of statistics. A common mistake is to take the results to the statistician after the experiment. By then there can be either an interpretation or a post-mortem. If the experts communicate better, and may be learn each other’s disciplines better, they can avoid many problems.

Since this is a recent development, it faces some problems like grant awards. The applications are reviewed by people with traditional backgrounds, which causes the researchers face a lot of challenges in being funded. In addition, investigators who also teach find it hard to meet their career goals or at least feel that they might not become permanent as readily as those from traditional disciplines.

Some solutions considired

Giving these studies more autonomy and establishing funding areas custom-made for such new fields will encourage more researchers to join this area and pursue cutting-edge research. This will eventually solve many of the problems being faced today. After all, interdisciplinary studies arose in the first place to solve problems requiring non-traditional solutions. If the faculty or the investigators from traditional disciplines make tenure decisisons, they may not always be in the best interests of interdiciplinary studies. The solutions for these problems lie in interdisciplinary sciences’ becoming a discipline themselves. Take the field of quantum computing for example. Should researchers who have studied both quantum physics and computer science be recruited, then they will solve the problem of being reviewed and controlled by the traditional dicsiplines. Moreover, should they succeed in this newly appointed field, they will not have a funding problem.

Some interdisciplinary research areas:

  • Computational chemistry
  • Quantum computing
  • Biomedical imaging
  • Neurogenomics

Interdisciplinary programs

Stanford University's Bio-X and Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri are concrete examples of a 21st century approcah to interdisciplinarity.