Tour WID’s new ‘hubs’ designed to spur campus collaborations Dec. 12

December 11, 2018 By Nolan Lendved

This fall, the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery is taking steps to leverage its expertise in interdisciplinary research to serve the University of Wisconsin­–Madison campus in innovative ways.

At an event from 3 to 5 p.m. on Dec. 12 at the Discovery Building, 330 N. Orchard St., WID will launch a suite of hubs designed to bring together researchers from across campus and provide access to specialized tools and resources. Faculty, staff and students will be able to explore the programs and services offered by the Data Science, Multi-Omics, and Illuminating Discovery hubs during an open house featuring dozens of interactive booths.

Each hub is made up of scientists and staff able to connect researchers inside and outside of WID with access to expertise or services to advance their investigations. For example, a researcher interested in incorporating microbiome work into a project, but who lacks expertise in experimental design or data analysis in the field, could engage with the hubs to find guidance, collaborators, training and tools to assist them in their new research direction.

“The hubs were created in consultation with researchers from dozens of UW–Madison departments to build and develop new interdisciplinary fields and to facilitate stronger connections between disparate fields,” explains WID Director Jo Handelsman.

Starting at 3 p.m., stations will be staffed by researchers and support personnel from each of the hubs. The stations will include project-focused posters that showcase projects and collaborations made possible by the hubs, interactive exhibits centered around science communication, guided conversations about specialized trainings, and more.

At 4 p.m., Handelsman will make brief remarks and introduce representatives from the event’s sponsor, biotechnology company Illumina. At 4:45 p.m., Chancellor Rebecca Blank will announce a program that will boost the impact of the hubs both on and off campus.

The event will be followed by an illumination-themed edition of the popular SoundWaves series of paired lectures and music performances. The Dec. 12 SoundWaves will feature short talks by hub-affiliated scientists and music from UW–Madison scholars Daniel Grabois and Shuk-Ki Wong.

Each hub was designed to meet different needs of researchers across campus.

The Data Science Hub grew in response to the highly decentralized data-science environment at UW–Madison. After a series of town hall-style meetings, hub co-leaders Michael Ferris, professor of computer sciences, and Brian Yandell, professor of horticulture and statistics, designed the new hub to help researchers better plan and execute data-rich research projects. The hub’s staff can link researchers to data and computing resources on campus, make connections to start new collaborations, and provide or build training sessions in data and computing skills.

The Multi-Omics Hubs are focused on building capacity for researchers studying large biological datasets known as “-omics”, such as genomics and metabolomics, which have revolutionized biological research. The Multi-Omics Hubs launch with two specializations, a Microbiome Hub and an Epigenetics Hub. The Microbiome Hub offers consulting services, connects researchers and organizes campuswide efforts around research into microbial communities, while the Epigenetics Hub provides resources for studies of heritable traits that extend beyond DNA sequences alone. The hub’s leader, Professor of Biomolecular Chemistry John Denu, expects that “-omics” efforts on campus, aided by the hubs at WID, will expand in size and scope in the coming years.

The Illuminating Discovery Hub will create connections among scientists, professional communicators and members of the public to increase understanding of and support for the scientific enterprise. The hub is a partnership between WID, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and the Morgridge Institute for Research, as well as other campus and national organizations. The Illuminating Discovery Hub offers training programs for science communication, creates opportunities for public engagement with science and scientists, and facilitates discussions about the role of science and technology in society.

“The hub is meant to be a point of connection between WID, the campus and the greater community,” says Professor of Design Studies and co-leader of the Illuminating Discovery Hub Kevin Ponto. “The goal is to provide researchers on campus a new way to think about broader impacts and outreach efforts.”

Together, the hubs represent a new path forward for collaborative research projects and fields.

“By better connecting researchers with resources, trainings, services, outreach opportunities and one another, the hubs are building critical infrastructure for the future of interdisciplinary science,” says Handelsman.