Welcome to the Genomics Forum blog

Based at The University of Edinburgh, the ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum is part of the ESRC Genomics Network and pioneers new ways to promote and communicate social research on the contemporary life sciences.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Clear skies, cacti and collaborations

I’m back in blustery Edinburgh after a 3-week visit to the Center for Nanotechnology in Society (CNS) at Arizona State University -- and what an excellent sojourn it was. (Thanks everyone!) The idea for this trip first came about at the 4S conference dinner last year when Jane Calvert and I bumped into our old Edinburgh colleague Matt Harsh, who is now a researcher at CNS. In swapping news and research ideas, it seemed to us that there were several points of overlap between our respective centres. So we applied for a small ESRC–SSRC grant to support a visit to CNS, and fortunately received funding to cross the pond this October.

The main purpose of the trip was to start exchanging experiences across the ESRC Genomics Network and CNS, and to identify possible opportunities for future collaboration. And there was plenty to discuss! In our 3 weeks there, we participated in a steady stream of seminars, workshops, and less formal meetings (mostly involving food, and sometimes in the shade of a palm tree…) with researchers from several different departments at ASU.

CNS has garnered an international reputation for its work on ‘anticipatory governance,’ and supports a number of innovative activities targeted towards what it describes as the 3 main pillars of anticipatory governance: foresight, engagement and integration. I was particularly keen to learn more about their foresight activities, as some of my research deals with understanding expectations and possible futures for synthetic biology.

Less expected but no less fruitful was the opportunity to learn about some of the innovative teaching programmes and collaborations that CNS has pioneered with scientists and engineers at ASU (under their ‘integration’ pillar). Such interdisciplinary interactions are actively encouraged at ASU, as part of its commitment to developing research programmes that contribute to the public good. In exploring the types of activities underway in such programmes, Jane and I came face-to-face with our transatlantic clones, Jamey Wetmore and Ira Bennett, who seem to engage with nanoscience researchers in similar ways to our interactions with the synthetic biology community here in the UK. Jamey and Ira gave us much food for thought in terms of designing our new course for the MSc in Systems & Synthetic Biology (starting at the University of Edinburgh in Sept 2011).

It looks like ongoing exchange of people and ideas across the Genomics Network and CNS is already underway — David Guston, the Director of CNS, is coming to Edinburgh later this week to continue discussions around anticipatory governance. Anyone interested should please join us in the Genomics Forum boardroom at 3.30pm on Thursday 18 November!

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