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Learning and Communicating Across Disciplines

Mercury Spring 2007 Table of Contents


tree in sunlight

by By Anna H. Spitz

Although researchers have been studying astronomy and biology for hundreds of years, astrobiology is relatively new to the list of "named" fields of scientific research. Astrobiology has been termed multi-, cross-, inter-, or transdisciplinary. Because academic research tended to more and more specialization during the 20th century, many scientists are at a loss about what it means to collaborate in multidisciplinary work. Astrobiology encourages the new 21st century paradigm under which researchers, educators, and students seek new multi- and interdisciplinary solutions to profound research

The trick is how to achieve close coordination of diverse scientific disciplines and programs. Too often researchers are focused on their very specific areas of research or at best on the general subject areas such as astronomy or biology. But in order for scientists working at the confluence of these two broad scientific disciplines to make significant and comprehensive discoveries in a specific area of expertise, they must have an appreciation and understanding of the techniques, limitations and power of disciplines other than their own. This multidisciplinary approach is critical for solving some of the most fundamental questions facing humankind -- from how did life begin to how will the changes in Earth's climate affect life's future on this planet.

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