Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Sharing space: Proximity breeds collaboration

26.10.2012
A new University of Michigan study shows that when researchers share a building, and especially a floor, the likelihood of forming new collaborations and obtaining funding increases dramatically.
The findings have wide relevance to corporations, as well.

“Our analyses clearly show that there are benefits to co-location,” said Jason Owen-Smith, an associate professor of sociology and organizational studies.

Researchers who occupy the same building are 33 percent more likely to form new collaborations than researchers who occupy different buildings, and scientists who occupy the same floor are 57 percent more likely to form new collaborations than investigators who occupy different buildings, he said.
Owen-Smith is the lead author of a report titled “A Tale of Two Buildings: Socio-Spatial Significance in Innovation” (PDF file). The report details the findings of a two-year study funded by the U-M Office of the Vice President for Research, the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR), and the U-M Medical School.

For the study, the research team conducted surveys of 172 faculty and research staff members in three U-M buildings, and also used administrative data to assess collaboration and physical proximity. The buildings were the North Campus Research Complex (NCRC), the A. Alfred Taubman Biomedical Science Research Building and the Comprehensive Cancer Center. (Other photos are available here.)

“One of the truly distinctive features of the University of Michigan is the exceptionally low barrier to doing interdisciplinary research,” said Stephen Forrest, U-M vice president for research. “This study gives insights into the benefits that such research brings and how interdisciplinarity, which is now at the forefront of scientific enquiry, is supported by such hubs as the North Campus Research Complex that brings researchers from many different disciplines into contact.”

“This study comes at an opportune moment when the NCRC is still an experiment-in-progress of larger scale collaborative research,” said David Canter, NCRC executive director. “The conclusions from this study are a reminder that a one-size-fits-all approach is not an optimal approach. Group dynamics and the benefits of chance interactions influence productivity and innovative ideas.”

“This kind of rigorous social science research is very much in the ISR tradition,” said James S. Jackson, director of ISR. “Similar principles were used by the ISR founders in designing the 1965 ISR building. We invested in this study in order to assist the NCRC but also to inform our decisions about how the new addition to the ISR-Thompson building, now under construction, can maximize interdisciplinary collaborations and success in achieving funding for research from a variety of external sources.”

The study, which is the most extensive attempt to date to elucidate the socio-spatial dynamics of successful scientific research collaborations, tests assumptions about proximity and social networks that have stood unexamined for half a century.

One of these assumptions is that passive contacts between inhabitants of a building—just bumping into people as you go about your daily business—makes it more likely that you’ll share ideas and eventually engage in formal collaborations. This assumption is based on the work of ISR researcher Leon Festinger, who studied the friendships that developed among dormitory residents in the 1950s.

Owen-Smith and colleagues examined the relationship between office and lab proximity and walking patterns, and found that linear distance between offices was less important than overlap in daily walking paths. They developed the concept of zonal overlap as a way to operationalize Festinger’s idea of passive contact.

“We looked at how much overlap existed for any two researchers moving between lab space, office space, and the nearest bathroom and elevator,” Owen-Smith said. “And we found that net of the distance between their offices, for every 100 feet of zonal overlap, collaborations increased by 20 percent and grant funding increased between 21 and 30 percent.”
Owen-Smith and colleagues also found that the likelihood of passive contacts can be more simply assessed by using a measure of “door passing”—whether one investigator’s work path passes by another’s office door.

The analysis also showed the research groups studied were more likely to report unscheduled, impromptu encounters rather than scheduled meetings, and that most communication took place face-to-face rather than through electronic means. But this tendency varied among groups.

Other members of the study team are U-M researchers Felichism Kabo, Margaret Levenstein, Richard Price, Gerald Davis, Yongha Hwang and Natalie Cotton Nessler.

Contact: Diane Swanbrow, (734) 647-9069, swanbrow@umich.edu

Diane Swanbrow | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.umich.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht A sudden drop in outdoor temperature increases the risk of respiratory infections
11.01.2017 | University of Gothenburg

nachricht Urbanization to convert 300,000 km2 of prime croplands
27.12.2016 | Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) gGmbH

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

Im Focus: How to inflate a hardened concrete shell with a weight of 80 t

At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).

Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...

Im Focus: Bacterial Pac Man molecule snaps at sugar

Many pathogens use certain sugar compounds from their host to help conceal themselves against the immune system. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now, in cooperation with researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom, analyzed the dynamics of a bacterial molecule that is involved in this process. They demonstrate that the protein grabs onto the sugar molecule with a Pac Man-like chewing motion and holds it until it can be used. Their results could help design therapeutics that could make the protein poorer at grabbing and holding and hence compromise the pathogen in the host. The study has now been published in “Biophysical Journal”.

The cells of the mouth, nose and intestinal mucosa produce large quantities of a chemical called sialic acid. Many bacteria possess a special transport system...

Im Focus: Newly proposed reference datasets improve weather satellite data quality

UMD, NOAA collaboration demonstrates suitability of in-orbit datasets for weather satellite calibration

"Traffic and weather, together on the hour!" blasts your local radio station, while your smartphone knows the weather halfway across the world. A network of...

Im Focus: Repairing defects in fiber-reinforced plastics more efficiently

Fiber-reinforced plastics (FRP) are frequently used in the aeronautic and automobile industry. However, the repair of workpieces made of these composite materials is often less profitable than exchanging the part. In order to increase the lifetime of FRP parts and to make them more eco-efficient, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) and the Apodius GmbH want to combine a new measuring device for fiber layer orientation with an innovative laser-based repair process.

Defects in FRP pieces may be production or operation-related. Whether or not repair is cost-effective depends on the geometry of the defective area, the tools...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

Nothing will happen without batteries making it happen!

05.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Multiregional brain on a chip

16.01.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

New technology enables 5-D imaging in live animals, humans

16.01.2017 | Information Technology

Researchers develop environmentally friendly soy air filter

16.01.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>