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– Paired off around stylish chairs and tables, munching on hors d’oevres and sipping drinks, people who have clearly just met laugh and smile tentatively. “I can guarantee you, someone will be interested,” says Yu Sun, a professor of computer science and engineering at USF who has attended several of these events and emerged with partners—often specialists from the neighboring medical center—for joint research projects.
Among them, ferns that sprout from planters crawl up one whitewashed wall; large-screen TVs flicker from another, and palm trees sway outside the floor-to-ceiling windows. “It’s beneficial to talk with people from other fields, especially the people who are really close to a problem,” Sun says.
Tiny light fixtures hanging from the ceiling look like stars. “When we do research we need to go out and see the problem we need to solve, not just sit in our labs and imagine it.” This speed-dating approach to collaboration is taking off at universities where scientists want to develop practical applications for their work, and where collaboration with counterparts from different fields on the same and nearby campuses is seen as a way to get there. And advocates say it can be equally effective at private companies, especially those in engineering and technology, some of which are starting to adopt this approach. It just hasn’t been applied this way in science,” says Jeffrey Grossman, a professor of engineering who began running what he calls “speedstorming” sessions—a combination of “speed dating” and “brainstorming”—when he was a postdoc at Berkeley, and who has been asked by technology and engineering companies to show them how it’s done.
This “synergy social” at the University of South Florida isn’t meant to hook up singles seeking love, but scientists and academics looking for collaborators.
Gone are the name-tags, shouting and over-the-top party trimmings.