MU program receives grant for establishing national network of researchers

Thursday, August 14, 2014 | 10:02 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — In order to encourage research that benefits the public, the National Science Foundation has awarded MU a $500,000 grant for its Broader Impacts Network.

The grant will fund a five-year initiative to foster collaboration between MU and other national organizations, known as the Broader Impacts and Outreach Network for Institutional Collaboration. The network will connect researchers engaged in broader impacts activities.

Susan Renoe, director of the Broader Impacts Network at MU, said broader impacts activities are designed to explain to the average citizen how researchers are using tax dollars. Renoe described it as a "return on taxpayers' investment."

"Although Congress mandates that researchers include broader impacts in their research projects," Renoe said, "broader impacts are something we should be doing anyway because we are accountable to the American people for how we manage the funds they invest in us."

One broader impacts activity Renoe mentioned was the Saturday Morning Science series at MU, where researchers and scientists present an hour-long talk on a science topic in an easy-to-understand format for the public.

By the end of the five-year period, Renoe said she hopes that BIONIC will be a self-sustaining non-profit organization. One of the goals for the five-year initiative is to launch BIONIC's national website, which will have a searchable online database and resources to connect researchers around the world with one another.

Kemi Jona, a research professor at Northwestern University and a member of BIONIC's Executive Committee, said his organization has been interested in fostering multi-institutional collaborations for a long time.

Jona said the goal of BIONIC is to bring together individuals and offices who were doing broader impacts work, and to support those professional collaborations through networking, training and other activities that would help improve their efforts.

"It's like a network of peers that we can tap into and forge collaborations as we need it," Jona said.

Jona said BIONIC would be a big improvement in connecting broader impacts researchers. Finding specific faculty members in organizations across the country can be a time-consuming endeavor, Jona said. Once BIONIC's national website comes online, connecting with a specific researcher will be much easier thanks to the site's contact resources.

In addition, Jona said the national Broader Impacts Network would help professionalize the broader impacts field.

"What we have right now is a situation where people sort of stumble into that role," Jona said. "There is no formal pathway that prepares you for (broader impacts) work."

The other organizations involved with the planning of BIONIC include the University of Pennsylvania, Northwestern University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Iowa State University and Stanford University.

The NSF's grant is the third awarded to MU's Broader Impacts Network in the last 12 months, Renoe said.

Supervising editor is Landon Woodroof.

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