2004 Denver Annual Meeting (November 7–10, 2004)

Paper No. 1
Presentation Time: 8:00 AM-12:00 PM


PETERSON, Jonathan W., Department of Geological & Environmental Sciences, Hope College, PO Box 9000, Holland, MI 49422-9000, peterson@hope.edu

Interdisciplinary research by its very nature is highly mobile, transient, and conceptually nomadic. Successful interdisciplinary research projects require the investigators to learn the language and customs of foreign disciplines; disciplinary homebodies tend to struggle. This presentation will show examples of some of the cultural differences within four interdisciplinary research projects. The principal investigator in all of the projects was a geologist, though the scientific questions addressed cover a broad range of scientific/engineering fields.

The first project involved an experimental investigation of a particular groundwater remediation technique. The medium investigated was geologic, the experimental design and execution was influenced by the civil engineering culture, the results were applied by mechanical engineers, and the overall interest in the project came from public policy makers. Another project on bioremediation of groundwater was conceptually based in microbiology, but required extensive work in analytical chemistry before it could be of interest to environmental scientists. The third project is focused on pharmaceutical contamination in ground and surface waters. The results may have general public health implications, but the immediately interested parties are dairy and swine farmers. The project can only move forward by fairly sophisticated analytical chemistry, guided by principles of organic chemistry. The fourth project is investigating the occurrence and abundance of an insect in ground water. While the entire venue is hydrogeologic, entomology becomes the key ingredient in determining the relative significance of the results.

In each of the cases mentioned, success was/is dependent on asking questions, approaching problems and evaluating results within the different disciplinary cultures involved. This often requires language and customs foreign to a geologist.