Growing trend towards interdisciplinarity

Stuttgart | 17.08.2015 | The purpose of the Karl Steinbuch Scholarship is to support students who think across disciplines
A green branch growing through a fence Transcending boundaries is a key ingredient for innovation. (photo: Pixabay)

In today's networked knowledge society, the lines between different areas of knowledge are no longer so well-defined – at university, in research and in business. Reality is now far too complex for it to be systematically separated into disciplines. The time of clearly defined and distinct fields is coming to an end. For some time now, universities have been offering courses not only in traditional subjects such as physics, law and linguistic studies but also in combined subjects such as bioinformatics, communication design, and media management.

This is no accident; thinking outside the box opens up new opportunities which would otherwise not come to mind. It is often precisely where disciplines overlap that the greatest potential for innovation is found and interesting (research) questions are generated. There are some who even claim that innovation is not possible without thinking across disciplines and collaborating with others.

The creative industries can also benefit from this trend – a kaleidoscope of businesses ranging from design to music and attracting people from all backgrounds. When businesses from different subsectors get together to exchange ideas on similar problems, they can use the resulting synergies to find a way forward. And work together on new developments. When they look around for junior staff who can think in a networked way, they have already made an important step forward in embracing this trend.

Grants for cross-thinkers

To support young cross-thinkers, the MFG Foundation Baden-Württemberg awards the Karl Steinbuch Scholarship for interdisciplinary research projects that combine in particular the two interdisciplinary areas of informatics and media science with other subjects. The award programme is aimed at young, innovative and talented individuals from Baden-Württemberg with project ideas that have a clear research goal or artistic merit. By supporting junior researchers in putting their ideas into practice while still at university, the MFG Foundation is setting important trends in research and business in Baden-Württemberg.

Award recipients include students at university exploring new applications of gaming technology, other students using digital media to involve local people in climate and environmental protection and still others using new technology to encourage creative interaction. Below is a selection of interdisciplinary projects the recipients are currently engaged in.

Climber on the interactive climbing wall The interactive climbing wall (photo: private)

Sport and games: climbing into a new dimension

What opportunities present themselves if you build a climbing wall that works like a video game? This is precisely what Fabian Fiess and Felix Hundhausen have done; the two Stuttgart Media University students are working on an interactive climbing wall that turns bouldering into a game. Climbing without rope and safety belt is not child's play. Reaching the top of a rock wall requires strength, endurance and skill. Coming out on top in a challenging video game similarly involves skill and endurance. Video games, however, by their nature do not involve much exercise and coordination. The Smart Wall combines both – and opens up new opportunities in sport and physiotherapy. The two award recipients are developing the climbing wall further to make it suitable for use in climbing halls and to test new areas of application.

"Sport climbers could use our wall for training purposes and to work out challenging routes using an app. Patients receiving physiotherapy could use it to improve coordination. If we could also inspire people who otherwise don't do any sport or youngsters who now only sit on the sofa playing games on their games consoles to actually take up the sport in real life, that would be a massive bonus," comments Fabian Fiess, who is studying audio-visual media at the Stuttgart Media University.

A creek in the Black Forest The North Black Forest was granted national park status a year ago. (photo: Pixabay)

Climate protection as a community project

Many projects set up to protect the climate and endangered fauna and flora fail because they are not supported by the local population. The newly established North Black Forest national park, for example, has not been welcomed by everyone. Locals are afraid that they will no longer have the right to collect wild berries, hunt and cut down wood in the forest. Community-based monitoring is a new approach directly involving local people in the planning of such projects.

In the Locomotif project, two Freiburg students are developing a tool to facilitate collaboration between conservationists and local people. It involves closely integrating local people in the monitoring of infrastructure projects – to the mutual advantage of both sides: people feel involved and that their concerns are taken seriously and the planners benefit from local knowledge. After all, who knows the forest better than foresters, forest owners or hunters?

"Conservation projects planned and imposed from above and which do not involve local people are often beset by conflict," comments Sebastian Brackhane, graduate in forestry management at the University of Freiburg. "It is important that the methods used for collecting on-site data are simple enough for anyone to use. At the same time, however, they must also be accurate enough to provide data that can be scientifically evaluated," points out Mirko Mälicke, who is studying hydrology at the University of Freiburg.

Amelie Alterauge excavating mummies. Amelie Alterauge is fascinated by mummies. (photos: private)

On the high-tech trail of mummy culture in Europe

For some, mummies are a source of gruesome fascination; for others, they are an important window on life in the past. With the help of modern medical technology, it is now possible to reconstruct aspects of their lives very accurately. In the project entitled "The dream of eternal life", Amelie Alterauge is seeking to trace the life and medical history of seven mummified bodies of nobles from early history, which were naturally preserved in tombs in Castle Sommersdorf near Ansbach and the church of St. Nicolas in Nedlitz.

Using the very latest computer technology, the young anthropologist is bringing local history to life. CAT scan analysis allows the age, sex and height of the deceased to be determined and also gives an indication of any diseases they suffered from and the type of life they led. Their faces can then be reconstructed using 3D printing.

"Facial reconstruction involves applying tissue to a 3D model of the skull generated by CAT scan data. The nose, eyes and chin are then modelled and the face is finally printed out using modern 3D printing," explains Amelie Alterauge, who is studying for her doctorate in ancient and early history at the University of Heidelberg and works in the Department of Anthropology of the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Bern.

A red moving LED display The rotating LED display (photo: private)

The next generation of weather station: active participation welcome!

"Molae quaesitae" translates to measuring mill and is a waterwheel on the river Dreisam that flows through Freiburg. In this project, four Freiburg students are developing a weather station 2.0 that will not only record environmental data but also invite passers-by to interact with the station. A rotating LED screen will display data such as water level, air and water temperature, air pollution levels and ozone values. The data will be interspersed with sayings and quotes. Passers-by will be able to communicate directly with the system on their mobiles and enter their own text for display.

"This will give interested passers-by an opportunity to look at changes in the data and to understand how water levels and temperatures have changed over time. There will also be a guest book where they can add comments. The result will be an art installation that appeals to both technophiles and art enthusiasts," comments Eiko Bäumker, who is studying informatics and physics at the University of Freiburg.

Author: Ines Goldberg / Michaela Kürschner
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Karl Steinbuch Scholarship