About the Growing Convergence Research Program

The concept of convergence in research is multifaceted and is evident across NSF’s portfolio including the six research-oriented NSF Big Ideas and most recently NSF’s Convergence Accelerator – a new mechanism to accelerate use-inspired research and facilitate its transition into practice. Recognizing that convergence is essential to pushing forward the frontiers of U.S. research NSF has included Growing Convergence Research (GCR) into its Big Idea portfolio. GCR is a process oriented novel approach to developing new basic research capacity by seeding convergent research teams that rapidly transition from multidisciplinarity to a form of transdisciplinarity.

Historically, there are many examples of disciplinary convergence. The most prominent are examples  such as those that led to new disciplines including bioinformatics, bioengineering, and nanoscience. However, the process of achieving disciplinary convergence was traditionally very slow. Typically it started at the multidisciplinary level with a shared interest in solving a specific problem by a team of researchers, with each member anchored in his/her own discipline and focused on  solving a specific  aspect of the problem independently or sequentially.  Prolonged  collaborations evolved into more intensive information sharing which led to forming  interdisciplinary teams. Sustained interactions culminated in transdisciplinarity which involved transcending disciplinary boundaries and developing novel shared conceptual frameworks, theories and methods. 

The objective of GCR is to incubate intellectual integration across disciplines in a rapid manner by supporting new potentially sustainable relationships among the researchers that may not only provide solutions to the problem that engendered the collaboration, but also develop novel ways of framing related research questions and open new research vistas. The GCR paradigm expects that, from the inception, the researchers and stakeholders jointly frame the research question(s) and collectively develop effective ways of communicating across disciplines and sectors, adopt common frameworks for their solution, and, when appropriate, develop a new scientific vocabulary.

The current GCR solicitation  NSF 19-551 supports research projects inspired  by societal and scientific grand challenges that warrant sustained  team effort which crosses NSF directorate and division boundaries and that are not currently supported by other NSF programs, initiatives or Big Ideas. Particular interest is in problems that require the development of a larger research community which will likely extend beyond the project duration. Future pathways for the researchers beyond the project duration may be initiations of large centers, institutes, new NSF programs or even new disciplines. It is expected that successful teams may spend protracted time at the beginning of a project to develop effective ways of communicating across disciplines, supporting/training teams, and developing common scientific vocabulary.