Published: Sept. 29, 2011 By

A scientific agora in Colorado

An agora was a gathering place where early scientists would share and refine ideas.

An agora was a gathering place where early scientists would share and refine ideas.

The University of Colorado Board of Regents today approved creation of the system-wide University of Colorado Biofrontiers Institute, building on the success of what began in 2002 as a faculty-led grassroots “experiment” in the organization of multidisciplinary scientific research and education.

The crucible in which Western scientific method and ideas were first fired was the Greek agora (“marketplace”), a gathering place where early scientists first openly shared and refined ideas across multiple realms of inquiry. Over the centuries, however, scientific inquiry tended to separate into specialized fields, developing different languages and methods, and focused on the individual scientist in his or her own laboratory. Though highly successful through the 20th century, this historical fragmentation can no longer address the critical issues we face if we seek to truly understand biology and apply that knowledge to health and disease, environmental protection, and human well-being.

In 2002 researchers at CU recognized that traditional academic structures were often, if unintentionally, thwarting the kind of science and scientific education that needed to be done in the post-human genome era. Their discussions led to the 2003 formation of the Colorado Initiative in Molecular Biotechnology (CIMB), a cross disciplinary “experiment” in scientific organization. CIMB was developed to be a 21st century scientific agora that encouraged and supported the interactions of researchers across disciplines, departments, and campuses at the University of Colorado.

The CIMB experiment proved astonishingly successful, as recognized by today’s action by the CU Board of Regents to transition CIMB from initiative to institute status, and to name it the Biofrontiers Institute. This name reflects both the institute’s three-part mission – world-class bioscience research, translation of new knowledge to real-world solutions, and educating the next generation of interdisciplinary scientists -- as well as its geographical home in Colorado.

The Biofrontiers Institute’s director is Nobel Laureate and CU-Boulder Distinguished Professor Thomas Cech, and the chief scientific officer is CU-Boulder Professor of Distinction Leslie Leinwand. Biofrontiers includes faculty members from across multiple CU campuses, departments and disciplines, including: chemistry and biochemistry; computational biology and computer science; molecular, cellular and developmental biology, applied mathematics; ecology and evolutionary biology, mechanical, chemical and biological engineering; physics; and civil, environmental and architectural engineering.

In addition to bioscience research and its applications to biotechnology breakthroughs, the Biofrontiers Institute is also focused on educating the next generation of interdisciplinary scientists, beginning with its recently launched Interdisciplinary Quantitative Biology (IQ Biology) Ph.D. program.

The Biofrontiers Institute headquarters will be in the new Jennie Smoly Caruthers Biotechnology Building on CU-Boulder’s East Campus, which is scheduled to open in early 2012.

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