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We are proud to announce the start of six fantastic Unusual Collaborations.

The teams that were selected are at various stages of their research process: two teams recently finished their Spark grant, one team enters its second year of the Unusual Collaborations grant and three other teams embark on their third and thus final year with CUCo support. The selection was done through a lottery on November 21, 2023.

Please meet the teams!

Two teams make the transition from Spark to Unusual Collaboration:

Better Wave than Worry

There are parallels to be drawn between the early signals for disease development, virus spreading, and extreme weather occurrence. It is the mission of Better Wave than Worry to identify the shared characteristics of such signals, and to assess their impact in a wider context, i.e. beyond our respective domains. With 100+ years of collective research experience in early signaling – spanning plant science to governance – we acknowledge the challenge of disparate contexts hindering effective signal utilization. Better Wave than Worry aims to foster mutual learning, signal comparison, and proactive action through a Community of Practice. University field trips, hackathon-like meetings, and online documentation contribute to a cross-discipline learning journey, culminating in a position paper for shared knowledge and commitment. Better Wave than Worry offers an inclusive approach to navigating disruptive events and societal impacts.

Smart Food

This project aims to develop novel edible smart origami for programmed drug/nutrient release and treatment of the gastrointestinal system and consequently improving the lives of patients suffering from intestinal diseases, malnutrition/obesity. The project combines advanced methodologies such as 3/4D food printing, soft robotics, and drug delivery to make smart systems that can be actuated inside the body to release drug/nutrient when triggered by a stimulus at the site of action.  We bring together expertise from different fields of science including physics, food and nutrition, pharmaceutics, additive manufacturing, gastroenterology, consumer behaviour and economy to address societal challenges concerning health and nutrition.

One team enters its second year as Unusual Collaboration:

Plasticity: Here, There and Everywhere

Plasticity as a concept that is used in multiple academic fields ranging from neurobiology through history to continental philosophy. Can this concept, which resonates with resilience, identity and time, can contribute to other scholarly fields that currently do not use it? Should the academic community strive to expand its usage?

Three teams are now entering their third and final year as an Unusual Collaboration:

Playing with the Trouble

A critical challenge for addressing urgent broad societal issues is to navigate multiple worldviews and perspectives, both within academic research contexts and at the interface of science and society. Spaces that cultivate playfulness can open up participants to express, share, question, and transform how they experience and act in the world.

All in the Same Boat

The All in the Same Boat team consists of experts from disparate fields (chemistry, ecology, law, modelling, and technology). Their project relates to current knowledge and attitudes about water security. By collaborating with the Nederlands Watermuseum and artists, they aim to reach the general public, especially children. Their collaboration has already resulted in two Junior Museum Academie lectures, followed up by artist-created visual reports. A planned series of cartooning days at the Watermuseum will help with capturing, sharing, and reflecting on the ideas of museum visitors. Ultimately, they intend to spark conversations and inspire “non-experts” to dive into the topic of water security.

Structures of Strength

The Structures of Strength (SoS) project is a pioneering initiative that embodies interdisciplinary collaboration across diverse fields such as health, energy, food, and environmental science. This platform is centered around the use of porous materials in various applications, ranging from industrial processes to medical devices and cultural artifacts. The SoS team, comprising over 30 researchers from 15 disciplines, focuses on exchanging knowledge and joint problem-solving for complex societal challenges. By leveraging the unique properties of porous materials, SoS seeks to uncover universal strategies for their characterization, design, and sustainable application, thereby fostering a shared understanding and innovative solutions across different research sectors.

Handshake grants

The five teams that were not selected in the lottery have each been given an equal portion of the remaining funds as a handshake grant. They will use this grant to wrap up their research or continue at a lower pace:

Clean Future: Wellbeing in “Dirty Work”

With growing attention for labor shortages and employment conditions, it is remarkable that an often-stigmatized form of employment is understudied: “dirty work”. “Dirty work” concerns occupations that the society often views as physically, socially and/or morally tainted (e.g., sanitation workers, cargo handlers, or working in a slaughterhouse). Employees associated with this type of work are prone to stress, burn-out, sleep problems and physical health issues. In our project, we aim to reduce occupational, social, and health inequalities by combining expertise on micro (employee), meso (organizational) and macro (labor market) levels. We will identify prominent psychological, geographical, physical, educational, and socio-structural factors that can help to shed light on issues of wellbeing that these workers experience.

Imagining More-than-Human Communities

This project explores ways of imagining a more equitable community of humans and nonhumans and how to make it a reality in our everyday lives. We believe that play and playfulness are key means of fostering interspecies communication and understanding. Combining humanities, engineering, and medical expertise in theories and practices of playful interaction with nonhumans our team will develop an interactive “playshop” format to develop awareness and ideas for how we can imagine and experience more-than-human communities.

The FAIR-Battery Challenge: removing barriers to knowledge diffusion

The main goal of the FAIR-Battery project is to develop an open-source electrochemical battery technology that can be deployed and maintained in the field, for residential users, small scale commercial use, and off-grid service points. To reach this goal, we aim at practical affordability, reliability, and accessibility of the batteries developed in this project.

My Choice Matters

Isaac Asimov once said that a colleague may hold the solution to a difficult problem without even realizing it. As we face complex and uncertain sustainability issues that require input from and collaboration across multiple disciplines, it becomes increasingly important to effectively communicate scientific knowledge. However, this can be a challenging task, leaving many feeling helpless in the face of global challenges. That’s where we come in with our current work on global challenges related to climate change, animal welfare, and health and nutrition. Our team is dedicated to empowering individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds with evidence-based decision-making skills, enabling them to contribute to creating a healthier environment for themselves and others.

[UN]BOX: Unpacking, cocreating, and materialising collaborative research processes for shared learning, purpose and impact

A brave team of interdisciplinary scholars combine their expertise to address the contemporary challenge of collaborations between the practitioners and researchers who too often study independently from each other. The team plans to develop a gamified ‘process black box’ prototype to systematize and translate their understanding of collaborative research processes into an accessible approach that other researchers can benefit from. The team aims to involve participants from adjacent projects in workshops to test and co-create different prototype versions. The project’s creative spark is the idea that diverse metaphors can help collaborative research participants design, monitor, and conduct their research initiatives. The team will seek to offer alternatives so groups can discuss their collaborative research journeys, process phases, or project milestones.