NEXUS: Where research ideas come together

Note: An open house at NEXUS is scheduled for April 2, 2019, from 12:15-1:50 p.m. at Gardner Commons, Room 2950. A panel will discuss the interdisciplinary work taking place at the U, with tours of the space afterward.

A new interdisciplinary research center at the University of Utah will bring together researchers in pursuit of innovative solutions to society’s grand challenges, from homelessness to health care, immigration to the decline of the middle class and early childhood education to healthy aging within families.

The center is called NEXUS—shorthand for iNterdisciplinary EXchange for Utah Science—and is the creation of the College of Social and Behavioral Science (CSBS) in partnership with nearly every college and school at the U.

“NEXUS will be a centerpiece in our effort to join across disciplines as one university to tackle society’s most pressing problems, allowing the U to model what a great public university can accomplish,” said U President Ruth Watkins.

The executive committee of NEXUS has selected Ken Smith as the new center’s director. Smith is a distinguished professor in the Department of Family and Consumer Studies and Population Sciences at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. He is director of the Utah Population Database and the Wasatch Front Secure Data Center, a key component of NEXUS.

Ken Smith will serve as director of the iNterdisciplinary EXchange for Utah Science (NEXUS).

NEXUS will be a catalyst for interdisciplinary research on 21st century challenges, said Cindy Berg, CSBS dean.

“We are tackling the big issues of our time, such as climate change, the obesity crisis, immigration policies, and the growing income gap in our country,” Berg said. “We know that no single discipline or approach can tackle these issues alone, so we bring together faculty and students from multiple disciplines.”

The John H. Short NEXUS core, located on the third floor of Gardner Commons, will provide space and resources to foster intellectual exchanges between faculty and researchers and facilitate connections between the more than 100 existing institutes and centers at the U.

It will support a wide range of research endeavors, including faculty exchange and mentoring programs, seed programs, interdisciplinary summer workshops, conferences and undergraduate and graduate training programs. Focus group rooms and a behavioral economics and political science laboratory are also available for use in Gardner Commons.

Berg said the seed program will allow researchers who are approaching a problem, such as air pollution, to launch initial efforts to establish feasibility and early results on important interdisciplinary problems. Learn more at nexus.utah.edu.

“NEXUS will leverage our ability to identify, use and link large data sets, such as the Utah Population Database and existing data from state agencies, to address problems,” Smith said. “Creating the resources and platforms to establish teams of diverse researchers will be a key goal enabled by NEXUS.”

NEXUS is made possible by a gift from the John H. and Mary Wilkes Short Foundation and a gift from the Miller Foundation. It will operate initially as a provisional center, eligible for permanent status within three years, in keeping with the routine approval process for new centers and institutes at the U.

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