Sustainability Issue #2 June 2008

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Environment and disciplines

An interdisciplinary project financed by Formas deals with risk assessment of the effects that both leisure boats and commercial traffic have on the ecosystem of the Baltic Sea.  Photo: Bengt Hedberg, Naturbild.

Environment and disciplines

By Anna Ledin

Environmental problems must be tackled by linking together studies of social scientific and natural scientific orientation. Formas has an annual call for grant applications for transdisciplinary research.

Interdisciplinary research, multidisciplinary research, transdisciplinary research – we certainly have many names for the concept. The definitions for these terms have varied and evolved over the years, and depend on who is asked.

As early as the 1970s, it was realised that it was necessary to combine different fundamental disciplines so that complex problems may be understood and explained. At Linköping University a separate department for interdisciplinary research was established at the beginning of the 1980s – the Tema Institute. The objective was to concentrate efforts on different themes. Research was to be of high standard by developing cooperation between different social scientific and natural scientific disciplines and the humanities.

Water in nature and society

From the beginning there were four themes, one of which had a clear environmental profile – Tema Water in Nature and Society. The aim was to focus on the interplay between humans, land and water. For a long time, society had been cocooned in a false sense of security that breakthroughs in natural and social sciences made ever increasing exploiation of nature possible. And if there were any adverse consequences, the same fields of science would deal with these as and when they occurred.

When Tema Water in Nature and Society started, many realised that problems to do with the environment and resources are a consequence of the way we manage natural resources. These problems must be tackled from a number of angles, by linking together studies of social scientific and natural scientific orientation. Today, we can conclude that this overarching argumentation is still valid for socially relevant and  problem oriented research.

Quality was questioned

The pioneers of interdisciplinary research encountered two types of resistance when they tried to establish and conduct their research. One of the problems was getting finance for this research which went right across disciplinary boundaries. Both research funding agencies and colleagues who evaluated research applications were sceptical and critical of the new approach. The quality of research was questioned. In the same way, it was difficult to find appropriate journals to publish the new findings. Here also quality was questioned. This criticism still persists, but to a lesser extent.

Transdisciplinary research at Formas

For the past three years, Formas has advertised an annual call for grant applications for transdisciplinary research. This call has a separate expert panel, with special rules for the evaluation of the research applications. Naturally, the aim is to ensure that new interdisciplinary problems can find finance.

Over the past two years, Formas has financed interdisciplinary research in environmental technology, with the focus on developing new methods to remove phosphoruis from sewage effluent in rural areas. Another project concerns the development of methods to deal with the effects of discharges of medicines into the environment. Money has also been allocated to a project that deals with risk assessment of the effects that both leisure boats and commercial traffic have on the ecosystem of the Baltic Sea. One project deals with resource effective production of  energy from renewable sources, while another concerns the development of new biomaterials for e.g. the production of nappies.

There are thus a number of interesting projects over a broad field within Formas'  entire sphere of responsibility. I hope that you will find the articles in this issue of Sustainability interesting, inspiring and informative.

Author :

Anna Ledin is Secretary General of Formas
E-mail: anna.ledin@formas.se

Responsible for this page: Birgitta Bruzelius

Journal links

Sustainability June 2008

Editorial

Cooperation is the key E NVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS are largely caused by mankind and its way of managing environmental and natural resources. If we are to have a chance of dealing with these ...

Focus: Across disciplinary boundaries

Environment and disciplines Environmental problems must be tackled by linking together studies of social scientific and natural scientific orientation. Formas has an annual call for grant appli... Interdisciplinary cooperation to understand the climate To understand the climate is to understand the interplay between the atmosphere, the seas, ice sheets, the biosphere and now also the anthroposphere. Research groups... Office environment affects health, wellbeing and work The way the workplace is designed has greater significance than we think. It affects health, wellbeing and work. This is shown by an ongoing interdisciplinary resear... Toxicants in combination An inflow of new chemicals to an already overloaded environment can give rise to unexpected synergi stic effects between environmental toxicants. Harvest time for genetics Billions of chickens all over the world have yellow legs. The reason for this is that mankind, over thousands of years, has greatly preferred this. But why just yell... The role of microbes in nature Six research groups from Uppsala Microbiomics Centre (UMC) at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Uppsala University are busy developing tomorrow´s t...

The Interview

Marine environment and climate the highest priority Greatly increased grants for civil research. This is what Minister of Environment Andreas Carlgren expects to see in the forthcoming research bill. He prioritizes no...

Articles

Storms and flooding damage the coast Increasingly Swedish coasts are damaged by erosion and severe flooding, overwash. At present, there are no tools to find out to what extent stretches of coast with s... Formas places special focus on three areas At its board meeting in April 2008, Formas allocated grants for research in three specially selected areas. One concerned environmental pollutants and gender differe... Nature’s calendar in network Now in the spring, a Swedish phenological network has started with the aim to collect phenological data, i.e. data relating to the timing of recurring natural events... Passive buildings – how to increase their numbers A very well informed and helpful project leader is essential to succeed in passive house construction. Increased fertility via pheromones That a cow or heifer shows signs of oestrus and can be inseminated is important for optimal production of milk. Researchers at SLU are now investigating whether pher... Stump extraction – the joker in energy supply? Stumps are an almost unused resource in the context of biofuels. A concentrated effort is now made at SLU in Uppsala into research on both the positive and negative ... Air pollution can give children asthma Children exposed to high concentrations of airborne pollutants in their first year of life run a greater risk of asthma, pollen allergy and impaired respiratory func... Stress resistant bacterium degrades pollutants Bioremediation utilises the ability of microorganisms to degrade environmental pollutants. Maria Unell shows in her doctoral thesis at SLU that Arthrobacter chloroph... Environmental archaeology database Umeå University has been given MSEK 4.5 to develop a database that will provide new knowledge on the interaction between ancient enviro­n­ments, climate and humans. Sweden values happy pigs Some consumers are willing to pay more for the meat if they know that the pig had had a good life, others because they believe that animal welfare makes for safer fo...

In Brief

Sea New marine environment institute Animals Sustainable development for reindeer husbandry Website Pesticides on the web Gender Bonus for choosing women as professors Birds Barn swallows acquitted Energy Nine good examples save energy Genetics Gene that regulates the growth of plants has been found Ethanol 100,000 ethanol cars in Sweden

Results from research

Risks and benefits of GM plants How did the research turn out? What were the findings? Researchers themselves report briefly on the research they have undertaken with funding support from the Forma... Fast food – help or scourge? How did the research turn out? What were the findings? Researchers themselves report briefly on the research they have undertaken with funding support from the Forma... The sea never shimmered so much How did the research turn out? What were the findings? Researchers themselves report briefly on the research they have undertaken with funding support from the Forma... Brick facades worth preserving How did the research turn out? What were the findings? Researchers themselves report briefly on the research they have undertaken with funding support from the Forma... Knowledge of wood required How did the research turn out? What were the findings? Researchers themselves report briefly on the research they have undertaken with funding support from the Forma... Better information, better work How did the research turn out? What were the findings? Researchers themselves report briefly on the research they have undertaken with funding support from the Forma...

People and News

The latest from the field of environmental researchNew appointments, prestigious awards, new research institutes – all the latest from the field of environmental research.

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