Research is truly interdisciplinary when it is not just pasting two disciplines together to create one product but rather is an integration and synthesis of ideas and methods. An example is the current exploration of string theory by theoretical physicists and mathematicians, in which the questions posed have brought fundamental new insights both to mathematicians and to physicists.

Convocation Quote

Interdisciplinary research by definition requires the researchers to learn the other discipline. I like to stress vocabulary, but also methodology; I feel very strongly about it.

Ruzena Bajcsy, director of the Center for Information Technology

Research in the Interest of Society, University of California, Berkeley

Other terms used include borrowing and multidisciplinary research.

  • Borrowing describes the use of one discipline’s methods, skills, or theories in a different discipline. A borrowed technique may be assimilated so completely that it is no longer considered foreign, and it may transform practice without being considered interdisciplinary.1 An example of borrowing is the use of physical-science methods in biologic research, such as electron microscopy, x-ray crystallography, and spectroscopy. Such borrowing may be so extensive that the origin of the technique is obscured.2

  • For purposes of this discussion, multidisciplinary research is taken to mean research that involves more than a single discipline in which each discipline makes a separate contribution. Investigators may share facilities and research approaches while working separately on distinct aspects of a problem.3 For example, an archaeological program might require the participation of a geologist in a role that is primarily supportive. Multidisciplinary


Klein, J. T. “A Conceptual Vocabulary of Interdisciplinary Science.” Practising Interdisciplinarity. Eds. Weingart, P. and Stehr, N. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2000. pp. 3-24.


See Holton, G., Chang, H., and Jurkowitz, E. “How a scientific discovery is made: A case history.” American Scientist, Vol. 84, July-August 1996, pp. 364-75, for specific examples of borrowing.


Friedman, R. S. and Friedman, R. C. “Organized Research Units of Academe Revisited.” In Managing High Technology: An Interdisciplinary Perspective. Eds., Mar, B. W., Newell, W. T. and Saxberg, B. O. Amsterdam: North Holland-Elsevier, 1985. pp. 75-91.

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