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Disturbance and Recovery

Nalini is deeply interested in the dynamics and processes of disturbance and recovery from both professional and personal perspectives. Her research with tropical rainforests has led to her imperative to understand the roles of “relict trees” in pastures. Her own fall from the top of a tree in 2015, and subsequent physical recovery, has helped her bring together interdisciplinary insights that she shares with biologists, medical professionals, and people in a wide range of disciplines.

nalini presentation

Innovating a Faculty-driven Model to Facilitate Transdisciplinary Research: Understanding disturbance and recovery of systems in many fields

Nalini Nadkarni, Center for Science and Mathematics Education, University of Utah

Collaborating Faculty: G. Prestwich, Medicinal Chemistry; C. Norval, Bioengineering; G. Lozada, Dept. of Economics; R. Isabella, Dept. of Family and Consumer Studies;  R.J. Porter, College of Civil Engineering;  Sarah Jack Hinners, Dept. of Urban Ecology;  S. Ward, School of Physical Therapy; Y. Smith, School of Occupational Therapy, E. Bromberg, Dept. of Modern Dance


When researchers transcend the bordered academic structures of their own departments, they often generate extraordinary intellectual leaps in their fields of study. However, transdisciplinary research (TR) is notoriously difficult to foster in R1 institutions because of formidable spatial, logistical, and intellectual barriers to such collaborations. We innovated and disseminated a low-cost faculty-driven model to foster TR by engaging individual researchers from widely different disciplines around a common theme in ways that moved their own and others’ fields forward.

Our case study developed theory on disturbance and the role of “relict” structures in the recovery of systems, using ecology as our focal field, and exploring links with a diverse set of “analogue” fields (e.g., neurology, civil engineering, economics, burn trauma, traffic engineering, child development), all of which have rich existing research on this theme. Faculty from each field were identified to participate in a year-long Colloquium, assisted by undergraduates, which produced insights about the theme and our process that will be disseminated in research papers, and grant proposals for disciplinary and TR funding sources.

This initiative is a scalable pilot program that creates a template for faculty grant writers to add innovative and educational, public engagement, and broader impact activities to NSF and other proposals, thereby increasing their competitiveness. This program serves as leverage for increasing the overall funding through the office of the Vice President for Research Office, and the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence.

Transdisciplinary Colloquium Summary Document

Video West – Fallen: