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Exploring Interdisciplinary Frontiers at NEREID's Our Changing Planet Summit

From June 12th to 14th, 2023, the NEREID's "Our Changing Planet" Summit convened a diverse group of minds under one roof. Researchers, educators, policymakers, indigenous knowledge holders, and other curious minds delved into interdisciplinary collaboration and convergence science as a way to address our world's most pressing challenges.

The summit’s "Our Changing Planet" theme drove discussions toward understanding convergence science processes and forging new cross-disciplinary partnerships with the goal of better understanding changes we are experiencing in the environment around us. By empowering novel collaborations and connecting with current and future NEREID members, the summit promised an enriching experience for all participants.

Building Bridges Across Disciplines The opening day set the tone for the event, embracing a mix of engaging activities, captivating panels, and thought-provoking talks. The icebreaker activity had participants weaving stories that intertwined images of whales, mountains, planets, and more, fostering connections among strangers.

The keynote panel featured luminaries such as: David Grinspoon, astrobiologist and Senior Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute; Nirav Merchant, systems engineer and lead of Cyverse, a national-scale cyberinfrastructure for life sciences; Martin Ogle, naturalist and founder of Entrepreneurial Earth, and Gretchen Stahlman, Library & Information Scientist at Rutgers University. These experts discussed the intersections of their work and what led them to their respective fields. Their insights into the potential outcomes of convergence across earth and space sciences set the stage for fruitful discussions.

Caption: Summit participants listening to the keynote panel discussion as David Grinspoon speaks into the mic.

Lightning talks further grew the intellectual spark with subjects spanning from space exploration and medical technology to Indigenous law and perspectives on global warming. These succinct presentations gave participants a glimpse into the wealth of ideas and research represented at the summit and empowered them as experts in their respective areas of study. “The network in attendance was creative and mutually supportive,” said one summit participant. “The indigenous perspectives helped to open our eyes and hearts to new ways of thinking.”

To introduce the unconference format that would guide the rest of the summit, participants engaged in meandering small group discussions with the World Café activity. The groups explored emerging themes, from collaboration and interdisciplinary practice to bridging science and community.

As the first day drew to a close, participants gathered outside the meeting venue, where they engaged in a thought-provoking installment of NEREID’s popular “Convergence On Tap” series, this one centered on recently discovered exoplanets. Divided into groups, attendees were tasked with unraveling the mysteries of distant worlds. Through insightful discussions, participants pondered what life might be like on the surface of these exoplanets, considering the conditions, atmospheres, and potential inhabitants. This imaginative exercise drew parallels between the Earth and these otherworldly landscapes, prompting participants to explore the potential for convergence between Earth and space sciences. This activity fostered a deeper understanding of the scientific process and highlighted the boundless curiosity that drives interdisciplinary exploration.

Participant-Driven Exploration The second day embraced the spirit of participant-driven exploration and challenged everyone to meaningfully contribute to the discussion. Groups gathered to discuss self-selected topics, with discussions ebbing and flowing in an open and dynamic exchange of ideas. Post-it notes captured thoughts in motion, symbolizing the organic flow of interdisciplinary discourse.

Caption: Summit Participants gather around a wall where the day’s agenda is being written.

“It was wonderful to see participants fully commit,” said summit organizing committee member Tiffany Stone Wolbrecht. “We asked people to create and lead their own sessions on topics they were interested in exploring, and they went for it! The results were fascinating.” Projects began to take shape, reflecting the summit's emphasis on practical solutions. Curricula to teach convergence through the Drake Equation, Inclusive approaches to STEM Education, and innovative uses of technology in education emerged as some of the proposed ideas.

In the afternoon, projects began to crystallize, shifting from ideation to practical application. Ideas were refined, molded, and expanded upon, with the overarching goal of translating theoretical concepts into tangible projects with real-world impact. The spirit of collaboration was palpable, with participants sharing insights, resources, and visions for the future. The day's discussions were a testament to the transformative power of interdisciplinary thinking and the potential for convergence science to forge new paths toward a brighter future.

As the sun set on the second day, participants were treated to an exclusive screening of the planetarium show "Living Worlds" at the David M. Brown Planetarium in Arlington, VA. This special evening activity added a captivating dimension to the event's exploration of convergence science. Attendees had the chance to step away from discussions and immerse themselves in a visual and educational experience that echoed the summit's theme of interconnectedness.

Crafting Visions and Strategies The final day was a synthesis of practical insights and visionary strategies. An introductory seminar on effective grant writing provided participants with tools to transform their ideas into actionable proposals.

Participants also discussed NEREID's future, reflecting on its role as a multidisciplinary educational outreach organization. The focus remained on facilitating collaborations, better understanding data, and connecting researchers, educators, and entrepreneurs.

NEREID's “Our Changing Planet” summit concluded on a note of possibility and potential. One summit participant commented, “I have met several driven passionate folks with whom I am collaborating on at least two proposals. I didn’t know much, but learned a great deal about NEREID and the capacity for convergent thinking.” The event succeeded in encouraging collaboration beyond traditional boundaries and demonstrating that, by uniting diverse perspectives, we can chart a course toward a brighter future for our planet.

Caption: NEREID summit group photo


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