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New research consortia drive faculty collaboration, research and creative activity in Indianapolis

Feb 14, 2024

To facilitate research cross-collaboration and tackle issues affecting the vitality of the state, Indiana University has created new research consortia on the Indianapolis campus.

Building on IU’s commitment to increase research that ignites innovation and shapes healthier communities in the city, each consortium has a primary area of focus: artificial intelligence, informatics, and community-engaged research to impact health equity. Additional topics may be introduced in the future.

The formation of the consortia follows IU’s announcement of a historic $250 million investment in life sciences and biotechnology innovation, including the launch of the Convergent Bioscience and Technology Institute and the Institute for Human Health and Wellbeing at IU Indianapolis.

Led by a faculty champion, each consortium will support the new institutes by convening IU’s Indianapolis faculty from across disciplines. By taking an interdisciplinary approach, the consortia can identify and apply for a variety of external funding opportunities to accelerate research and development.

Making artificial intelligence cross-disciplinary

Shiaofen Fang, associate dean for research at the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering, oversees the AI consortium members from 14 schools on campus including the School of Social Work, the Kelley School of Business and the School of Dentistry.

Shiaofen Fang talks with two faculty members Shiaofen Fang, champion of the AI research consortium, addresses members at their first meeting. Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana University

Faculty will examine several industries intersecting with AI such as legal analysis, neuroscience, business operations and sustainability, art education, and more. It’s a network with wide-ranging interests, but Fang said that’s where the strength of the group lies.

“Our foremost focus is to make AI a cross-disciplinary field and to get people from traditionally noncomputing fields to adopt AI into their research,” Fang said. “This will lead to more transformative research and increase our competitiveness.”

On Feb. 1, the AI consortium held its first salon-style gathering, where researchers discussed ensuring that AI algorithms and systems are ethical, legal and trustworthy. Fang also brought forth potential research funding opportunities from organizations like the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Science Foundation and OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT.

Catalyzing informatics collaboration

Some consortium topics experience natural overlap and provide unique opportunities for collaboration, like AI and informatics.

While AI refers to the development of computer systems to perform human tasks, informatics looks at how data are represented and how humans interact with the data and the computer systems themselves, said informatics consortium champion Brian Dixon, a professor in the IU Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health.

“Our prime directive is to increase collaboration and research related to informatics across the Indianapolis campus,” said Dixon, who is also director of public health informatics for the school and the Regenstrief Institute, and a research scientist at the institute’s Center for Biomedical Informatics. “There are several groups on campus already doing incredible work in the informatics space, like the Center for Computational Biology and Bioinformatics and the Center for Biomedical Informatics at the Regenstrief Institute. We want to put up the big tent for informatics where everyone can come together to promote new research for our campus.”

The informatics consortium hopes to make an impact by engaging companies in metropolitan Indianapolis, which recently received federal designation as a tech hub, that could benefit from research the consortium conducts.

“As we move forward, we’re looking to connect the research that’s happening on campus with external stakeholders and take our innovations and deploy them into their organizations,” Dixon said. “I think there are a lot of industry partners who are very interested in working with IU, and we really need an organizational unit like the consortium to catalyze the collaboration and offer opportunities.”

Creating equal partnerships with the community

By uniting faculty and community experts, the community-engaged research to impact health equity consortium is addressing pressing challenges related to Hoosiers’ health.

The consortium centers on one goal: to improve outcomes for Indiana residents through health equity. But before any research or outreach begins, the consortium must first define what health equity means for Indianapolis.

According to consortium champion Silvia Bigatti, a professor of community and global health, health equity encapsulates more than priorities that strengthen health and well-being for all, like better access to health care and eliminating exposure to risk factors. Education and housing also play major roles in health equity.

The consortium plans to lean heavily on partners in the Indianapolis community who are already working to make the city more equitable. Organizations aimed at ending breast cancer disparities for Black women and diminishing health disparities faced by the Hispanic and Latino community are vital gateways to the communities they serve. Bigatti said there are even opportunities for local public school corporations to get involved.

“When you bring the community into it, the community knows what their experiences, challenges and assets are; they are the experts on themselves,” Bigatti said. “Community-engaged participatory research sees the community as equal partners that have expertise on the population of the study, and we have expertise on research methods.”

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Jaleesa Elliott

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