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AIAS is to unite two cultures

The research institute AIAS is AU’s attempt to answer the question of how to achieve excellence in research is achieved in a globalised world, says Rector Lauritz B. Holm-Nielsen.

Once it was wishful thinking. Today it is reality.

When Professor Morten Kyndrup, the director of Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies (AIAS), rounded off the speeches at the opening of the institute on 13 June, he said that Aarhus University had finally received “the house for researchers” from all fields at the university which many of us have wanted through the years.

The turnout of invited guests in front of him in the bright new lecture theatre of the institute underlined the fact that AIAS is open to all the disciplines. Aarhus University’s first Nobel Prize winner, Jens Chr. Skou, was also among the guests.

A generous opportunity

Besides lending his name to the scholarships that AIAS awards to Danish junior and senior researchers, Jens Chr. Skou has also argued that new ideas thrive best when researchers do not have to face requirements for publications, teaching and grant applications.

Researchers at AIAS are not met with such requirements.

Rector Lauritz B. Holm-Nielsen stated at the opening that AIAS is “a generous possibility to pursue free research with a minimum of obligations.”

“Aarhus University is committed to excellence. We have therefore created a space that supports networks and partnerships among researchers from the entire world. In our opinion, this is how you achieve excellence in research in a globalised world,” AU’s rector said.

Inspiration from Princeton

With AIAS, AU joins the small group of about 100 universities that offer new possibilities for excellence in research. According to Lauritz B. Holm-Nielsen, this will stimulate mobility in the  world of research.

The rector said that he had toyed with the idea of an institute like AIAS for more than a decade, since Phillip Griffiths, director at Princeton Institute for Advanced Study at the time, introduced him to the idea and the concept behind.

It was Princeton that came first with such an institute in 1933, where first Einstein and since then then a number of scientific pioneers have done pioneering work.

The thought of having an AIAS at AU was introduced three years ago, but the process did not pick up speed until the end of 2011. Less than 18 months later, we were able to witness the opening of the thoroughly renovated nursing school where the interior, consisting of designer furniture, matches the high ambitions of uniting the two cultures which scientist and author C.P.  Snow talked about in 1959.

Snow predicted back then that natural sciences on the one side and the humanities and social sciences on the other side would get to a point where there would be no mutual understanding.

Interdisciplinary results are not the goal

At the opening, Morten Kyndrup specifically emphasised the separation between the two cultures of knowledge. However, he did not find that the situation was as dire as Snow had predicted.

“But the daily dialogue between the disciplines is rare,” Morten Kyndrup noted.

“No one should doubt that one of AIAS’s most important themes is to work against the lack of dialogue between fields of inquiry - although without creating any form of convergence between them.  And interdisciplinary research results are not part of the goals which have been defined for AIAS. But besides from generating excellent research, AIAS will no doubt create dialogue, interchange and inspiration,” Morten Kyndrup said.