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Melissa Appleyard
Melissa Appleyard

Team Science

Merging disciplines to enhance innovation

In the cutting-edge facilities of a semiconductor manufacturer or the biomedical labs of a leading university program, nanotechnology is the new frontier. Innovation happens at the molecular level. But it also has to happen at the interpersonal level.

Melissa Appleyard, Ames Professor in the Management of Innovation and Technology in the PSU School of Business Administration, is researching how experts in these enterprises, coming from disparate backgrounds find ways of working together.

"These types of interdisciplinary teams can have problems cooperating due to differing terminologies, conceptual models, and approaches to empirical testing," Appleyard says. At the same time, "You wonder how much they rub off on each other, and start asking questions that have a broader application."

To answer that question, Appleyard is studying scientists working at eight nanomedicine development centers funded by the National Institutes of Health. There, scientists and engineers collaborate on medical applications such as developing microscopic devices that may be able to reverse age-related macular degeneration, which otherwise leads to blindness.

Her goal is to identify those scientists who've developed what she calls a "knowledge meshing capability": an ability to merge different fields into "something quite revolutionary."

Appleyard has already studied the way developers with different skill-sets interact in industrial settings. For example, she has studied those team dynamics at Intel, where advanced processing technology requires expertise in chemistry, physics, and engineering. "Optimal ways of managing interdisciplinary teams matter a lot to companies like Intel," says Appleyard.

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