University of Chicago Establishes Initiative to Give Big Ideas Support

The University of Chicago has launched the Arete Initiative, an intellectual incubator program designed to assist faculty in developing innovative, large-scale interdisciplinary research projects.

In announcing the initiative, Donald Levy, the Albert A. Michelson Distinguished Service Professor in Chemistry and Vice President for Research and for National Laboratories at the University, wrote that Arete's primary purpose is "to remove the barriers to success by providing expertise in leading interdisciplinary teams" and ensure that investigators have the resources they need to produce "research innovations, advance what were thought to be intractable problems, influence multiple disciplines and spawn new scholarly fields."

The initiative emerged from a collaboration among John Cacioppo, the Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology; Matthew Christian, Administrative Director of the Center for Cognitive & Social Neuroscience; and Ken Olliff, Director for Strategic Foundation Initiatives. Cacioppo is the faculty director of the initiative, while Christian and Olliff are co-leaders.

"Over the past year, that work has blossomed into a pilot program, vetted and approved by the administration, and recently was established as a University initiative institutionalized within my office," Levy said.

"With very limited resources, the team has stimulated the creation of several highly innovative interdisciplinary projects with topics ranging from 'Predicting and Controlling MRSA Outbreaks' and 'The Scientific Study of Wisdom' to 'Modeling the Human Dimensions of Climate Change.'"

Cacioppo said he and his colleagues proposed the initiative in order to help scientists and other researchers overcome the challenges they face when developing large projects and because the initiative reflects a tradition at the University that encourages work among various disciplines.

"Porous boundaries between departments and divisions have resulted in world-changing ideas and new schools of thought," he said, and this tradition of interdisciplinarity often leads scholars to work in teams.

"Team research, especially interdisciplinary research, is characterized by synergies among experts that can transform both research and researchers," Cacioppo added. Funding for Arete projects has come from a variety of public agencies and private foundations.

The organizers chose the name Arete, a classical Greek word that means excellence in the sense of the fulfillment of human potential.

Faculty interested in the possibility of establishing projects through Arete may call 834-9870 or e-mail For more information, visit