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How Research Moves: Explaining the differences in research and who they affect

Monday, September 18, 2023

Media Contact: Harrison Hill | Senior Research Communications Specialist | 405-744-5827 |

In the last issue of OSU Research Matters, the “How Research Moves” segment provided an overview of the primary reasons why research is integral to Oklahoma State University’s mission.

First, the research mission draws experts from across the globe to join the OSU faculty. These experts then provide a powerful example of scholarly and scientific achievement to OSU students in the classroom, the laboratory and the field. Finally, OSU research extends beyond the institution’s boundaries to impact the public.

Moving from project to impact

Any given research project can create impact in a variety of ways. Some types of impact are completely intentional from the outset, whereas others can be serendipitous, cumulative or accelerated by additional actions after the research is completed. Advancing Disciplinary Knowledge is often the intended impact of “basic” or “fundamental” research. Well-crafted research projects produce new insights on how the world works within a particular discipline. These findings are presented at professional meetings and published in journals to be read by other researchers. The research then becomes the launchpad for follow-on research that might create yet further impact (of the same or different type). Even when the initial intent is primarily to advance disciplinary knowledge, some research breakthroughs find their way into even broader impacts.

Some research is planned and executed to intentionally Expand/Explode Disciplinary Boundaries; at times, this occurs because of the findings rather than the researchers’ intent. Regardless, the very act of transcending the silos of individual disciplines provides the scientific and scholarly communities with new pathways to solve the problems of society. For example, consider a project that proposes to understand the bonding processes between a mother and her infant (the domain of developmental psychology) by mapping specific behavioral interactions onto neurochemical activities within the brain (the domain of neurology). If successful, such research has the potential to positively impact future generations (of research and people) in ways that neither developmental psychology nor neurology could do in isolation.

Some research endeavors are carried out with the explicit intent to result in a direct solution/answer to a problem/need within society. Translational Research takes knowledge from a disciplinary domain and translates it into a product or service that directly addresses societal problems. The most easily understood examples of translational research are in medicine. Researchers used the basic understanding of how a novel virus works (from the discipline of molecular biology) first to identify and characterize the SARS-CoV2 virus, then to create methods of testing for its presence in living organisms, and finally to create, test and deploy effective vaccines to prevent the virus from realizing even more devastating effects. For all this to come to fruition, the research requires more than just a team of skilled molecular biologists. To scale the production of test kits and vaccines, to get them into the hands of the appropriate professionals, and to create public acceptance of the safety and effectiveness of these new tools requires teams of systems and manufacturing engineers, logisticians, bioethicists, communications specialists and social scientists.

Research focused on the needs of a particular community is often planned not just by the researcher; rather the researcher teams up with members of the community to determine what information or innovation is most needed and would provide the community with the greatest benefit. Projects of this sort are often called Public Impact Research. Other terms sometimes used are communityengaged research, community-based participatory research, or participatory action research. The central themes of these Public Impact Research models are that the community needs remain at the center of the research, and the primary benefit of the research should be to the community. OSU’s Rural Renewal Initiative is a great example of Public Impact Research. RRI research scholars embed within a rural community and design projects in partnership with community leaders. The findings are then used by the community to design policies, workforce programs, infrastructure plans, etc. that directly benefit the community.

Researchers engage in Applied Research and Development (or Applied R&D) when trying to invent or refine a technology with market potential. Often, researchers are starting Applied R&D projects with technologies that were invented to solve a temporary problem in the laboratory. For example, perhaps a researcher needed a filter to keep a specific type of particle from contaminating her chemistry experiment … and produced a makeshift way to create one. Then the researcher (or someone else) ascertained that a filter of that type might improve upon the current technology for automobile air filtration. At that point, Applied R&D would take the makeshift laboratory invention, protect it (via patent or trade secret mechanisms), and conduct additional proof-of-concept research. Assuming success at each subsequent stage, the Applied R&D would create a prototype, engage with entrepreneurial partners to evaluate the product’s market potential, secure investments and take the product to market by scaling up production and selling it via a startup company or a license to an existing company. This process is what we often refer to as technology transfer.

Finally, all the types of impact discussed above can have an even greater impact if we follow them up with Public Research Communication. In fact, this article — and the entirety of OSU Research Matters — are examples of Public Research Communication. For far too long, researchers have been content to communicate mostly to other researchers … and often only within their own disciplines. Sharing the many types of fascinating research that goes on at OSU with the public at large multiplies the impact of the research. That said, most researchers are not communications experts. So, partnerships with communications professionals are crucial … whether as writers for popular publications and media outlets, or as trainers of researchers who desire to better communicate their work to the public. When the public understands research, it can best benefit from research.

Research Matters Magazine

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