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The University of Southampton

Eureka! Southampton scientist to improve the pathway to discovery

Published: 13 October 2008

An engineer from the University of Southampton has been awarded a Royal Academy of Engineering Senior Research Fellowship, sponsored by Microsoft Research, to improve the path to discovery for scientists.

Over the five year duration of the award, dr monica mc schraefel, Chief Imaginist for Interactive Strategies at the University's School of Electronics and Computer Science, will research what environmental conditions (social, physical, informational) are optimum for human creativity and which best lead to the cognitive leap that synthesises new information in the pre-eureka! moment.

A vital part of this research will be the quest to improve quality of life for scientists through more efficient information flows.

'Almost all of us struggle with time management and life management,' said dr schraefel. 'The vision of this work is to be able to clear a path through all the information out there to help the right information to get to the right person right away - less search, more discovery!'

dr schraefel also plans to address how environment is a major factor in the discovery and innovation process and to look at factors which hinder creativity.

She believes that exercise and physical activity are underrated by research environments, so systems could be geared towards illustrating that activity has benefit, particularly as obesity costs the UK £3.5 billion a year and low back pain, stress and anxiety all contribute to absenteeism.

'Geeks are notoriously out of shape and we know from related research that folks who move work better and feel better,' said dr schraefel. 'Our challenge is to look at having systems that help represent researchers' status to them in such a way that could give them options to move and see that activity has benefit. Perhaps their heart rates are lower and their brain waves more susceptible to creativity after moving. We need to find ways to encourage and represent this.'

The Senior Research Fellowships Scheme provides funding for Senior Lecturer/Reader level appointments, at UK universities, in order to enable individuals with several years post-doctoral research experience to progress in their chosen field. The Royal Academy of Engineering aims to strengthen industrial/academic links through co-funding the appointments with industrial organisations, over periods of five years, to establish, or enhance, an internationally renowned centre of excellence in an identified area of engineering.

Robert Barrett, Head of Research Programmes at the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: 'The Academy is delighted to support such a world-class research engineer to this prestigious Senior Research Fellowship together with Microsoft Research.
'mc is already internationally recognised and has collaborated with other outstanding scientists working in fields relating to knowledge engineering and we feel sure that this work will further the position of the UK as an international leader in innovation and discovery.'

'Microsoft Research is delighted to sponsor dr schraefel's Senior Research Fellowship,' Ken Wood, Deputy Director at Microsoft Research, Cambridge added. 'Her work on developing systems to foster creativity is important for scientists, but also for the wider business world and even for people at home, including children. We look forward to dr schraefel's continued work in these and related areas over the course of her fellowship, and we hope to collaborate with her on specific projects where our research interests overlap.'

Notes for editors

For further information about dr schraefel's work, please visit:

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