Scientific synthesis* centres have become integral to research efforts in an era of increasingly complex societal and scientific problems, big data, and the knowledge economy. There are now more than a dozen synthesis centres across North America, Europe, China and Australia, spreading from their ecological origins to address the synthesis needs in biomedical sciences, mathematics, earth sciences, and genomics. Synthesis centres foster collaborative research by bringing interdisciplinary groups of specialists and experts together for an extended period of time in a collegial setting aimed at stimulating creative thinking, catalysing insight, and facilitating group learning. The centres generally provide the technological expertise to help researchers collect, analyse, and synthesise diverse and disparate datasets to address critical science questions.
With the formation of the International Synthesis Consortium (ISC) the centres took a step forward to work and collaborate more closely. The ISC is a global network of centres that collectively have decades of accumulated knowledge and demonstrated success in bringing synthesis to bear solving complex problems. We envision an expanding network that meets the growing need for synthesis research in all corners of the globe and facilitates the participation of stakeholders from the public, private and community sectors. The ISC will work in the upcoming years to foster global efforts to tackle grand challenges in science by collaborations across centres.
* the extraction of otherwise unobtainable insight from a combination of disparate elements (Sidlauskas et al., 2009)
Why a synthesis centre?
In today’s world, the amount of information and data can be quite daunting, and for us to make good decisions, we need to create wisdom out of the cacophony of material available. Synthesis Centres do not sponsor new field or lab investigations, but support the analysis of existing data to answer cutting edge scientific questions.
This collaborative approach has an excellent track record of producing innovative and widely cited outcomes, and in creating a culture of interdisciplinary and trans-organisational collaboration.
The communities that each synthesis centre has developed are very powerful: the networks of experts and the collective knowledge are second to none. The purpose of the International Synthesis Consortium is to facilitate linkages between research efforts, share best practices to improve the effectiveness of each centre, assist new centres as they come on-line, and archive the research and data legacy of those centres that reach the end of their funding, for the benefit of all. Our partners are skilled in facilitating science synthesis and many of today’s major issues will benefit from a concerted collaborative approach.
Sidlauskas B., Ganeshkumar G., Hazkani-Covo E., Jenkins K.P., Lapp H., McCall L.W., Price S., Scherle R., Spaeth P.A. and Kidd D.M. (2009) Linking big: the continuing promise of evolutionary synthesis. Evolution 64(4): 871-880.
A listing of synthesis centres and other organisations of interest
Centres are ordered by the date they opened, oldest to newest.
|Chinese Ecosystem Research Network (CERN)||Beijing, China |
(Chinese Academy of Science)
|National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS)||Santa Barbara, California, USA |
(University of California)
|Ecology, environmental sciences|
|National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent)||Durham, North Carolina, USA |
(Duke University, North Carolina State University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
|Evolutionary biology, ecology|
|Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis (CEES)||University of Oslo, Norway||Evolutionary changes on ecology through population biology, statistical and mathematical modelling and genomics|
|National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS)||Knoxville, Tennessee, USA |
(University of Tennessee)
|Interface between biology and mathematics|
|Canadian Institute of Ecology and Evolution (CIEE/ICEE)||Saskatchewan, but operations distributed throughout Canada (University of Regina)||Canadian ecosystems and their services|
|John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis||Fort Collins, Colorado, USA |
(United States Geological Survey)
|Earth and environmental sciences|
|Australian Centre for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (ACEAS)||Brisbane, Queensland, Australia |
(Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network, University of Queensland)
|Ecosystem science, management and policy|
|CEntre for the Synthesis and Analysis of Biodiversity (CESAB)||Aix-en-Provence, France |
(Foundation for Research on Biodiversity)
|Biodiversity sciences, ecology|
|National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC)||Annapolis, Maryland, USA |
(University of Maryland)
|Ecology, sociology, political science, economy, psychology, policy making, planning and design|
|Environmental ‘Omics Synthesis Centre (EOS)||Wallingford, Oxfordshire, UK |
(Centre for Ecology and Hydrology)
|Environmental ‘Omics’ and bioinformatics|
|The Synthesis Centre for Biodiversity Sciences (sDiv)||Leipzig, Germany |
(German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv))
|Biodiversity sciences and management|
|Tansley Working Groups||London, UK |
|Biodiversity and resource management|