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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Japanese science needs a shake-up. A new institute in Okinawa may provide it

Where rats and robots play




THINK of a university and what comes to mind may be the cloistered calm of Oxford, the architectural chaos of MIT or even, perhaps, the 1950s brutalism of Moscow. A Daliesque building on a subtropical island, with a view of the ocean and signs on campus warning of venomous snakes, is more unusual. But that is appropriate, for the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST), inaugurated as a graduate university on November 19th, is intended to be unusual. It was built from scratch on a forested hilltop overlooking the East China Sea, and its approach to science starts from scratch too. It has no departments. Instead, its biologists, chemists, physicists, mathematicians and computer geeks intermingle, sharing laboratory equipment, teachers and money. After two centuries of science becoming more and more specialised, the idea is to bring back the generalist.
Surprisingly, this experiment is taking place in Japan—a country with one of the most rigid academic hierarchies in the world.

More at: http://www.economist.com/node/21540228

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