November 2008

At UT Dallas, Teamwork Matters

In an era of increasing competition for funding and innovation, when the stakes of commercialization have never been higher or more globally distributed, why would we think about collaborating and sharing the credit for advances?

The most recent answer to “Why we collaborate” at UT Dallas came down, quite literally, on May 25, 2008.

“Touchdown signal detected. Phoenix has landed!”

Every scientist and space enthusiast at NASA and across the nation stood and cheered. The mission that took millions of dollars and years to accomplish began to return results on some of the most exciting space science in decades. Two hours later, the first images from the Phoenix Mars Lander were transmitted millions of miles from the surface of the Red Planet. And within four days, UT Dallas space scientist John Hoffman began answering one of the most compelling questions of our time— is there any water (and potentially any life) on Mars?

Dr. John Hoffman has explored space from his planetary laboratory at UT Dallas and its predecessor institution since 1966.

While a group of scientists from the University of Arizona led the mission, it was UT Dallas’ own Dr. Hoffman who designed the spectrometer that is analyzing the Martian soil.

The bold, refreshing truth about science research is that, in many ways, pure, singular research lines have evolved into multidisciplinary research marvels of discovery and creation. No longer is it foreign for artists and mathematicians to collaborate, nor for physics, biology and geology to converge to create new knowledge—even millions of miles from Earth.

And while interdisciplinary teamwork is growing in importance, so too are the relationships among institutions. For example, a study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences could not have been possible without a remarkable partnership between UT Dallas and UT Southwestern Medical Center. Dr. Ellen Vitetta, who directs the Cancer Immunobiology Center at UT Southwestern brought together her cancer research team with nanotechnology experts at UT Dallas on the question of attacking cancer cells directly. Dr. Rockford Draper and his team at UT Dallas supplied expertise in coating cancer-seeking antibodies with carbon nanotubes. Once the antibodies seek out and stick to cancer cells, researchers can heat the carbon nanotubes with near-infrared light until the cancer cell dies—and none of the surrounding cells or tissues are harmed.

Austin Swafford is a senior in molecular biology and a recipient of the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship.

This study is important in another way with respect to teamwork: Among its authors is a highly accomplished UT Dallas student, Austin Swafford. Austin, a senior molecular and cell biology major, recently won the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship. He’s an impressive student, to be sure, but I want to emphasize that he’s an undergraduate working on some very important cancer research. He has teamed with some of the leading multidisciplinary scientists in the world to reach a significant milestone in the journey toward curing this insidious disease.

Austin Swafford’s success, our collaboration with UT Southwestern, and the partnership among space scientists in Tucson and Dallas all illustrate that teamwork involving different disciplines, different institutions, and especially professors and their students is vital to advancing science—and creating our future.

About This Newsletter

The President's Viewpoint is a periodic newsletter distributed to a select group of alumni, friends, faculty and staff. It comes from the desk of Dr. David E. Daniel, President of The University of Texas at Dallas, and provides the ultimate insider’s view on the news and concerns of the university.