Research universities and federal funding agencies are taking a new approach to cutting-edge research in life sciences: multidisciplinary teams of scientists. Already in 1999, two Ivy League universities have announced plans for new institutes that will bring together physical and biological scientists to tackle problems. Other major universities have embarked on similar initiatives within the past year. And a research institute that will open a campus in the Midwest next year plans to carry out multidisciplinary medical research.

"There's a growing recognition that the time is ripe for physical science and engineering to come together with biological and medical sciences," says Steven Chu, a Nobel laureate who is professor of applied physics at Stanford University. "Biology has become very data-rich. You want to develop ways of analyzing the data."

Multidisciplinary research in the life sciences "is indeed a general trend," agrees James Edwards, deputy assistant director of biological...

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