Universiteit Leiden

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Interdisciplinary research

In our nine interdisciplinary research programmes, we at Leiden University seek new insights and solutions to complex societal challenges. These challenges relate to problems in Dutch society but also tie in with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Interdisciplinary research

Working across disciplines provides opportunities to gain new insights, explore new forms of collaboration and contribute to solutions to societal challenges. It also offers our students more opportunities to develop in new fields and interesting disciplinary combinations.

This interdisciplinary research and teaching takes place within the following programmes:

Artificial intelligence: partner to humanity and society

The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) has transformed society. To give just a few examples, AI has helped devices and software to work better and enabled cars to drive themselves. To make the most of AI, it is important to have a good understanding of all its dimensions: the technology itself, its applications in other research areas and its impact on people and society. From fundamental computer science to humanities and psychology, Leiden University has the expertise to study AI in all its aspects. For it is only with a broad, interdisciplinary focus that AI can keep a human face and contribute to a better world.

The SAILS (Society, Artificial Intelligence and Life Sciences) initiative is designed to connect various disciplines within the University and initiate new scientific collaborations. This could include interdisciplinary research areas such as innovative medical imaging and the search for new drug candidates, or it could involve algorithms that can help with decision-making in public administration or justice.

Virtually all our students will benefit from a sound knowledge of AI in the future. That is why, in addition to research, SAILS also aims to offer an AI component in all the University’s degree programmes.

Vsit the SAILS website.

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The fullest, most accurate possible picture of humans

Enter a museum anywhere in the world and the objects on display will tell you all about a people, era or cultural phenomenon. But why does a museum choose to display these particular objects? Do they give a good impression? And shouldn’t some objects be returned to their country of origin? These are just some of the questions hanging over museums, their collections and how they have come about, and the way people use objects to explain their present and past.

The Museums, Collections and Society interdisciplinary research programme looks from different angles at the choices people make to collect objects, the way museums exhibit these objects and the picture this gives of the present and past. Leiden archaeologists, law researchers, historians, art historians and anthropologists are involved in this programme. Their joint research helps give people all over the world the fullest, most accurate picture of themselves and others when they visit a museum.

Visit our website Museums, Collections and Society

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Towards a safer, more resilient society

Society is growing and becoming increasingly complex, and our social and personal safety are more often at risk. People experience traumatic events such as violence or unacceptable behaviour – often at a young age – or suffer from the negative effects of crises or issues facing modern societies: the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change or the emergence of digital technologies, for example.

A more complex society also asks more of our ability to cope with setbacks, make decisions and deal with uncertainties, negative emotions and thoughts. This makes it essential that we understand how the brain responds to traumatic events and how to take care of people’s mental well-being after such events.

Security and resilience is the subject of research in many different disciplines. If we are to improve our understanding of uncertainties, negative emotions and the resultant acceptable or unacceptable behaviour, and provide even better interventions and care, we have to study the topic from an interdisciplinary perspective. The Social Resilience and Security programme at Leiden University brings together scholars from the disciplines of archaeology, biology, humanities, law, public administration and social sciences. And we have access to a large international network of experts beyond the walls of our university. We also share our discoveries with a wide audience: we give public lectures, make podcasts and bring new educational resources to schools. By conducting and sharing research, we want to gain an even better understanding of human behaviour and use this knowledge to make a safer, more resilient society.

See our Social Resilience and Security website.

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Global solutions to global problems

The world is facing serious challenges, such as tackling climate change, fighting pandemics and managing migration flows. Precisely because these problems are on a global scale, they also require solutions that involve the entire world. How do you achieve that in an effective, equitable, peaceful and sustainable way, and what exactly do those solutions look like? Leiden researchers from the social sciences, humanities and natural sciences come together to develop answers to such questions.

The interdisciplinairy research programme Global Transformations and Governance Challenges (GTGC) is directed from Campus The Hague but also works intensively with faculties in Leiden. The Hague is also the political capital of the Netherlands and the home of many international organisations. This allows GTGC researchers to quickly convey their findings to policymakers. The programme also explicitly seeks contact with provinces, municipalities, civic organisations and the media.

Visit our website Global Transformations and Government Challenges

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A better understanding of the interplay between migration, citizenship, governance and policy

Migration is a complex problem, with social and governance puzzles that are deeply intertwined. Where can migrants go? How do you deal with social unrest about migrants? And what rights and duties do migrants have? To gain a better understanding of the interplay between migration, citizenship, governance and policy and find good solutions, interdisciplinary research is needed.

In the interdisciplinary research programme Social Citizenship and Migration, Leiden experts in public administration, law, economics, humanities and social and behavioural sciences look together at the issue of migration. They combine their knowledge of migration in the past, social patterns and perceptions of migrants, and share their findings with other researchers, policymakers and society at large.

Visit our website Social Citizenship and Migration

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Analysing data to improve healthcare

The more medical data you gather about the health of particular groups of people - such as individuals who live in the same town or neighbourhood - the more you can learn about how the health of people in the group will develop in the long term. You can then use this knowledge at an early stage to treat or even prevent known conditions that crop up often in the group, such as heart complaints or psychological problems. This can lead to healthier people, lower healthcare costs and greater satisfaction, as well as improved self-reliance.  Looking at the health of a group of people rather than an individual is known as: “Population Health”. How we handle the health of these groups within and outside the care system is termed: “Population Health Management”.

The “Population Health Living Lab” at Campus The Hague is a joint scientific workplace of doctors, researchers, regional partner organisations and healthcare providers inside and outside the hospital, supported by a databank of anonymous health data from people living in the region. Interdisciplinary research and teaching on “Population Health Management” also take place here. Health problems are the starting point and these are collected in the region, with the partners. In the Living Lab, scientists from various disciplines work with these partners using a variety of methods to analyse data from the health domain (often collected 'in practice' by GPs, hospitals, other healthcare institutions, health insurers and the public health authority, GGD). The findings of this scientific research can be used proactively and tailored to individual patients via GPs, hospitals and local health authorities to treat groups that are at a particular risk. Researchers, doctors and lecturers at the LUMC and the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, the Faculty of Science/LIACS and Governance & Global Affairs at Leiden University collaborate on this goal with a large number of regional partners within the Leiden University Health Campus The Hague research partnership.

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New drugs thanks to interdisciplinary collaboration

Researchers from Leiden conduct unique and internationally excellent interdisciplinary research in the field of drug discovery and development. The research focuses on new clues, molecules and concepts that could lead to the development of innovative drugs and diagnostic tests. Researchers with an outstanding international reputation are active in specific areas within these three themes. The interdisciplinary approach together with the availability of biobanks, patient databases and drug production facilities are essential to the discovery of new disease mechanisms and drug targets and the development of high-quality drugs. Investment in this area will strengthen the links at the Leiden Bio Science Park.

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Healing patients by regenerating organs, tissue and cells

Regenerative medicine is all about restoring organs, tissue and cells. Diseases that are chronic at present, such as heart and kidney failure, come at a high cost. For an ageing society this is a problem, but it also has a major impact on the lives of individual patients. Regenerative medicine could potentially cure such diseases once and for all in the future. To achieve this, we use ‘stem cells’: cells that can still become anything, from a heart muscle cell to a skin cell. In the lab we can make these stem cells grow and develop into functional cells or even mini-organs. This enables us to study disease and work on new patient treatments.

Alongside medics, the programme includes experts in cell biology, genetics, biomaterials, nanotechnology, advanced imaging agents and producing treatments under Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) guidelines. It also looks at the social context and impact of these developments and involves medical ethicists, health economists and legal and humanities academics. This wide range of knowledge allows us to make optimal use of emerging regenerative medicine technologies.

The research programme brings together Leiden experts of international repute in the fields of medicine, mathematics, physics and drug development. They can also make use of the unique infrastructure at the Leiden Bio Science Park. The businesses and research facilities there help to further develop treatments and ultimately bring them to patients. Healing a damaged organ or bone on a large scale: this could become a reality thanks in part to this interdisciplinary research programme.

Visit our Regenerative medicine website.

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Policy change for a sustainable world

Climate change is one of the key political themes of today. In this interdisciplinary research programme, researchers from Leiden University will work towards a society that uses energy and raw materials in such a way to preserve our natural capital and minimise the impact on our health. The researchers will begin by looking at how natural and economic ecosystems function and what impact they have on our health and natural capital. They will also research how social stimuli influence the human ecosystem. This will enable them to consider new forms of government policy and transition management that will help create a more sustainable society.

See also: Liveable Planet website

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These interdisciplinary research programmes were established in 2020 on the basis of a joint proposal submitted by the deans of the seven faculties at Leiden University. They will receive funding from the Executive Board for a period of four years. The intention is for them to continue after this period with other financial resources.

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