Suzan Mazur: The Dutch Origins Center is a virtual center, but would you say the University of Groningen serves as sort of the hub?
Jan-Willem Mantel: In a way. We try to create a flat network. We have groups in 17 or 18 universities and/or independent research organizations and we try to avoid one university leading or dominating. But, of course, the practical work has to be done somewhere and that is being done by Groningen. In an intellectual sense, however, you can’t say Groningen or any one of the others dominates.
The participating groups are at: University of Groningen, Amsterdam, Utrecht, Leiden, Delft University of Technology, Radboud University Nijmegen, VU University Amsterdam, Technical University of Eindhoven, Technical University of Twente, Netherlands Institute for Space Research, Netherlands Institute for Ecology, National Research Institute for Mathematics and Computer Science, Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Erasmus Medical Center, Dutch Institute for Cancer Research —-17 or 18 altogether. They’re all strong groups, but very diverse groups in these institutions.
The idea was to bring people together to talk across disciplinary boundaries. The methodological assumption is that you get progress earlier and faster when you do that instead of researchers working separately. But it’s quite a challenge because we have astrophysicists, mathematicians, biologists, chemists, nanotechnologists, all disciplines of natural science, actually. More.
This approach might help us move beyond the “what if this particular chance happening was the one that made all the difference?” approach: Hot water? Cold water? No water? Comets? Clay?
More collaboration might result in fewer eurekas! and more meticulously worked out proposals. That could lend some needed seriousness to the discussion.
See also: D’Arcy Thompson exhibit offers an illustration of the structuralist approach to evolution
Maybe if we throw enough models at the origin of life… some of them will stick?
What we know and don’t know about the origin of life