people sitting around a table


Key 2019 ​Dates & Information:


  • ​Ideas Lab Informational Webinar (1 hour):  July 30, 2019​

        ​​​​Find video at: 


The webinar starts at 16 minutes in the video, and features Chris Meyer (Dean of Sciences, Fresno State; 19 – 42 minutes on The Trilemma Challenge), Ray Rodriguez (UC Davis; 42 – 48 minutes on the inspiration for the Trilemma Challenge), and Andy Burnett (KnowInnovation; 48 – 60 minutes on “What is an Ideas Lab?” and “If you’re interested in the Trilemma Challenge, we’re interested in you!”)​

  • CSUPERB Ideas Lab Application Due Date: Applications closed for 2019
  • Participant Selection Notification:  Third week of August, 2019
  • This year's CSUPERB Ideas Lab In-Person Workshop will be held September 12-14 at Fresno State.

2019 CSUPERB Ideas Lab Request for Applications (RFA): Sample RFA Click Here

​2019 CSUPERB Ideas Lab Application form:  Applications closed for 2019​ 

​2019 Ideas Lab Challenge​

2019 Trilemma Graphic.JPG

The ultimate goal of the 2019 Ideas Lab is to catalyze innovative, exciting research projects addressing food, energy, water, and land issues that are part of California’s food-health-ecosystem trilemma. A trilemma is characterized by tough choices among three alternatives. For instance, to optimize food production, a community might face the degradation of its ecosystem. 

Facing the effects of climate change, the need to sustainably feed a growing human population and deal with pollution and degraded soil and water quality, California’s agricultural and environmental sectors are in need of new, transdisciplinary ideas. In order for these ideas to be successfully implemented, innovative concepts must be built on input from multiple, local stakeholders (including community, industry and government members).  

Each region of California faces different trilemmas when considering its health, food systems, and environmental ecosystems – there is not one solution for the state or the world. How can we find the right balance and help communities make difficult choices? The ability to resolve the apparent conflict between “agriculture and nature” requires the recognition that agriculture is not separate but part of a larger network of ecosystems that influence each other. How do we determine the “local optima” for production and long-term health and sustainability? 

The American Society of Agronomy(1) has defined a Grand Challenge around the need to double global food, feed, fiber, and fuel on existing farmland within the 21st Century. How might we accomplish this with limited resources while enabling food security and producing more nutritious foods and, simultaneously enhancing soil quality and the availability of fresh water, safe air, and healthy biodiversity? The Food and Agriculture Organization (2) of the United Nations also identified challenges to ensuring a sustainable natural resources base, making food systems more efficient, inclusive, and resilient, and preventing transboundary and emerging agriculture and food system threats. It is clear that a “business as usual” approach to the “bioeconomy” of agriculture is not sustainable. Comprehensive solutions require transdisciplinary thinking that goes beyond science and technology to include the farming community, social and behavioral sciences, policy, industry, and government. 

Progress toward these goals will require convergent research carried out by diverse interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary teams that can create new frameworks and methods. The methods and approaches developed must span biology, agriculture, ​computer science, and engineering. Emerging tools include artificial intelligence (AI)/IT convergence (digital agriculture), biology automation, drones/sensors, synthetic biology, green chemistry, genetic engineering/gene editing technologies, intercropping, and metabolic engineering. There is also a need to convert “Big Data” from satellite imagery and geospatial data into usable information for scientists, farmers, and other stakeholders. The ability to work across and communicate between local and global scales of analysis will be essential to linking changes to nutritional outcomes and agriculture policy. 

Interdisciplinary team proposals drafted during the Ideas Lab and refined in follow up work will be eligible for CSUPERB Ideas Lab Team Seed Grants ($1000 per person). The Ideas Lab Seed Grants will fund travel needed by teams to jointly write and refine a nationally competitive proposal, with the ultimate goal of securing federal grant funds. Alternatively, teams can negotiate with CSUPERB to use Team Seed Grant funds to conduct joint research as a subcontract. There are relevant sources of follow-on funding from NSF and USDA, including the INFEWs (Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water) program, the prior NSF BREAD (Basic Research to Enable Agricultural Development (BREAD) program (in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), NSF Research Coordination Networks (RCN), and a recent Dear Colleague Letter(3) aligned with NSF’s Harnessing the Data Revolution Big Ideas and aiming to build capacity across disciplinary boundaries. CSUPERB will fund travel to Washington, D.C. to meet with program officers, based on draft proposals submitted by teams funded by Ideas Lab Team Seed Grants in February 2020. 

1. Grand Challenge: Agronomy Feeds the World. 2010. American Society of Agronomy. https://www.agronomy.org/files/science-policy/asa-grand-challenge-2010.pdf
2. FAO Food Chain Crisis Early Warning Bulletin. 2019. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. http://www.fao.org/documents/card/en/c/CA4251EN
3. Dear Colleague Letter: Supporting Research at the Intersection of Agricultural Science, Big Data, Informatics and Smart Communities. National Science Foundation (NSF) and US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA/NIFA). https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2019/nsf19051/nsf19051.jsp

What is an Ideas Lab?

CSUPERB Ideas Lab Program Goals

In CSUPERB's 2018-2021 Strategic Plan, we set a goal to "advance integrative, inter-disciplinary education, and team research." ​ Biotechnology researchers system-wide have asked CSUPERB for support developing collaborative, interdisciplinary research projects, help in building nationally competitive research teams, and convenings to explore problems worth solving for our regional communities and in the national interest.  

In parallel, national funding agencies, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), have increasingly called for "convergence research."  NSF defines the need this way: "The grand challenges of today -- protecting human health; understanding the food, energy, water nexus; exploring the universe at all scales -- will not be solved by one discipline alone. They require convergence: the merging of ideas, approaches and technologies from widely diverse fields of knowledge to stimulate innovation and discovery." 

CSUPERB operates as a seed grant program, expecting that follow-on funding will be available for exciting science and nationally-competitive research-based ideas. To seed new research collaborations across the CSU and with external partners, we secured NSF funding to pilot an Ideas Lab program in 2019-2020.

Our goals for the new Ideas Lab program are to support exciting new science and build collaborative partnerships involving CSU researchers. The resulting, interdisciplinary research programs will be engaging to CSU students who increasingly seek impactful research opportunities. Like other Ideas Labs nationwide, CSUPERB seeks to encourage the "development of multidisciplinary collaborations among researchers with expertise including but not limited to: behavioral, social, biomedical, and environmental sciences; engineering and mathematics; policy and law; business; education; the arts and humanities; or any other discipline that can provide new insights and perspectives" on a given Challenge Area.  CSUPERB's goal is to build effective, integrative research capacity across the CSU. Because CSUPERB is a biotechnology program, Challenge Areas will be selected that require bio-technologies to solve ​major scientific problems that affect people and our planet​.


CSUPERB Ideas Lab Program Stages

Like other Ideas Lab processes, the CSUPERB Ideas Lab program involves several stages:
​​CSUPERB Ideas Lab Stages Graphic_5-2019.png

Ideas Lab Participant Experience: More than a Workshop

An Ideas Lab is an "intensive, interactive, and free-thinking environment, where a diverse group of 25-35 participants from a range of disciplines and backgrounds" gather for 3 days - away from their everyday work worlds. Ideas Labs are effective when there is a highly interdisciplinary mix of participants "to drive lateral thinking and radical approaches to address research challenges." (- U. Connecticut)

An Ideas Lab workshop is an intensive, immersive process much like other workshops designed by CSUPERB. The Ideas Lab will be directed by an empathetic researcher with a significant track record of federal grant funding in the Challenge Area. The 2019 CSUPERB Ideas Lab will be facilitated by experts from KnowInnovation, CSUPERB research mentors, and the AY 19-20 CSUPERB Ideas Lab Planning Committee. CSUPERB will invite subject matter experts to provide different perspectives to help participants develop new research questions or novel approaches. 

CSU faculty members apply as individuals to the Ideas Lab. The aim is to form NEW, interdisciplinary teams during the Ideas Lab. Applicants should not apply with solutions, established teams, and/or research goals already in mind. During the Ideas Lab workshop, interdisciplinary teams will form around nascent research project ideas​. After the in-person, 3-day workshop, Ideas Labs teams will be eligible to submit follow-on CSUPERB Team Seed Grant proposals. The Team Seed grants ($1000 per team member) will support the development of a collaborative, interdisciplinary research proposal targeting federal grant programs.  

You can read more about Ideas Labs here: https://nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=136669 (also called Sandpits - http://knowinnovation.com/2010/03/in-the-sandpi/http://knowinnovation.com/2010/03/in-the-sandpit​).