We did just that when Howard Hughes Medical Institute set out to create the Janelia Research Campus in 2006 to expand the scope of biomedical research. The campus would act as an experiment of sorts – one in which scientists would have no deadlines, no rules, no schedules, no tenure. The result? Nobel Prize-winning science. Cross-disciplinary collaboration. Intellectual freedom. Passionate researchers. Unthinkable projects.
Unraveling Brain Function
Initially, we did not know exactly what scientific problem we’d tackle. We just knew we wanted scientists to do science differently. The labs would stay small, the funding provided internally. Research would be driven by passion, collaboration and creativity.
An Interview with Gerry Rubin: Executive Director Gerry Rubin discusses where Janelia fits in the scientific landscape.
That experiment has paid off. Since then, Janelia scientists have begun to unravel the function of the brain, the body’s most complex collection of molecules.
We’ve developed Nobel Prize-winning imaging technologies and new ways of processing scientific data. We’ve gained new insights into the brain’s neuronal circuits – whether it’s seeing thousands of neurons fire at once in a zebrafish brain or understanding how hippocampal neurons lead to memory.
A Different Kind of Science
It’s not the kind of science tackled by most academic institutions. They’re risky, long-term projects that may often fall outside the realm of most funding and academic goals. They bring together myriad disciplines – perhaps combining physicists, computer scientists and biologists to build a new microscope. It’s not necessarily what you’d find in a university biology department.
In fact, just about everything at Janelia is different than in most research settings, from the day-to-day jobs of scientists and the free-flowing approach of projects, to the social design of the campus, to the robust support services. We eliminate administrative and teaching duties for scientists. We offer internal funding and access to world-class lab services. We give scientists time to ask the hard questions that others haven't been able to ask, and we urge them to talk to each other to find answers.
That flexibility and focus have helped Janelia attract some of the top minds in biomedical research. They’re by nature passionate, creative, curious and collaborative. They can’t imagine doing anything else or working anywhere else.
Today, Janelia has a narrow set of research goals – but the path to get there is still wide open. That, we believe, is one experiment that will lead to more big ideas.