From Salomon’s House to Synthesis Centers

  • Edward J. Hackett
  • John N. Parker
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of Science and Technology book series (PSHST)


Synthesis centers, which catalyze and host working groups, are an innovative form of scientific organization that promotes the integration of scientific diversity and its engagement with real-world problems. Placed in historical perspective, such centers are examples of an ongoing process of renewal in the organizational and institutional arrangements of science, and they have consequences for the character and effects of scientific knowledge. We describe and analyze how intellectual and institutional innovations emerge and are entwined within such centers, then draw upon ideas from science studies, small group dynamics, and the group creativity and interdisciplinarity literatures to identify the patterns and processes of social interaction responsible for the centers’ performance.


Research organization Collaboration Synthesis Emotion Values 



This research would not have been possible without the cheerful and enduring support of Jim Reichman, Stephanie Hampton, Frank Davis, the NCEAS staff, and hundreds of scientists who took time from their research visits to answer our questions, complete our surveys, explain things to us, and simply allow us to spend time with them. We thank Nancy Grimm for suggesting NCEAS as a research site and Jonathon Bashford for helpful analyses and discussions. An earlier version of some of the ideas and evidence presented in this paper appeared in Hackett et al. (2008).

This work was supported by the National Science Foundation (SBE 98–96330 to Hackett, SBE 1242749 to Hackett and Parker) and by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, Santa Barbara, CA (DEB 94–21535).

We are deeply grateful to Dave Conz for years of collegiality and conviviality, and dedicate this work to him.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Brandeis UniversityWalthamUSA
  2. 2.Arizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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