I have recently been appointed as Lecturer in the Medical Physics and Bioengineering Department at University College London. This could look like a bit of a strange move if you look at my background. My undergraduate, master and PhD studies were all in Chemistry. Admittedly, my research has always been linked to calcium phosphate (which is the main component of bones and teeth), but I have always looked at it from a physical-chemical perspective. My closest connection with medicine started 5 years ago, when I had the chance to study calcified aortic valves. My supervisor at the time, suggested I should take up this topic since I had studied calcium phosphates from bone and might want to have a look at this calcified material building up in human hearts. I am still thankful for this opportunity: This was the first time  I really allowed a medical question to trouble my physical-chemist’s mind. At the time I remember I did not give a second thought to the fact that I had never have worked with any tissue or cells, even worse, I had never dealt with a human sample before. From my point of view, this was just a new material that should be characterized and indeed, it was more exciting than scary since this was a field and a type of sample I did not have any previous knowledge of. I have come a long way and learned a lot, but even now, whenever I am talking with my clinician collaborators, I still keep an anatomy diagram at hand to understand which region of the heart they are talking about. My own experience has motivated me to write more generally about research that is done at the interface of different areas or as has become fashionable, about interdisciplinary research.

Arguably science started as an amorphous body of knowledge where what we now know as biology, physics, chemistry and even medicine were studied indiscriminately and often by the same individuals. Over time, scientific knowledge was segmented and labelled for practical reasons, of which one is to store increasing amounts of new knowledge created. Perhaps most importantly, however, breaking it down was also a way to more efficiently pass this knowledge on. Indeed, the segmentation of our scientific knowledge was a fundamental basis upon which the fast moving scientific revolution we live today could be built. If earlier a scientific insight might have been less frequent, it might be fair to argue it was also less constrained by specialization in fields and areas.

An undesirable collateral effect of all the breaking down and boxing up of scientific knowledge is precisely that it created specialists, and these have taken on the role of 'guardians' of each of the several sections of scientific knowledge. To the limit, the guardians might even try and protect their field by preventing contamination from other fields . The development of ever more sophisticated research methods and equipment exacerbates this trend, requiring that aspiring scientists demonstrate training and technical capability built over several years of specialist study and diligent practice .

Over time, the several fields have taken prominence in the scientific community. Today it is quite common to hear discussions in practically any scientific environment calling for ‘interdisciplinary research’ (or any of the variants and makeups for the term, such as synergy, which has became a ‘buzz word’). In spite of the rhetoric favoring interdisciplinary research, and the obviously interdisciplinary historical background of today’s disciplines, it seems ever more elusive to pursue truly interdisciplinary research. What we are constantly being told is that interdisciplinarity must be encouraged, arguably assuming it not to be a natural way to do research.

Even at a day and age when insights are more frequent, several questions about the natural world have actually been forgotten or assumed to have been answered. A great deal of these unanswered questions are indeed questions that cannot be cataloged in specific subjects. Although the interdisciplinarity of these questions could be suggested as the reason why they have been forgotten, they may simply have not been answered because the technology available when they popped up was not able to deal with them. This all to say that from my experience, interdisciplinary research is neither hard to achieve nor hard to find.

 Truly interdisciplinary research is not about collaboration between an organic chemist and an inorganic chemist, or finding a topic where biochemistry is related with nanoparticles tagged with proteins. Interdisciplinary research arises when completely different fields interact, for example: anatomy and  analytical chemistry; medical diagnosis with crystallography; epidemiology with electron microscopy; evolutionary biology with spectroscopy; you name it! The more different the fields combined, the better. This is where you will find the truly important, and surprisingly still unanswered questions.

You must not be afraid to ask questions in different fields from your own. Use your outsider perspective to your advantage. The naïve questions are generally the most important, but rarely made by those who are supposed to have a complete understanding of a field. It is true that whenever these questions are given to a ‘guardian’ of the field you will receive a less than enthusiastic answer and no conversation might flow from that. On the other hand, when made to the right mind, this question will start a discussion that could arrive at the truly important questions. So, chose wisely who you talk to and do not be discouraged by narrow minds.

Do not be afraid of trying your research methods in another field. This is when you will get the majority of the 'funny' results that will lead to a completely new line of research. Never be discouraged by the idea that a new method or approach might not bring any new information about the subject. When applying a new method to a completely different field, it is impossible to predict what can come out of the experiments.

In the end, this kind of approach has lead me to what I am calling Bio-Medical Physical Science, and to some truly interdisciplinary research. This kind of research should not fit easily in any field. At the same time, it can easily fit in any field, as this kind of research can be considered at the same time biology, medicine and physical science. It might at first seem unusual (at least to the modern standards of research) but it can produce the most unexpected and exciting science.