Image courtesy of Richard Startzman, CineVision Productions

Last April,15, SFI postdoctoral fellows rented a house at the edge of Santa Fe and hunkered down for a novel, ambitious task: In just three days, they would choose a project, conduct research, and write an academic paper. It was 72 Hours of Science — 72h(S) for short. Now, they are getting ready to do it again May 8-11.

Each postdoc arrives with an idea for a new project — something they haven’t brainstormed with anyone else — and the group votes to choose a single idea. The goal is to find an interesting research project that is topically broad but also narrow enough to tackle in three days. What results is truly collaborative, owned equally by all the authors.

“Last year, our project managed to touch on evolutionary biology, social science and epidemiology. It used everyone’s expertise,” says Chris Kempes, an SFI Omidyar Fellow who has become the de facto spokesperson for the group. “  This year, we might be less ambitious. The project will still require everyone’s effort, but may not draw on each person’s particular field.”

While the fast-paced nature of 72h(S) isn’t the direction anyone wants to push science overall, the experience of working so intensely on one project together strengthened relationships and initiated new collaborations among SFI’s postdocs, says Kempes. “It gave everyone the opportunity to collaborate with everyone else.”

Most of SFI’s current postdoctoral fellows will be participating for the second time, but for SFI’s two newest fellows, this is an event they’ve anticipated for months. “We have no idea what we’re going to do, but I’m looking forward to seeing how other postdocs approach problems,” says Joshua Garland, an Omidyar Fellow. “Every day at SFI, you get lots of different opinions. 72 Hours of Science is like super-concentrated SFI.

“At SFI, everybody has tons of crazy ideas all the time, but it’s hard to get enough people together to act on those ideas,” says Elizabeth Hobson, an ASU-SFI fellow. “This could be a way of tackling those and doing some really innovative science.”

Read more about 72 Hours of Science.