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Creating research innovations and breakthroughs by thinking differently

Unlearning – an idea that transforms research outcomes
Looking at a problem from a new perspective might reveal a hidden path. Applying this idea to research opens up a range of multidisciplinary opportunities, turning previous achievements into new starting points.

“Research is to see what everybody else sees, and think what nobody else has thought.” This was said by Hungarian biochemist, Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, who first isolated vitamin C.

Our researchers are driven by the idea that finding solutions to our biggest problems starts with changing how we look at them. When we question assumptions, think differently about a problem and challenge the way we see a problem, a hidden path may be revealed to bring about new ideas and discoveries.

In the real world of seeing things in new ways, researchers are inspired by the people they mix with and the environments they work in. It’s been found that the effect is even greater when researchers mix with people outside their own disciplines.

Imagine the changed perspectives when a lawyer talks to a psychologist about the nature of truth. Or an architect collaborates with a biomedical engineer on how to make things stronger. Or when a biologist dealing with millions of information points talks to an astronomer about how they count the stars.


In each of these interactions, and the countless others that are possible, there is one more element. The willingness of someone to let go of the ideas they’ve always used and accepted, so a new idea can emerge. The willingness not only to learn, but to unlearn, and relearn.

Creating environments where our researchers can learn, unlearn and relearn has created breakthroughs that are energising the University’s research community and helping to shape the outlook for our students.

The strength of past insights is our foundation, but thinking differently allows us to step into the future.

Unlearn: to make an effort to forget your usual way of doing something so that you can learn a new and sometimes better way
Cambridge Dictionary

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