Seeding the Clouds for a Brainstorm

Dr. Marilyn Brandt examines diseased coral.
Photo courtesy of University of Virgin Islands VI-EPSCoR.

The pressing need in the Virgin Islands is and has been about generating revenues. The government treasury has a deficit and its up to lawmakers to find the money to pay for expenses and obligations.

But ideas seem hard to come by, even harder to agree on. Take heart, decision makers, you are not alone. Research scientists working at the University of the Virgin Islands have been seeking ways to grow the economy since 2005.

They took another look at the subject at the 2017 VI-EPSCoR Annual Conference, held at the University of the Virgin Islands. The theme this year was  “Transforming Research into Economic Development.”

EPSCoR stands for the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research. VI-EPSCoR is one of 31 programs operating across the United States. One of the goals of the program is to apply the findings of locally-based research to bolster local economies.

In the Virgin Islands, most research work centers on marine science and oceanography. 

The keynote speaker was Dr. Andy Burnett from the consulting group, Knowinnovation. He spoke about new findings in the area of scientific creativity.

Instead of relying on inspiration to spur creativity, researchers at Knowinnovation study the creative process and identify the steps that move an idea into the realm of reality, Burnett said.

“How we can consciously decide to be creative, rather than it happening as a random act, which happens all the time,” he said.

Deliberate creativity is fostered through the Sandpit Ideas Methodology, Burnett said. That method brings together different areas of research to work together in brief but intensive training sessions to form ideas and solve problems.

Knowinnovation has already introduced the Sandpit creativity method in Guadalajara, Mexico to explore possibilities in economic development.

The acting director for UVI’s Center for Marine and Environmental Studies is Dr. Paul Jobsis. Speaking during a break in the conference Jobsis said the Virgin Islands may be on its way to making its own economic breakthrough.

A preliminary agreement between UVI and the Nature Conservancy, he said, may lead to creating a center for excellence in marine coral nursery research.

Scientists say widespread damage to reef systems worldwide, related to climate change, has generated thoughts about reef restoration. Coral nurseries could provide clues about the best way to bring dead and damaged reefs back to life, Jobsis said.

One such coral nursery was established in 2009 at Coral World Marine Park on St. Thomas with help from federal funding secured through the conservancy. As a first step in the new partnership the nurseries have been transferred to the university.

“That’s just been happening in the last month or two. We have one Memorandum of Understanding and we are going to work on a more encompassing one,” the CMES director said.

If the plan succeeds as envisioned, he said, economic benefits could follow.

Visit VI-EPSCoR’s Facebook page to learn more.