Posted October 29, 2007

The Center for Frontier Sciences celebrates 20 years of giving new scientific ideas a forum

The idea of having a phone that you could carry on your person, one that would carry your conversations to the person on the other line via strategically placed digital antennas instead of telephone wires, seemed absurd 20 years ago.

But now, almost everyone has a cellular telephone and you can even operate a laptop computer via wireless networks.

The cell phone is an example of one of the many ideas that were considered strange in the beginning, but have now become so ubiquitous that no one remembers when they weren’t there.

And it’s ideas like the cell phone — ideas that mainstream science thought too strange at first — that have found a home and a place to grow at Temple University’s Center for Frontier Sciences over the past 20 years.

Founded in 1987 by Richard Fox, current member and former chair of Temple University’s Board of Trustees, the Center for Frontier Sciences is a place where researchers on the cutting edge of health, technology and scientific discovery can share and examine ideas critically, test hypotheses and have their ideas discussed by their peers.

As a neutral clearing house for these ideas, the center has a lot to be proud of, said Nancy Kolenda, the center’s director.

“We’ve brought together internationally known scientists to discuss things that could become major breakthroughs,” Kolenda said. “We’re an incubator. We don’t take a position on any ideas. We just provide an open forum for scientists to discuss them.”

Like many things, the center, which is located in the College of Education, was founded out of necessity.

During a trip to Colorado, Fox met a scientist named Vernon Rogers who told him about the plight of scientists whose research went against the grain. He also got the chance to meet Fritz Popp, a professor and leading scientist in biophoton research who had faced some of the obstacles that scientists were facing when they tried to bring forth new ideas.

Because their ideas were seen as outside the scientific paradigm of the day, these scientists were being ostracized by their peers, and some even faced being fired or defunded by their universities for their work, Popp told Fox.

The idea of helping these scientists expand on their ideas intrigued him, Fox said. And as the chairman of the board of trustees at a research university, he believed he could help them out.

“I became fascinated with it,” he recalled. “So I created a meeting place to bring them together and give them legitimacy.”

Temple’s scientific community didn’t immediately embrace the prospect of sharing space, Fox said. Richard Englert, the current deputy provost of the university, was dean of the College of Education at the time and offered the center space, Fox said.

But now, the scientific community on campus works with the center after witnessing some of its accomplishments, Fox said.

“The physicists and other scientists have seen the value that the center brings,” he said.

One swaying factor might be the deal that the center has signed with Springer Publishing Company, a noted publisher of science books. As part of the company’s Frontier Series, the center has published “Quo Vadis Quantum Mechanics?” a book that includes several Nobel Prize laureates among its authors and looks at the future of quantum physics. It also publishes a peer-reviewed journal, “Frontier Perspectives.”

Another factor that might have enhanced the center’s reputation among its peers is the steps it’s taken in the area of women’s health. With the help of the Office of the Vice President for Research, it initiated the Center for Women’s Health Research, Leadership and Advocacy (WHRLA). Each year since its creation in 2005, the center has co-sponsored a conference on women’s health issues that has attracted such high profile sponsors as Merrill Lynch and Estee Lauder, Kolenda said.

Over the years, the center has served as a place where scientists researching the benefits of ideas outside the mainstream could find a forum and collaborate to develop those ideas, some of which — such as acupuncture and homeopathic medicine — have since gone on to benefit people the world over.

In fact, if there is one challenge that the center has faced over the years, it’s been in the area of funding, Kolenda admits. She’s sought grants from various scientific entities, but because the center serves as a clearing house, and not an actual research facility, Temple University and Fox have served as its benefactors.

Part of the center’s plans for its next 20 years include finding the funding necessary to make it self-sufficient, Fox said.

But he’s really proud of what it’s managed to accomplish on a shoestring.

“I think what it’s done is amazing,” Fox said. “Twenty years ago, it was an organization that networked with isolated scientists. Now we attract some of the top scientists, including Nobel laureates. [The center] has assisted scientists with the opportunity to present their unique ideas that have resulted in significant scientific breakthroughs that have materially helped people.”