The mission of WID is to discover and inspire through interdisciplinary research conducted in a dynamic, collaborative community. WID advances frontiers of knowledge, accelerates development of solutions, and engages the State of Wisconsin through interdisciplinary research.

WID experiments with new ways of creating unlikely campus-wide interdisciplinary research teams that generate unexpected discoveries. Researchers at WID are dedicated to fundamental discovery, applied research, and new pathways to collaborations that will contribute to improving the health of people and the food supply in Wisconsin and the world.

We seek partnerships with the Morgridge Institute for Research, the University of Wisconsin–Madison, the State of Wisconsin, and others, using a “campus crowd-sourcing” approach to produce unexpected research collaborations that push the limits of modern science.

WID is located in the award-winning Discovery Building along with its partners the private, non-profit Morgridge Institute for Research and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

WID’s collaborative research community relies on grant support from a variety of sponsors. Since opening in 2010, the Institute has been awarded and administered more than $22 million in grant funding from a variety of foundations and agencies. The Institute also benefits from the state of Wisconsin’s initial investment in the Discovery Building as well as for ongoing operational support.


Jo Handelsman
Jo Handelsman

Jo Handelsman is the Director of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she serves as a Vilas Research Professor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor. Handelsman received her Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Molecular Biology and served on the UW faculty for 25 years before moving to Yale University in 2010. She served as a science advisor to President Obama and directed the Science Division of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) from 2014 to 2017. In February 2017, Handelsman returned to Madison as the Director of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery where her research focuses on genetic and biochemical processes underlying interactions within plant and human microbiomes.

From WID’s Director:
The Wisconsin Institute for Discovery (WID) was created in 2010 to explore new ways of generating innovation in science and engineering. Its first years were dedicated to building an outstanding team of 19 faculty members with dynamic, groundbreaking research programs that have generated more than 500 publications in data sciences, tissue engineering, nanomedicine, multi-omics, and complex systems.

In 2017, to build on these strengths, the WID community rededicated itself to serving as a catalyst for innovation through interdisciplinary research on the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus and beyond. WID is exploring new ways to embody the Wisconsin Idea, the long-held tenet of the University of Wisconsin–Madison that a university is at its best when it is in dialogue with the public.

WID is experimenting with new methods of creating unlikely campus-wide interdisciplinary research teams that generate unexpected discoveries. For example, campus-wide town hall meetings are broadening the intellectual diversity brought to bear on problems by enabling members of the campus community to self-identify their interest, rather than requiring that they are already known to the research project leaders. This approach is intended to broaden participation in science and engineering problem-solving by social scientists and those in the arts and humanities, among others.

By deliberately engaging unconventional partners who bring new ways of thinking to research problems, WID works to overcome the pernicious effects of unconscious biases that act as unintended barriers to engaging with diverse people. For example, WID has a cartoonist among its faculty, we work with rural and urban Wisconsin high schools, we contract with minority-owned businesses, and we collaborate with the Minority Coalition for Precision Medicine, a faith-based group that promises to change the ethnic profile of patients engaged in medical research trials by creating alliances between African American, Hispanic, Native American, and Hmong communities and researchers.

To catalyze new collaborations on the UW-Madison campus, WID has created hubs that nucleate new cross-campus research projects and provide services to enable other campus researchers to enhance their efforts in areas of WID expertise. Initially, WID has formed three hubs: the Data Science Hub, the Multi-Omics Hub, and the Illuminating Discovery Hub.

WID has created an environment that is open, collegial, and respectful, and a scientific culture that is keen on challenging the conventions that keep good ideas from becoming scientific revolutions. Join us in pushing the boundaries of disciplines.

– Jo Handelsman