Interdisciplinary Themes

Bass Connections projects, courses and summer programs are aligned with six key thematic areas. Each theme is hosted by one of Duke’s interdisciplinary institutes and initiatives. Bass Connections Open provides additional opportunities for projects outside the themes.

(For information on the Education & Human Development theme, which ran from 2013-2022, please see this theme page and this article on the theme’s impact.)

Brain & Society

Using brain science to help solve society’s most pressing problems

Many of the core problems of our time – climate change, financial crises, addiction, social inequality – arise from individuals and their choices. Brain research on cognition, emotions, expression and decision-making will be translated in this theme to address collective challenges and increase understanding of what makes us human.

Bass Connections in Brain & Society engages undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs and faculty from different programs and majors in an immersive curriculum that combines research and coursework into a common program of scholarship in multidisciplinary project teams.

Curricular and project elements build connections between basic research in neuroscience (and related biological sciences) and socially challenging questions in medicine, the humanities, public policy, economics, ethics and law, to understand issues such as physical and social responses to transformative events; the workings of the brain in rhetoric and the arts; memory in legal testimony; and the role of decision processes in shaping our institutions and public policies. Each Brain & Society team tackles a current issue relating to the brain and its link to society as a whole.

Energy & Environment

Addressing critical energy and environmental challenges

Bass Connections in Energy & Environment cuts across business, engineering, policy and science to educate tomorrow’s energy leaders, create new options through research and improve decision-making about energy.

Students at all levels and in all programs of study gain the knowledge, skills and experience needed to play leadership roles in a rapidly evolving energy future. Bass Connections in Energy & Environment raises the stakes for students and faculty by crossing boundaries through problem-focused education—boundaries among disciplines, educational levels and schools; geographic boundaries; and boundaries between the university, business, civil society and government.

Global Health

Working creatively and collectively to address health disparities worldwide

The health of individuals and populations depends greatly on where and how people live in the world. Access to quality health care, information about disease prevention and the environmental impact on health vary widely around the world. Global stability depends on the reduction of these and other health disparities.

Bass Connections in Global Health supports students and faculty working to address health disparities worldwide – including in the U.S. – through an integrated suite of education programs and activities on campus and in the field. Recognizing that a sustained comprehension of global health can come only through immersive experiences and collaboration with community partners, Bass Connections in Global Health offers opportunities for students – undergraduate through doctoral – to participate in coursework, experiential learning and field projects to find solutions to local and international health disparities.

Health Policy & Innovation

Creating solutions to improve health and well-being in the U.S.

Healthcare is at once a critical part of people’s lives and a highly consequential part of the U.S. economy. Despite leading the world in many key areas of biomedical innovation and vastly outspending other countries on healthcare, the health of U.S. citizens fares no better – and by some measures fares worse – than those living in other countries. Too often U.S. healthcare is not as affordable, equitable or accessible as Americans need it to be.

Bass Connections in Health Policy & Innovation uses an interdisciplinary approach to confront complex challenges in health and healthcare in the U.S. – from the need for new and better treatments and the high cost of care, to the factors that cause persistent health disparities, to the rapid spread of misinformation and growing obstacles to effective development of public health strategies at the local, state and national levels. 

The theme will support project teams and courses that engage faculty and students in the development and implementation of strategies and solutions to improve the state of our healthcare system through evidence-based policy analysis, the development and testing of new medical devices and service delivery models, data analysis to inform patient care and wellness, inter-country comparative analysis, new provider training and patient communications systems, and new pricing models to reduce the cost of care. Students will develop the ability to apply critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving skills to address complex health challenges, hone their capabilities in health policy research and analysis, and gain experience working on multidisciplinary teams. 

Information, Society & Culture

Exploring the evolution of society and culture through the lens of data

Access to unprecedented amounts of information is creating new opportunities for Duke students and faculty, working together in multidisciplinary teams, to actively engage with and to change the world around them. At the same time, the unprecedented availability of personal information published by smartphones, web browsers and social media is exposing society to new risks.

Bass Connections in Information, Society & Culture combines coursework, co-curricular experiences and integrated project teams to explore the evolution of society and culture through the lens of information, using the latest computational methods to understand society’s most pressing problems in new and creative ways.

Race & Society

Investigating how race shapes society and lived experience

Nearly every facet of society and our lives — including how and where we live, learn, work and play — is shaped by race. While extensive research has revealed that race is a biological fiction, the social construct of race has very real consequences. Growing evidence shows that deep and broad racial inequities in our society are the results of historical and contemporary racism embedded in ideologies, norms, spaces, structures, and institutional policies and practices.

Bass Connections in Race & Society supports interdisciplinary teams of faculty, students and external partners in their exploration of race-related issues, ultimately contributing to solutions that bring about more racially equitable societies. We encourage projects that investigate how race intersects with various aspects of society and lived experience (e.g., environment, human development, immigration, health and healthcare, music, art, literature, history, education, economy, gender and sexuality, work, religion, STEM, policy, community life). Project teams may focus their inquiry across the lifespan, including those investigating childhood, adolescence, adulthood and/or old age. Projects may focus on any region including local, national, international or cross-national comparative research. 

Bass Connections Open

Bass Connections Open supports interdisciplinary, team-based research projects and courses that fall outside the scope of the existing themes. This experimental channel is designed to identify percolating areas of interest not addressed by the current themes.