Convergence definitions

To define Convergence it is necessary to understand the full scope of research terminologies and their varied interpretations. The present articles will start with the federal definitions of Convergence Research, followed by additional definitions found in the literature review performed on July 12, 2021. Particular definitions of key terms will be presented, as well as, a list of additional recommended readings.

Federal definitions of Convergence

Convergence Research at NSF

“Growing Convergence Research at the National Science Foundation (NSF) was identified in 2016 as one of 10 Big Ideas for Future NSF Investments. Convergence research is a means of solving vexing research problems, in particular, complex problems focusing on societal needs. It entails integrating knowledge, methods, and expertise from different disciplines and forming novel frameworks to catalyze scientific discovery and innovation. Convergence research is related to other forms of research that span disciplines – transdisciplinarity, interdisciplinarity, and multidisciplinarity. It is the closest to transdisciplinary research which was historically viewed as the pinnacle of evolutionary integration across disciplines.

(National Science Foundation, 2016).

NSF identifies Convergence Research as having two primary characteristics:

  • Research driven by a specific and compelling problem. Convergence Research is generally inspired by the need to address a specific challenge or opportunity, whether it arises from deep scientific questions or pressing societal needs.
  • Deep integration across disciplines. As experts from different disciplines pursue common research challenges, their knowledge, theories, methods, data, research communities and languages become increasingly intermingled or integrated. New frameworks, paradigms or even disciplines can form sustained interactions across multiple communities.

From its inception, the convergence paradigm intentionally brings together intellectually-diverse researchers to develop effective ways of communicating across disciplines by adopting common frameworks and a new scientific language, which may, in turn, afford solving the problem that engendered the collaboration, developing novel ways of framing research questions, and opening new research vistas”

Convergence at NAS

«The terminology used to capture and discuss the shift in thinking required for convergence can be confusing because of varied interpretations of inter-, multi-, or transdisciplinary research. This report draws on definitions and framing concepts from the academic community that studies the organization and conduct of research (discussed in greater detail in Chapter 3). The key message of convergence, however, is that merging ideas, approaches, and technologies from widely diverse fields of knowledge at a high level of integration is one crucial strategy for solving complex problems and addressing complex intellectual questions underlying emerging disciplines. Of necessity, convergence requires an open and inclusive culture, and requires practitioners to move beyond a single language to being conversant across disciplines and to building a common set of concepts and metrics and a common understanding about goals»

(National Academy of Sciences, 2014, p. 20).

Convergence definitions found in literature review

«Convergence represents an expanded form of interdisciplinarity in which bodies of specialized knowledge comprise “macro” domains of research activity that together create a unified whole. When integrated effectively, these convergent macro domains offer the possibility of a new paradigm capable of generating ideas, discoveries, methodological and conceptual approaches, and tools that stimulate advances in basic research and lead to new inventions, innovations, treatment protocols, and forms and strategies of education and training»

(National Academy of Sciences, 2014, p. 21).

Defining convergence

“In the early decades of the twenty-first century, with the growth of knowledge societies, progress in emerging technologies, and increased complexity of societal systems, convergence has reached a special significance. It has become a means of harnessing the fundamentally new and rapid scientific and technological advances of our time. Convergence has various meanings in literature as a function of the domains that are subject of integration and how they are brought together. In this paper, convergence refers to a strategy for reaching a shared goal in a system.

Progress in science and technology is accelerating, increasingly interdependent and emergent. At the same time, society is becoming more populous and more dynamically networked, with longer-term and more intense interactions. An increasing number of research areas, such as the study of universe, require dealing with a higher level of complexity with limited information. Such systems and topics of study are too complex to be adequately evaluated and managed using single-domain approaches. Problem-solving must go beyond a single application field, discipline, or pathway. A general problem-solving strategy for all these cases is convergence”

(Roco, 2020).

Convergence definition by MIT

“The merging of distinct technologies, processing disciplines, or devices into a unified whole that creates a host of new pathways and opportunities. It involves the coming together of different fields of study – particularly engineering, physical sciences, and life sciences – through collaboration among research groups and the integration of approaches that were originally viewed as distinct and potentially contradictory”

(Sharp et al., 2011).

Convergent Versus Divergent Thinking

“Convergent and divergent thinking are two poles on a spectrum of cognitive approaches to problems and questions (Duck, 1981). On the divergent end, thinking seeks multiple perspectives and multiple possible answers to questions and problems. On the other end of the spectrum, convergent thinking assumes that a question has one right answer and that a problem has a single solution (Kneller, 1971). Divergent thinking generally resists the accepted ways of doing things and seeks alternatives. Convergent thinking, the bias of which is to assume that there is a correct way to do things, is inherently conservative; it begins by assuming that the way things have been done is the right way. Divergent thinkers are better at finding additional ideas, whereas convergent thinkers have a more difficult time finding additional ideas. Convergent thinkers run out of ideas before divergent thinkers. However, convergent thinking strengthens the ability to bring closure and to conclude problems”

(Kim & Pierce, 2013).

Particular definitions

«Disciplinarity refers to a particular branch of learning or body of knowledge whose defining elements—such as objects and subjects of study, phenomena, assumptions, epistemology, concepts, theories, and methods—distinguish it from other knowledge formations. Biology and chemistry, for example, are separate domains typically segmented into departments in academic institutions»

(National Academy of Sciences, 2014, p. 44).

«Unidisciplinarity is a process in which researchers from a single discipline, field, or area of established research and education practice work singly or collaboratively to study an object or to address a common question, problem, topic, or theme»

(National Academy of Sciences, 2014, p. 44).

«Multidisciplinarity juxtaposes two or more disciplines focused on a question, problem, topic, or theme. Juxtaposition fosters wider information, knowledge, and methods, but disciplines remain separate and the existing structure of knowledge is not questioned. Individuals and even members of a team working on a common problem such as environmental sustainability or a public health initiative would work separately, and their results typically would be issued separately or compiled in encyclopedic alignment rather than synthesized»

(National Academy of Sciences, 2014, p. 44).

«Multidisciplinary approaches juxtapose disciplinary/professional perspectives, adding breadth and available knowledge, information, and methods. They speak as separate voices, in encyclopedic alignment, an ad hoc mix, or a mélange. Disciplinary elements retain their original identity. In short, the multidisciplinary research product is no more and no less than the simple sum of its parts»

(Wagner et al., 2011).

«Interdisciplinarity integrates information, data, methods, tools, concepts, and/or theories from two or more disciplines focused on a complex question, problem, topic, or theme. The scope and goals of research programs range from incorporating borrowed tools and methods and integrating them into the practice of another discipline to generating a new conceptual framework or theoretical explanation and large-scale initiatives. The key defining concept of interdisciplinarity is integration, a blending of diverse inputs that differs from and is more than the simple sum of the parts. Individuals may work alone, but increasingly research is team-based. Collaboration introduces social integration into the process, requiring attention to project management and dynamics of communication»

(National Academy of Sciences, 2014, p. 45).

“Interdisciplinary approaches integrate separate disciplinary data, methods, tools, concepts, and theories in order to create a holistic view or common understanding of a complex issue, question, or problem. The critical indicators of interdisciplinarity in research include evidence that the integrative synthesis is different from, and greater than, the sum of its parts:

• Micro-combinations of models or global schemes that unify disparate approaches

• Consulting and partnering modes, not multidisciplinary contracting of services

• Coordinated and collaborative inputs and organizational framework

• Formation of a new community of knowers with a hybrid interlanguage

• Generation of new insights and disciplinary relationships

• A larger, more holistic understanding of the core problem or question

• Altered perspectives and revised hypotheses”

(Wagner et al., 2011).

«Transdisciplinarity transcends disciplinary approaches through more comprehensive frameworks, including the synthetic paradigms of general systems theory and sustainability, as well as the shift from a disease model to a new paradigm of health and wellness. In the late 20th century, it also became aligned with problem-oriented research that crosses the boundaries of both academic and public and private spheres. In this second connotation, mutual learning, joint work, and knowledge integration are key to solving “real-world” problems. The construct goes beyond interdisciplinary combinations of existing approaches to foster new worldviews or domains»

(National Academy of Sciences, 2014, p. 45).

«Transdisciplinary approaches are comprehensive frameworks that transcend the narrow scope of disciplinary worldviews through an overarching synthesis, such as general systems, policy sciences, feminism, sustainability, and the notion of ‘transdisciplinary science’ in cancer research as a form of ‘transcendent interdisciplinary research’ that fosters systematic theoretical frameworks for defining and analyzing social, economic, political, environmental, and institutional factors in human health and well-being. More recently, the term has also connoted a new mode of knowledge production that draws on expertise from a wider range of organizations, and collaborative partnerships for sustainability that integrate research from different disciplines with the knowledge of stakeholders in society. Here too, the transdisciplinary product is greater than the sum of its parts, though the scope of the overall effort is more comprehensive and the parts may be more diverse»

(Wagner et al., 2011).

Additional readings

  • Ask a Scientist: What is Convergence? (Evasius, 2017)
  • Convergence of Knowledge, Technology and Society: Beyond Convergence of Nano-Bio-Info-Cognitive Technologies (Roco et al., 2013)
  • Convergence: Facilitating Transdisciplinary Integration of Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, Engineering, and Beyond (National Academy of Sciences, 2014)
  • Fostering the Culture of Convergence in Research: Proceedings of a Workshop (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2019)
  • Implications: Human Health and Physical Potential (Urban et al., 2013)
  • Introduction to the Philosophy of Education (Kneller, 1971)
  • NSF issues first Convergence awards, addressing societal challenges through scientific collaboration (National Science Foundation, 2017)
  • Principles of convergence in nature and society and their application: from nanoscale, digits, and logic steps to global progress (Roco, 2020)
  • The Third Revolution: The Convergence of the Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, and Engineering (Sharp et al., 2011)
  • Convergence Research at NSF (National Science Foundation, 2016)


Duck, L. (1981). Teaching with Charisma. Allyn and Bacon, C1981.

Evasius, D. (2017). Ask a Scientist: What is Convergence?

Kim, K. H., & Pierce, R. A. (2013). Convergent Versus Divergent Thinking. In E. G. Carayannis (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Creativity, Invention, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (pp. 245–250). Springer.

Kneller, G. F. (1971). Introduction to the Philosophy of Education. Wiley.

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2019). Fostering the Culture of Convergence in Research: Proceedings of a Workshop. The National Academies Press.

National Academy of Sciences. (2014). Convergence: Facilitating Transdisciplinary Integration of Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, Engineering, and Beyond. The National Academy Press.

National Science Foundation. (2016). Convergence Research at NSF.

National Science Foundation. (2017, August 24). NSF issues first Convergence awards, addressing societal challenges through scientific collaboration.

Roco, M. C. (2020). Principles of convergence in nature and society and their application: From nanoscale, digits, and logic steps to global progress. Journal of Nanoparticle Research, 22(11), 321.

Roco, M. C., Bainbridge, W. S., Tonn, B., & Whitesides, G. (Eds.). (2013). Convergence of Knowledge, Technology and Society: Beyond Convergence of Nano-Bio-Info-Cognitive Technologies. Springer International Publishing.

Sharp, P. A., Cooney, C. L., Kastner, M. A., Lees, J., Sasisekharan, R., Yaffe, M. B., Bhatia, S. N., Jacks, T. E., Lauffenburger, D. A., Langer, R., Hammond, P. T., & Sur, M. (2011). The Third Revolution: The Convergence of the Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, and Engineering. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Urban, R. G., Grodzinski, P., & Arnold, A. (2013). Implications: Human Health and Physical Potential. In M. C. Roco, W. S. Bainbridge, B. Tonn, & G. Whitesides (Eds.), Convergence of Knowledge, Technology and Society: Beyond Convergence of Nano-Bio-Info-Cognitive Technologies (pp. 185–222). Springer International Publishing.

Wagner, C. S., Roessner, J. D., Bobb, K., Klein, J. T., Boyack, K. W., Keyton, J., Rafols, I., & Börner, K. (2011). Approaches to understanding and measuring interdisciplinary scientific research (IDR): A review of the literature. Journal of Informetrics, 5(1), 14–26.