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UC Professor Awarded $1 million INSPIRE Grant

Ali Minai, professor at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Engineering and Applied Science, received a $1 million INSPIRE award to promote research of innovation and creativity in human networks.

Date: 8/21/2012 12:00:00 AM
By: Arthur Davies
Phone: (513) 556-9181

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Ali Minai

Ali Minai, professor in the University of Cincinnati’s College of Engineering and Applied Science’s School of Electronic and Computing Systems (SECS), received a $1 million grant from NSF, the National Science Foundation. One million dollars is the maximum amount for an INSPIRE award this year. Minai was awarded the grant for his research project “The Hunting of the Spark: A Systematic Study of Natural Creativity in Human Networks.”

INSPIRE stands for Integrated NSF Support Promoting Interdisciplinary Research and Education and was “established to address some of the most complicated and pressing scientific problems that lie at the intersections of traditional disciplines.”

Among these scientific issues is Minai’s research which focuses on innovation and creativity in human networks such as social networks and organizations.  “The project is motivated by the realization that human networks - social networks, organizations, teams and brainstorming groups are extremely creative but the factors underlying their creativity are still not very well understood,” said Minai.

Since laboratory studies of creativity are very useful but limited by their constraints, Minai aims to pair these with field studies. “Just as is done in biology, for example,” said Minai. “To do this, we will look at examples of ‘natural creativity’ in human networks.”


Minai and his research team, comprised of professors spanning four different universities, consider the work of scholars in specific research fields and also the work of design team engineers. Through the observation of their work, Minai and his team will develop metrics for detecting creativity and attempt to identify what social, behavioral and informational factors make some individuals, or the group as a whole, especially creative. “Our research will zoom in to a finer scale and look at individual agents within these networks and try to develop an empirical theory of what makes people more creative,” said Minai. “This is possible now because advances in computer technologies such as data mining and pattern recognition allow us to obtain and analyze very large amounts of data on the Internet, which was not possible even a few years ago.”

Through this research, Minai hopes to answer questions like: Are people, who get more diverse types of information, more likely to be creative or are people who have more connections to others more likely to be creative?  “This kind of work has been done previously for systems as a whole,” said Minai, “to see whether organizations with more diversity are more innovative or whether design teams with certain types of interactions work better.”


Answering questions like these goes far beyond discovering where groups find their creativity. “Scientists have recently shown that the only way to sustain the current levels of human population growth and resource usage is to innovate at ever-increasing rates,” said Minai. “We hope to help in this process by identifying innovation and policies that can facilitate innovation which is critical for progress in this global age.”

Minai believes that sizable grants, like the one awarded for his project, are further evidence that the research done at UC, and more specifically CEAS, is valued at the national and international level. “The success of this research will bring additional visibility to the college and establish a strong presence for it in the important area of innovation research.”