The Integrative Study of Work in Living Systems

The Work In Living Systems research community has created a unique, dynamic, project-based, crosscutting research community, bringing together researchers in biological, chemical, and life sciences, mathematics, engineering, neuroscience and psychological science, and producing the foundational volume, Work Meets Life: A Guidebook to the Integrative Study of of Work in Living Systems. The research community is both US-based and international, including participants in the UK at the University of Cambridge and the University of St Andrews, as well as in France, Finland, and Japan.

Our research community focuses on the development of a biologically integrative approach to studying work processes in living systems, from the level of molecular and cellular processes, to organismal and population levels, and from the perspectives of disciplines within and outside of the life sciences.


The development of the integrative study of work in living systems at has three major goals, each of which bring life scientists, from a range of disciplines, together with researchers outside life sciences:

    1. To use basic biological research to increase the understanding that biological processes play in contemporary human work, in particular in the cognitively-based work done in post- industrial settings.

    2. To increase the understanding that research on work processes can bring to basic biological research: that is, by understanding biological processes as work processes.

    3. To develop innovative approaches to improving the practical work of integrative and interdisciplinary research, particularly research in the life sciences.

The effort to develop a biologically integrative approach to understanding work in living systems has been a focus of the Work Science Institute since 2001, and the primary focus of collaborative efforts with researchers at the University of Colorado and the University of Cambridge. More information about this effort can be found on this site in the pages related to the Work Meets Life project, and is encapsulated in the cornerstone volume of this effort, Work Meets Life: A Guidebook to the Integrative Study of Work in Living Systems.

The Work Meets Life Project: Work Processes in Biological Systems

Building from eight years of collaboration and two international working conferences, researchers from the University of Colorado and the University of Cambridge, and the Work Science Institute, developed an inaugural volume on the integrative study of work in living systems, Work Meets Life: Exploring the Integrative Study of Work in Living Systems, published by the MIT Press. This guidebook links research from a wide range of fields to work in living systems, including research in cellular physiology, neurobiology, biogeochemistry, electrical and computer engineering and multi-objective optimization, evolutionary biology, integrative design, industrial and organizational psychology, environmental physiology, and psychoneuroimmunology.

Five book reviews of Work Meets Life in academic journals have praised the innovative, integrative, and in-depth approach of both the collaborative research effort and the volume. Complete copies of the book reviews are available on request.

A short course is in development on the topic of work in living systems, in which the chapter authors will participate, both those in Colorado and internationally.

Also in development are short small-group collaborative working conferences on selected topics from Work Meets Life to form the foundation of collaborative research initiatives. The first of these is being developed under the working title Energy and Resource Allocation in Neural Systems.