There has been a lot of work done which indicates that researchers are more effective if they have more opportunities to bump each other serendipitously during the course of the day.
The Applied Maths facility at Cambridge has whiteboards in the toilets and today’s invention aims to promote that kind of always-on thinking.
Academic and research institute corridors tend to be a bit soulless and designed to allow ease of movement.
Imagine therefore a series of half-height barriers, each hinged to one wall and supported by castors. These hinges would be lightly sprung so that in an emergency (or when Prof Hawking is on the move) they would easily be pushed past.
Each of these baffles would offer an opportunity for academics, who may ordinarily avoid eye contact, to pause and say ‘after you’ or at least pause long enough to be reminded that the other person is that Latvian postdoc who wrote the thesis on Xian algebraic spaces.
These small, random social contacts are the kinds of events which seem to promote collaboration (and siting coffee and a pencil on a chain on a few of them would add to the effect).