NSF advisory committee discusses international research collaborations

By | December 1, 2016

The National Science Foundation (NSF) Advisory Committee for International Science and Engineering met at NSF headquarters on November 28–29 to discuss collaborations between American researchers and scientists around the globe. During the meeting, NSF Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE) staff informed the committee about international programs and partnerships as well as the state of science outside the US.

John Gawalt and Beethika Khan from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics described how science is globalizing. While the US, European Union, and Japan have long been leaders in science and engineering, the rising scientific prominence of other countries is creating a multi-polar international research landscape. Gawalt and Khan’s presentation on international science and engineering indicators highlighted the rapid emergence of China as a global research power.

Chinese spending on research and development has skyrocketed over the last 20 years, with over $10 billion dollars spent last year on basic science. In addition to more research spending, metrics such as publication rates and citation rates indicate the quality of Chinese research is also improving, said Gawalt and Khan. This creates both challenges and opportunities, according to Nancy Sung, head of NSF’s Beijing office. While the rise of China as a research power could be perceived as a challenge to research in the US, it also opens the door to more opportunities for international collaboration.

Sung likened international research collaborations to byssal threads. Byssal threads are the thin filaments used by mussels to anchor themselves to rock. Each thread is relatively fragile, but together they form a very strong connection. The research collaborations between the US and China likewise strongly link the two nations.

The advisory committee encouraged OISE to promote more openness and data sharing among Chinese researchers. It also supported OISE’s intention to remain focused on increasing collaboration with China, especially in areas such as climate research and environmental sustainability.

NSF currently offers opportunities for students from the US to conduct research abroad through programs such as International Research Experiences for Students and East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes. OISE also supports international research collaborations through Partnerships for International Research and Education as well as supplements to existing NSF grants.

In addition to these programs, OISE staff would like to hear from researchers how it can better develop international research collaborations. It plans to hold a series of meetings and/or workshops with researchers, university leadership, and scientific society leadership to gather feedback and share information on current efforts.