NSF Effort Pushes for More Global Science

The National Science Foundation has started a new effort that encourages scientists to build “virtual institutes” that will increase collaboration across borders. Called Science Across Virtual Institutes, it will give researchers and instructors more backing to do what they often do already: work with overseas partners. 

Money to support the effort will come from the National Science Foundation and overseas counterparts. NSF officials announced on Wednesday three pilot projects, costing about $100 million, that will involve researchers from the United States and eight other countries.

Finding and obtaining backing for international projects has generally depended heavily on the efforts of individual scientists, which means that projects may lack long-term stability, said Subra Suresh, director of the National Science Foundation. Under the new program, researchers can get the kind of support they need to pursue projects “for the long haul,” Mr. Suresh said.

That, in turn, will make it easier for scientists to encourage their universities to undertake internationally-focused projects, said Herbert Levine, a professor of physics at the University of California at San Diego and the principal investigator for one of the three projects now backed by the NSF program. 

Mr. Levine’s project, called the Physics of Living Systems Student Research Network, will involve researchers from institutions in Brazil, France, Germany, Israel, Singapore, and the United Kingdom. Mr. Levine said he hopes they will share their best practices and establish “collective intelligence” about how to build useful scientific tools.

Another pilot program, run by Jill Pipher, a Brown University mathematics professor, will connect researchers from two NSF-supported math institutes and four math institutes in India. The project is to receive about $6 million a year from the United States and $20 million from India.

The third pilot project is Wi.Fi.US, a coalition of eight American universities and some Finnish universities looking to “address the limitations of wireless technologies.”

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