US initiatives aim to tap into scientists’ skills

The US government is seeking to tap into the capacities of US-based scientists to help developing countries Copyright: www.shutterstock.com

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[WASHINGTON] The US Department of State has increased its efforts to promote international cooperation in science and engineering by launching two new outreach initiatives.

One will seek to tap into US-based scientific diasporas — scientists from developing countries and elsewhere who are currently working in the United States.

The second will support the engagement of US academics travelling abroad in local programmes set up by embassies in the countries that they visit.

Both initiatives were announced at a reception in Washington DC two weeks ago (25 July), organised by the Office of the Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State (STAS).

According to the State Department, the first project, known as ‘Networks of Diasporas in Engineering and Science’ (NODES), "seeks to leverage existing collaborations while facilitating and supporting a variety of new collaborations" between diasporas in the United States.

The project will build on the fact that diasporas will already be in close contact with scientific experts in their countries of origin, who have crucial local and regional knowledge.

They will therefore be best placed to facilitate collaborations that span countries and address complex goals, particularly in developing countries.

The venture has been jointly established with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

"The initial focus of NODES will have an element of supporting developing and emerging world countries," said Vaughan Turekian, chief international officer at AAAS.

"Diasporas with connections to developing countries can facilitate access to US scientific peer review and policy processes; NODES provides a space for conversations and actions to take place."

For example, AAAS will provide a forum at each of its annual conferences for diasporas to convene, make connections and share best practice among their members.

The second initiative is called the ‘Science, Technology and Innovation Expert (STIE) Partnership’, and aims to boost the scientific and technological activities of US embassies.

According to Turekian, the goal is to establish partnerships between academic scientists and embassies, in order to help "build scientific capacity in countries around the world".

The STIE Partnership will build outreach programmes into the travel schedule of academics, allowing such initiatives to "piggy back" on other scientific commitments.

For example, US researchers would continue to bear the main cost of travelling to an international conference. But any fees incurred in making an extra short trip to fulfil a programme agreed with an embassy would be reimbursed by that embassy.

"Embassy programming could include hands-on lectures, mentoring sessions, roundtable discussions, and technology instruction and demonstration," says the State Department.

Eight professional science organisations, in addition to the AAAS and NAS, have signed a memorandum of understanding pledging their support for the new programmes.