Wednesday, February 3, 2010

International Collaborations and Innovation as a Contact Sport

Dr. Indira V. Samarasekera, the President of the University of Alberta in Canada, wrote an article, "Universities Need a New Social Contract," that was published in Nature, as an opinion piece in the November 12, 2009 issue. The eloquent piece had numerous excellent ideas including that leaders from major government funding agencies from across the world -- particularly from North America, Europe, India, and China should be brought together to help to define a funding model designed to award interdisciplinary, inter-institutional and international projects. She argued that many of the most pressing problems that we are faced with today are global from international security to energy, environmental sustainability, and economic recovery. The present funding models are stuck in inertia and to solve the critical problems, international collaborations are needed.

I have had the benefit of one National Science Foundation grant through the International Programs Office to work on a project with Sweden, have benefited from two international collaborations through the Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Center Program, and have been on two thoroughly rewarding Fulbright adventures. I have also held other visiting positions outside of the US.

My university, UMASS Amherst, has now created a website for international research activities. I am very pleased that the center that I direct, the Virtual Center for Supernetworks, is one of the affiliated centers. This new website has a link to Fulbright scholars that have come to UMass Amherst as well as Fulbrights awarded to faculty and students. Finally, it also includes a list of recent funded research projects with an international component and I am very pleased to see that the Humanitarian Logistics: Networks for Africa conference that I organized is also on the list.

Dr. Samarasekera said in her Nature article that innovation is a contact sport and funding agencies need to work across disciplinary and national boundaries to bring researchers together who can make the greatest discoveries through intense collaborations. I fully concur!