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Virtual institutes to support the scientific collaborations of the future

The National Science Foundation (NSF) today announced Science Across Virtual Institutes (SAVI), an effort to motivate collaboration among scientists and educators around the globe to spur scientific discovery. By connecting researchers with common interests and goals, SAVI can better leverage taxpayer resources while helping to address some of society's most vexing problems.

Building on beneficial partnerships initiated by NSF-supported researchers, research institutes and universities, SAVI projects will address common challenges and serve as creative hubs for innovative research and education activities across borders.

"SAVI will serve as a catalyst for new, well-coordinated, and structured collaborations under one umbrella, said Subra Suresh, director of NSF. "It is my hope that SAVI will create new opportunities for NSF-funded scientists to collaborate across institutional, national, disciplinary, and cultural barriers."

"This is an exciting opportunity for international collaboration," said Ralph J. Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). "It acknowledges the global nature of science and engineering, while giving researchers a new mechanism to work together."

SAVIs are built on relationships initiated by teams of NSF supported researchers, research institutes and universities. SAVI's impact will be felt in:

  • Creating virtual institutes through networking among NSF-funded, U.S. researchers and international collaborators that have complementary strengths and common interests;
  • Facilitating science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) research and education partnerships among NSF-funded research centers/institutes--both virtual and real--and their international counterparts;
  • Providing students, postdocs and junior faculty opportunities for research experiences abroad that lead to long-lasting international collaborations; and
  • Strengthening connections between NSF and counterpart STEM research funding organizations around the globe by leveraging each other's investments in fundamental research, research facilities, and human resource development.

In short, SAVI will advance a new, interactive paradigm for conducting research well into the future.

Representatives from three SAVIs participated in today's announcement, attended by researchers, academics, government officials and representatives from the diplomatic community in Washington, D.C., held at the NSF headquarters in Arlington, Va. Early experiences bode well for the success and expansion of the program.

Alhussein Abouzeid from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute described a pilot project that provides a platform for building long-term research and education collaboration between countries whose researchers lead the field of wireless networking. Wireless Institute Between Finland and the United States (Wi.Fi.US) connects six active NSF awards at nine U.S. institutions in the area of dynamic radio spectrum access with a Finnish counterpart team. "Wireless mobile broadband is the next transformation in information technology that has the potential to significantly enhance many essential aspects of our daily lives including health, productivity and safety," said Abouzeid. Teams will rely on complementary and multidisciplinary expertise to tackle the fundamental science, engineering and economic challenges in building reliable accessible high-speed wireless networks, "including innovations for unlocking the value of the underutilized wireless spectrum," he explained.

Jill Pipher from Brown University introduced the audience to the Virtual Institute for Mathematical and Statistical Sciences (VI-MSS), especially important to innovation in this data-centric world. VI-MSS connects two existing NSF-funded national mathematical and statistical research institutes with several Indian research institutes, capitalizing on the strength of each in different facets of research. "VI-MSS will address many global challenges by supporting fundamental and computational research in mathematics and statistics related to issues such as sustainability, cybersecurity, health, and the extraction of useful information from massive and complex data," said Pipher.

Herbert Levine of the University of California, San Diego, described another SAVI, the Physics of Living Systems Student Research Network (PoLS SRN). Network participants come from 11 U.S. institutions and institutions from Brazil, France, Germany, Israel, Singapore and the United Kingdom. "We plan to establish a supportive framework for the inherently interdisciplinary field of the physics of living systems," said Levine. "Ultimately, this will enable the harnessing of worldwide 'collective intelligence' to solve some of the most challenging intellectual problems of our age."

"SAVI gives us a way of increasing the momentum of discovery in ways that are smarter and more efficient," noted Suresh. "For example, the Virtual Institute for Mathematical and Statistical Sciences builds on existing investment of about $6 million a year on the U.S. side and $20 million a year on the Indian side. With the additional $350,000 a year each from NSF and the Indian Department of Science and Technology leveraged, VI-MSS is providing students and researchers in the US and India access to world-class mathematical and statistical science institutes in the two countries."

Virtual institutes in all fields of science and engineering, including biological, geological, social, behavioral, physical, statistical, mathematical, and computational sciences and STEM education, are currently under consideration. Expansion will require investments from partnering countries as well. Successes will be measured by the establishment of long-term professional relationships that will be sustained beyond the initial SAVI activities.


Contact: Lisa-Joy Zgorski
National Science Foundation

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