International Engagement

AAAS promotes the use of science and engineering to address challenges that span regions and cross disciplines. It has forged new international relationships, supported research collaborations, and encouraged innovation in developing countries. AAAS serves as a resource for science diplomacy training, and provides a forum for finding new ways to use science and engineering to connect nations.

Scientific Drivers for Diplomacy

The AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy continues to promote international engagement to facilitate research, and to leverage research as a way to bring together countries to address broader issues.

“The principles of science—transparency, open communication, and evidence-based thinking—go a long way to diffusing difficult situations, breaking through barriers, and developing relationships,” said Rush Holt, CEO of AAAS, in an address at the first annual conference on science diplomacy, held at AAAS headquarters in April. More than 200 people participated, including representatives from the U.S. Department of State and other federal agencies, UNESCO, The World Academy of Sciences, and the Academy of Sciences of Cuba.

Conference panelists discussed the need for trans-boundary cooperation and information-sharing to address public health and environmental issues, such as cholera outbreaks, biodiversity loss, and climate change. Participants also related ways to foster cooperation during times of political strain, by working with shared resources, and the roles of institutions and networks in science diplomacy.

Global Competition Propels Innovation

An international competition for innovators, administered by AAAS, is helping entrepreneurs to develop low-cost solar-powered hearing aids in Botswana and a lemongrass-derived compound to protect stored crops from insects in Nigeria, while also providing role models to spur innovation in developing countries.

The Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) Tech-I competition was held in Nairobi, Kenya in July 2015, and was organized by the AAAS Office of International and Security Affairs and the Research Competitiveness Program. The U.S. Department of State began the GIST initiative in 2011 to support scientific and technological innovation in the developing world.

Participants who apply for the program must go through an extremely competitive, multistep selection process to reach the finals, where they receive training and mentoring from leaders in industry, funding agencies, and other sectors. Thirty people from 23 developing countries competed to be one of the 13 winners, who took home almost $140,000 in cash prizes.

The finals were part of the annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit, which received a visit by President Barack Obama. GIST alumni who have commercialized their inventions have generated $110 million in revenue, according to State Department figures.


The 2015 GIST Tech-I competition finalists hailed from 23 developing countries. [EPOD VISUAL & AUDIO ENTERPRISES]

First Poland-U.S. Science Award

Two structural biologists who worked to develop AIDS treatments were honored with the first Poland-U.S. Science Award in April 2015. The award, established in 2013, is given to a pair of scientists working in Poland and the United States for outstanding scientific achievements resulting from their collaboration. AAAS and the Foundation for Polish Science will grant the award every two years.

Prof. Mariusz Jaskólski of Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland, and Dr. Alexander Wlodawer of the National Cancer Institute began working together in 1988 to understand the structure of retroviral proteins. That work led to the development of the first protease-oriented drugs for AIDS patients. Their continued collaboration has generated 37 joint publications to date.

Science Diplomacy Boot Campy

The second annual Course on Science and Diplomacy was held in June in Trieste, Italy, drawing together participants from 30 countries. The week-long meeting, organized by the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy and The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), provided science diplomacy training to 56 researchers and administrators.

The attendees learned how science diplomacy can be carried out, how to educate the public and policymakers about risks, and how some countries are already using science diplomacy.

Sir Peter Gluckman, science advisor to New Zealand’s prime minister, delivered the Paolo Budinich Lecture as part of the course. New Zealand is an example of how smaller countries can use their strengths in scientific research to gain global influence and advance their own policy interests, Gluckman said.

The 2015 AAAS-TWAS course was sponsored by the Golden Family Foundation, the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

U.S. and Cuban Researchers Begin Neuroscience Collaborations

United States and Cuban researchers will soon begin collaborating to improve magnetic resonance imaging technology, to advance neuroinformatics and neurodevelopment research, and to investigate the establishment of an international non-human primate research center in Cuba.

A U.S. delegation of researchers, academics, policymakers, and representatives of industries and foundations met with their Cuban counterparts at a December 2015 meeting in Havana to plan the research collaborations. The meeting was the first outcome of a 2014 agreement between AAAS and the Cuban Academy of Sciences to promote scientific cooperation between their countries.

Participants at the meeting, organized by AAAS and the Cuban Neurosciences Center (CNEURO), discussed research advances in neurodegenerative and psychiatric disorders, brain mapping techniques, imaging, and treatments.

AAAS in 2015 also began planning to launch a fellowship program for early and midcareer scientists from Cuba. The Cuban biomedical research fellows could begin research collaboration in the United States in 2016, under a program administered by the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy. That program is supported by a grant from the Lounsbery Foundation. AAAS staff members are still seeking funding to bring U.S. scientists to Cuba.

Mentoring Women in International Research Collaboration

Women and underrepresented groups trying to succeed in STEM fields may find themselves up against a “polycarbonate ceiling” to career advancement, said chemist and AAAS President Geraldine Richmond. It’s one they must find a way around, since it’s almost impossible to break.

AAAS has several programs to help women navigate the barriers that prevent them from fully participating in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers, including some that also promote international research. Under one such program, Mentoring Women in International Research Collaborations (MWIRC) in STEM, AAAS has administered 15 research grants of $20,000 each to allow women to mentor graduate students or postdocs and carry out research in another country. The grants are funded by the National Science Foundation. In addition, the program began sponsoring travel awards to send two women scientists to the international Gender Summit, beginning with the April 2016 summit in South Africa.

The Elsevier Foundation Awards for Women in Science in the Developing World—supported also by Gilbert S. Omenn, a past AAAS president, and Martha Darling—provide five early-career women scientists with $5,000 and support for travel to the AAAS Annual Meeting. The 2015 winners were from Nigeria, Sudan, and Vietnam, and were selected for their contributions to nanoparticle physics, atmospheric physics, medical physics, and computational mathematics, as well as their efforts to encourage other young women to pursue STEM careers.

The L’Oréal awards, which AAAS administers, provide five women each year with $60,000 grants to fund postdoctoral research. And in October, four women were awarded the first AAAS Marion Milligan Mason Awards for Women in the Chemical Sciences, which provide funding for early-career researchers. (See also the Education, Outreach, and Careers section on pages 26-27.)

Science & Diplomacy Update

The AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy’s quarterly policy journal, Science & Diplomacy, published 21 articles plus editorials, perspectives, and letters in 2015. It attracted more than 36,000 readers, more than half of whom were outside the United States.

Popular articles included one by the executive director of the Academy of Sciences of Cuba detailing Cuba’s research history and its periods of collaboration with the United States, as it anticipates improved relations once again. An editorial by AAAS CEO Rush Holt on the relationship of science to diplomacy has also been viewed more than 1,000 times.