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International Activities and the US National Science Foundation

bridges vol. 20, December 2008/ Feature Articles

By Shireen Yousef and Jennifer Slimowitz Pearl

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Stronger together.

William Hase, professor of chemistry at Texas Tech University, is the principal investigator for a National Science Foundation Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE) grant, which builds collaborations with scientists in Europe to solve research problems in theoretical and computational chemistry.  His co-principal investigators are John Tully at Yale University, Theresa Windus at Iowa State University, and Yu Zhuang at Texas Tech University, and they are collaborating with researchers at the University of Vienna in Austria, the University of Pisa in Italy, and the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

{access view=guest}Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick – all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.{/access} {access view=!guest} The world-class group of researchers at the University of Vienna involved in the project is led by Professor Hans Lischka.  While the U.S. team's expertise lies in developing algorithms to choose initial conditions for reactants to represent actual experimental data and then simulating the reaction's atomic-level motions, Lischka's team excels in including excited states for the electrons in the simulations.  The methodology is based on previous work by the Hase and Tully research groups.  The entire international PIRE team is able to leverage complementary expertise to develop simulation software and solve problems that no one group could solve on its own.

When asked about exciting components of his research collaboration, Dr. Hase referred to the 2008 "Junior Summer Abroad" Research Program in Europe. Through this program, five US undergraduate students spent eight weeks collaborating with researchers from the University of Vienna and other institutions to develop and apply algorithms and software for simulating reactions with organic materials that involve transitions between electronic states.  The students were mentored by US and European graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, as well as the US and European PIRE faculty.  The undergraduate students were enthusiastic about the program and wished that they - instead of the five new students - could participate again in the summer of 2009! In evaluating the 2008 Summer Program, one of the students wrote: "I really like interacting with a diverse group of students and faculty.  The amount of new information that I learned about chemistry was very large.  Overall, this is definitely a worthwhile program and a great way to spend the summer and be exposed to scientific research."

More information about this PIRE project can be found here .  

Left to right: Jaclyn Adkins (Northwest Missouri State University), Robert Harris (Wofford College), Joshua Kretchmer (University of California at Berkeley), Hans Lischka (Vienna host), Jason Soo Hoo (Siena College), Mario Barbatti (Vienna host), Erica Raheja (University of South Carolina).

Dr. Hase's story describes one of many US-Austria scientific research collaborations.  The global community in which we live requires that researchers collaborate in teams with members from many disciplines, many nations, and many cultural backgrounds. With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), scientists, engineers, students, and postdoctoral fellows have been able to cooperate with partners in Austria and other countries to enhance their research programs.

NSF has recently posted a new call for proposals for the PIRE program that supports Dr. Hase's project.  The PIRE program has three objectives:  to enhance research excellence via international partnerships and collaboration;  to promote the development of a diverse, globally engaged US scientific and engineering workforce; and to strengthen the capacity of US institutions to engage in and benefit from international research and education collaborations. The new competition has a pre-proposal deadline of February 26, 2009, and the solicitation can be found here.

This article provides a brief description of the NSF and the current funding of NSF activities with Austria.  It also indicates possible mechanisms for US researchers to request NSF funding to support collaborations with researchers in Austria and other countries, and details the activities of the NSF overseas offices.

NSF - a brief description

nsf_head_small.jpgSupporting international activities is an integral part of NSF's mission to sustain and strengthen US science, mathematics, and engineering capabilities, and to promote the use of those capabilities in service to society. The NSF comprises seven directorates and three offices that support a wide range of collaborative activities with international partners. The directorates and offices that represent the research areas supported by NSF are:

  • Directorate for Biological Sciences
  • Directorate for Computer and Information Sciences and Engineering
  • Directorate for Education and Human Resources
  • Directorate for Engineering
  • Directorate for Geosciences
  • Directorate for Mathematics and Physical Sciences
  • Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences
  • Office of Cyberinfrastructure
  • Office of International Science and Engineering
  • Office of Polar Programs.

NSF funding is typically allocated through a merit-based competitive peer-review process that is critical to fostering the highest standards of excellence. In collaborations between the United States and developed countries such as Austria, NSF generally supports the activities of researchers who are based at US institutions. This being said, most NSF grants include funds for undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers who work on the project at the U.S. institution.  The principal investigator may usually fill those appointments with researchers and students from outside the US if he or she wishes.  Also, an Austrian researcher who is a faculty member at a US institution may apply for an NSF grant to support his or her research.  

Funding of NSF activities with Austria

Active collaborations between US researchers and Austrian researchers span the range of disciplines that NSF supports. Austrian partners have been based at many institutions including the Erich Schmid Institute of Materials Science, Erwin Schroedinger Institute, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Institute of Structural and Functional Ceramics, Johannes Kepler Universität Linz, Kanzelhöhe Solar Observatory, Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz, Leopold-Franzens-University Innsbruck, Montanuniversität Leoben, Technology University of Vienna, Technical University of Graz, University of Salzburg, and the University of Vienna.

NSF funding for collaborative projects

There are several NSF funding mechanisms available to US scientists and engineers planning to collaborate with Austrian researchers. For example, US-based researchers who already have an NSF grant may request supplemental funds to add an international dimension to their projects.  In addition, proposals submitted directly to the research directorates may contain requests for funds for researchers to leverage their scientific expertise with specialized expertise or equipment at a foreign laboratory by traveling abroad to conduct collaborative research. These requests may include funds for US students and postdoctoral researchers to perform research abroad.  Supplement requests and proposals of this type may be funded jointly by the research directorates and the Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE).  

In addition to including international activities in regular research proposals, NSF sponsors several programs which include a focus on the support of international collaborations.  The following programs are examples of  opportunities for researchers and students in the United States to collaborate with researchers in Austria and throughout the world:

  • The Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE) program supports collaborations between US and foreign researchers on frontier research that can incorporate research excellence, the development of a globally engaged US workforce, and strengthening of institutional capacity;
  • Materials World Network (MWN) allows collaborations between US researchers and their foreign counterparts in the field of materials research;
  • International Collaboration in Chemistry (ICC) provides US researchers with the opportunity to establish new bilateral collaborations in basic chemistry research with their foreign counterparts in Austria, China, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Currently, the program supports 40 three-year awards for a total investment of about $16 million;
  • Cyber-enabled Discovery and Innovation (CDI) allows US researchers to form partnerships with researchers from all over the world to develop revolutionary science and engineering research outcomes made possible by innovations and advances in computational thinking;
  • Most NSF Center program announcements [e.g., Science and Technology Centers, Engineering Research Centers, and Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers;]
  • The long-standing Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP)  enables graduate students to choose to work in any appropriate international institution of higher education anywhere in the world offering advanced degrees in science, mathematics, or engineering. During the 2008-2009 year, 72 fellows were studying at graduate institutions outside the US, while 100 domestic students took advantage of the $1000 one-time international travel supplement;
  •  NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship Programs allow U.S. postdoctoral scientists to pursue research at a foreign institution. The program with the largest international focus is the International Research Fellowship Program (IRFP), administered by OISE, a two-year fellowship that allows the recipient to spend time abroad as well as in the United States. The IRFP program also supports fellows' families to accompany them;
  • Pan-American Advanced Studies Institutes (PASI) allow US researchers and students at the advanced graduate and postdoctoral level to interact with researchers from  different countries in the Americas in a series of lectures, discussions, and research seminars;
  • The Developing Global Scientists and Engineers program provides funding for principal investigators to send groups of US undergraduate and graduate students to do research abroad through the International Research Experience for Students (IRES) component, and also funds doctoral dissertation research abroad through the Doctoral Dissertation Enhancement Projects (DDEP);  
  • Dissertation enhancement awards from several directorates support travel and subsistence costs for collaborative research by graduate students in foreign locations;
  • Many Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) sites offer the opportunity for US students to conduct research in a foreign partner's laboratories;  
  • The NSF Graduate Teaching Fellows in K-12 Education (GK-12) encourages and supports the involvement of fellows and teachers in international research activities;
  • East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes (EAPSI) are open to US graduate students to work or study in Australia, China, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Singapore or Taiwan;
  • Options for undergraduates include international Research Experience for Undergraduate sites.

Other opportunities for international research experiences are outlined on the web page for the Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE) at http://www.nsf.gov/div/index.jsp?div=OISE.  These opportunities include the International Research and Education: Planning Visits and Workshops program that provides funds to bring researchers together to create new collaborations .

NSF overseas offices

To further the engagement of US scientists and engineers in international endeavors, NSF has three overseas offices: one for East Asia and the Pacific, based in Tokyo; one for Europe, based in Paris; and one for China, based in Beijing.
The Europe Office works with national research funding agencies, science and education ministries, and multinational organizations such as the European Commission,  UNESCO, the Organization of Economic Coordination and Development, the European Science Foundation, and NATO. The head of the Europe Office represents NSF at activities in Europe, reports back to NSF on the state and direction of scientific activity in Europe, and facilitates and promotes international cooperation between US and European researchers.

This article demonstrates some of the mechanisms available to US and Austrian scientists and engineers hoping to collaborate. NSF staff at the US headquarters and the Europe office work very closely with the Austrian Science Attachés, funding agencies, and universities to ensure an open exchange of information about scientific programs and activities in the United States and Austria. NSF hopes to continue this successful relationship and looks forward to future collaborations with Austrian scientists and engineers.  

For more information regarding collaboration between the US and Austria, please contact Jennifer Slimowitz Pearl, Ph.D., Associate Program Manager, Office of International Science and Engineering at NSF at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 703-292-4492.  Contacts for other countries can be found at http://www.nsf.gov/od/oise/country-list.jsp.


Jennifer Slimowitz is an Associate Program Manager in the Western Europe program of the Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE) at the National Science Foundation (NSF). Shireen Yousef is a Science Assistant in the Global Initiatives Program of the Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE), also at the NSF. 

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