International Activities and the US National Science Foundation

by Jennifer Slimowitz and Mande Holford

The following article was prepared with the contribution of Mark A. Suskin , head of the National Science Foundation Europe Office.

Karin Ruhlandt-Senge, Professor in the Department of Chemistry at Syracuse University, is eagerly anticipating an undergraduate student exchange program with the Technical University in Graz, Austria. Her students departed for Austria in June 2005, supported by Syracuse University and her NSF grant from the Developing Global Scientists and Engineers program. Dr. Ruhlandt-Senge comments, "We are very excited about the opportunity for an undergraduate student exchange program involving the Technical University in Graz and Syracuse University.

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With funds from an Austrian source, eight students from the Technical University will come to Syracuse to conduct research during the summer, while eight NSF- and Syracuse University-supported American undergraduates will travel to Graz. We are certain the program will be highly rewarding for all participants, as the partner universities in Graz and Syracuse have worked out a stimulating experience involving not only research but also an extensive cultural program. Austrian students coming to Syracuse University will become part of a larger undergraduate student community, since the Department of Chemistry is also hosting an NSF-funded REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) program. The program will expose all participants - as well as all undergraduates, graduate students, postdoctoral associates, and faculty members remaining in Graz and Syracuse - to the benefits of internationally-conducted research."

Dr. Ruhlandt-Senge's story is one of several U.S.-Austria scientific 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 NSF, scientists, students, and postdoctoral fellows have been able to cooperate with scientists in Austria and other countries to add an international component to their research program. This article provides a brief description of the NSF, describes the current funding of NSF activities with Austria, indicates possible mechanisms for U.S. scientists to request funding from NSF to support collaborations with scientists in Austria and other countries, and details the activities of the NSF overseas offices.

NSF - a brief description

Supporting international activities is an integral part of NSF's mission to sustain and strengthen U. S. science, mathematics, and engineering capabilities, and to promote the use of those capabilities in service to society. The NSF is comprised of seven directorates and two 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:

- Biological Sciences;
- Computer and Information Sciences and Engineering;
- Education and Human Resources;
- Engineering;
- Geosciences;
- Mathematics and Physical Sciences;
- Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences;
- the Office of Polar Programs; and
- the Office of International Science and Engineering.

About 90 percent of NSF funding is 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 typically supports the activities of researchers who are based at U.S. institutions. However, it is possible for a foreign researcher to be supported by the NSF if he or she is included on a proposal submitted by a U.S. institution. Most NSF grants include funds for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers; the head of the laboratory may fill those slots with researchers and students from outside the U.S. Also, an Austrian researcher who is a faculty member at a U.S. institution may apply for an NSF grant to support his or her research.

Funding of NSF activities with Austria

The NSF has funded over 190 awards to U.S. scientists conducting research connected to Austria. Active collaborations between U.S. researchers and Austrian researchers include projects in the fields of biology, chemistry, materials research, computer science, and mathematics. Austrian partners have been based at several institutions including Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz, Technische Universität Graz, the Institute for Structural and Functional Ceramics at Universität Leoben, Johannes Kepler Universität Linz, and the Erwin Schrödinger Institute for Mathematical Physics.

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, researchers based in the US who already have a grant from NSF 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. Heads of research laboratories can request funds for their students and postdoctoral researchers to perform research abroad. Proposals of this type may be funded jointly by the research directorates and the Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE).


Craig Douglas, Professor of Computer Science and Mechanical Engineering at the University of Kentucky, receives NSF funding to support his computational science collaboration with researchers at Kepler Universität Linz and the Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz. He states, "The Austrian universities we work with have institutes with a large number of similar researchers, much larger than is normal at typical US universities. This allows for cooperative projects on a grander scale than would be expected for a country with a small population like Austria."


A major focus of NSF's work is to foster an international research network for the next generation of scientists and engineers. To fulfill this goal, the NSF has several programs geared towards young scientists and students pursuing a scientific career. These programs present opportunities for scientists in the United States to collaborate with scientists in Austria and throughout the world:


    • For undergraduates, options include international Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) sites;
    • 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, and also funds doctoral dissertation research abroad;
    • Through the long-standing Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP), graduate students may choose to work in any appropriate international institution of higher education offering advanced degrees in science, mathematics, or engineering;
    • Many Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) sites offer the opportunity for a student to conduct research in a foreign partner's laboratories;
    • Dissertation enhancement awards from several directorates support travel
      and subsistence costs for collaborative research by graduate students in foreign locations;
    • Summer Institutes, such as the East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes and
      Pan-American Advanced Studies Institutes are open to US graduate students and recent postdoctoral scientists to work or study overseas;
    • NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship Programs allow postdoctoral scientists to pursue research at a foreign institution. The program with the largest international focus is the International Research Fellowship Program, administered by OISE, a two-year fellowship that allows the recipient time overseas as well as in the United States;
    • Most NSF-center program announcements (e.g. Science and Technology Centers, Engineering Research Centers, Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers) encourage international partnerships through which young researchers can pursue part of their research at a foreign institution;
    • The chemistry division at NSF offers the opportunity for postdoctoral, mid-career, and senior scientists to take their scientific expertise abroad via the Discovery Corp Fellowships
Other opportunities for international research experiences are outlined on the web page for the Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE). These include the International Research and Education: Planning Visits and Workshops program that provides "start up" funds to create new collaborations for researchers who are beginning to form their international scientific network or are taking it in a new direction. OISE's Partnerships for International Research and Education is an exciting new program that allows US Ph.D.-granting institutions to partner with institutions throughout the world to advance scientific research in a way that is truly global and innovative.

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 (opening Fall 2005).


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 travels throughout Europe to disseminate information on NSF's international activities and goals, to report back to NSF on the state and direction of scientific activity in Europe, and to facilitate and promote international cooperation between U.S. and European researchers.


NSF is beginning to work collaboratively with its sister funding agencies in other countries to organize joint review of collaborative research proposals. NSF recognizes that international collaboration is inherently difficult, and the agency would like to ameliorate the risk of "double jeopardy" by not insisting that collaborative work succeed in two merit review competitions rather than just one. Currently, schemes are being developed for joint reviews in the fields of chemistry and biology by the NSF and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, the German science funding organization.


This article demonstrates some of the mechanisms available to US and Austrian scientists and engineers hoping to collaborate. NSF employees, both 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, 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

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).

Mande Holford is an AAAS/NSF Science, Technology & Engineering Policy Fellow in the Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE).{/access}