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NSF Builds More Partnerships For International Research And Education

February 17, 2011

PIRE program supports fifteen international projects and facilitates global collaboration to forge scientific breakthroughs and grow institutional diplomatic capacity

The National Science Foundation (NSF) today announced the 15 projects funded in its third cohort of Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE) awards.

NSF’s PIRE program, instituted in 2005, supports innovative, international research and education collaborations to hasten three goals: to advance new knowledge and discoveries at the frontiers of science and engineering; to promote the development of a diverse, globally-engaged, U.S. scientific and engineering workforce; and to build the institutional capacity of U.S. universities to engage in fruitful international collaborations.

PIRE also supports bold, forward-looking research whose successful outcomes result from all partners–U.S. and foreign–providing unique contributions to the research endeavor.

“The PIRE projects are wonderful examples of how the U.S. receives a ‘collaborative advantage’ from international cooperation in science and engineering because the scientific, educational and institutional outcomes are made much stronger by the collaboration than either side could achieve alone,” explained Elizabeth Lyons, program coordinator for the PIRE Program, “I am certain that these new projects will live up to that promise.”

International Collaboration and Education in Ice Core Science (Oregon State University) Under the leadership of principle investigator (PI) Edward Brook, this project supports U.S. researchers and students, who partner with collaborators from Denmark, France, Switzerland and Japan to develop and apply the next generation of laboratory techniques and mathematical tools to study ice cores, a resource that captures the history of Earth’s environment in its polar regions. Dozens of U.S. post-doctoral researchers, graduate students and undergraduates will take part in international research visits, as well as short courses, virtual seminars and networking. U.S. institutions will be linked with foreign institutions via the use of video-conferencing, remote operation of research equipment, and interactive international modelling activities.

Hydrologic Redistribution and Rhizosphere Biology of Resource Islands in Degraded Agro-ecosystems of the Sahel (Ohio State University) This project, directed by PI Richard Dick, will enable a partnership of U.S., Senegalese and French collaborators to examine how native shrubs in the Sahel region of Africa influence soil moisture and soil microbes and how such shrubs, when planted with food crops, might represent a new way to improve food production in dry agro-ecosystems. Graduate and undergraduate students will participate in cross-cultural international research projects and U.S. and Senegalese schoolchildren will engage as “pen pals.” The project will reinforce complementary strengths of international offices, African studies offices, international agriculture programs and language departments within and between Ohio State and Central State University, a historically black university, to develop a cohesive program for pre-departure cultural orientation and language training for participants.

Science at the Triple Point Between Mathematics, Mechanics and Materials Science (Carnegie Mellon University) PIRE funding will enable PI Irene Fonseca and an international network of mathematicians from the United States, Belgium, United Kingdom, Germany and Italy to collaborate at the interface of mathematics and materials science and to develop sophisticated new methods for understanding the complexities of advanced materials. Graduate courses will be developed and U.S. students will strengthen their interdisciplinary and global research skills by conducting international research with multiple mentors and/or by participating in an international industrial research internship. Such international curriculum and student mobility will help internationalize U.S. institutions and place them in a vibrant international network of applied mathematicians.

Data Intensive Computing Using the Open Science Data Cloud (University of Illinois, Chicago; will be transferred to the University of Chicago) This team intends to help develop large-scale distributed computing capabilities to provide long-term, persistent storage for scientific data. The team also will develop state-of-the-art services for integrating, analyzing, sharing and archiving scientific data with partners in the United States, the United Kingdom, Brazil, the Netherlands, Japan, Korea and China. Called the Open Science Data Cloud, the project is overseen by PI Robert Grossman. It will provide U.S. graduate students and early career scientists with international research and education experiences and increase the virtual international engagement of the U.S. institutions via distributed research collaborations, courses with transcontinental participation, global web discussions and focused social networking forums.

Toward a Holistic and Global Understanding of Hot Spring Ecosystems: A US-China Based International Collaboration (University of Nevada, Las Vegas) This project, led by PI Brian Hedlund, expands an existing collaboration between U.S. and Chinese geobiologists that focuses on the microbial diversity, biogeography and ecosystem-level functioning within geothermal source pools in the largest hot spring complex in China, the Tengchong Geothermal Field in Yunnan Province. The project will provide U.S. students and scientists with a unique opportunity to experience the biologically-, geologically- and culturally-diverse regions in southwestern China. Concurrently, the institutional outcomes will include the active engagement of the worldwide geo-microbiology community through development of a permanent, open and interactive website and data portal.

Ancient Biodiversity and Global Change in the New World Tropics: A Once-in-a-Century Opportunity Along the Panama Canal (University of Florida) Managed by PI Bruce McFadden, this collaboration between four U.S. and three Panamanian institutions focuses on the systematic documentation of ancient biodiversity. Called the Panama Canal Project, the effort concentrates on the 25-million-year old paleological record within the tropics of Central America that is being uncovered by the expansion of the canal basin. The program will add an international dimension to the career development of students earning traditional or non-traditional science degrees, and participating institutions will use this PIRE award to further develop, internationalize and strengthen scientific infrastructural capacity and to sustain these benefits by institutionalizing the infrastructure and educational tools developed during the project.

U.S.-Japan Cooperative Research and Education on Terahertz Dynamics in Nanostructures (Rice University) This PIRE renewal award, directed by PI Junichiro Kono, explores terahertz (THz) dynamics in carbon nanomaterials with a partnership between the global leaders in both THz research and nanotechnology, the United States and Japan.  Already recognized as a model for international education for science and engineering students, this program will provide U.S. undergraduates with structured research opportunities with Japanese mentors in Japanese university laboratories. It will also develop an online seminar to be webcast live and archived online.

Bilingualism, Mind and Brain: An Interdisciplinary Program in Cognitive Psychology, Linguistics and Cognitive Neuroscience (Pennsylvania State University – University Park) With leadership from PI Judith Kroll, this project supports U.S., European, and Asian institutions that together are investigating cognitive and neural consequences of bilingualism. The project’s goal is to unify understanding of three things: the nature of the bilingual mind and brain, the process of bilingual language development and the consequences of bilingualism for cognition. The project includes study of deaf bilinguals via a partnership between scientists from Gallaudet University and the Netherlands. The project will broaden participation in science by including scientists of a broad spectrum of ages, linguistic abilities, and membership in groups under-represented in the sciences.

An International Pulsar Timing Array for Gravitational Wave Detection (West Virginia University) PI Maura McLaughlin will manage a project to catalyze the International Pulsar Timing Array. The project involves a partnership between the North American NanoHertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves and Australian, European and Indian scientists. In a coordinated effort, the project seeks to detect and study low frequency gravitational waves (GW) at sites in both hemispheres and across many radio observing frequencies. Through international science meetings, student workshops and research and observing trips, postdoctoral researchers and students at nine U.S. institutions will be trained to become the first generation of astronomers able to directly observe and study GWs. The project will expand the virtual international reach of U.S. institutions by using cyberinfrastructure to access and analyze data from around the world, remotely operate telescopes and host web-based seminars and tutorials.

Collaborations with France and Japan on Multiphase Fluid Science and Technologies (University of Florida) Supporting collaborations connecting U.S., French and Japanese institutions that focus on multiphase flows with important economic technological applications, this project, directed by PI Ranga Narayanan, will build up international engineering excellence in complex fluids and multiphase flows, develop and optimize materials and processes for industry and strengthen international partnerships between industry and academe that will yield long-term benefit to the U.S. economy. U.S. students will train in an international setting with foreign collaborators and advisors via industry-relevant short courses, international symposia, conferences and internships in industrial research laboratories. They will develop their skills as global professionals thereby making them competitive in the global marketplace.

Land Use, Ecosystem Services and the Fate of Marginal Lands in a Globalized World  (Brown University) Christopher Neill leads this collaboration between three U.S. institutions and a Kenyan and Tanzanian institution to leverage the Millennium Villages Project’s substantial investments in Africa. PIRE funding will enable this project to mount an interdisciplinary study of the impacts of the agricultural intensification on land use decisions, human well-being and ecosystem services at the local and landscape levels. This project will educate U.S. students with field courses, workshops, internships and collaborations with African partners. Working with the Leadership Alliance, Dillard University and the Ecological Society of America, it will target students from groups underrepresented in science collaborations.

Life on a Tectonically-Active Delta: Convergence of Earth Science and Geohazard Research in Bangladesh (Columbia University) This project, under PI Michael Steckler, brings together a team of U.S., Bangladeshi, Indian, German and Italian scientists and students to study hydrologic, sedimentary and tectonic dynamics of the world’s largest delta, the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna Delta (GBMD). Life on GBMD, which encompasses most of Bangladesh, poses many natural hazards, including widespread seasonal flooding, river course change, sea level rise, recurrent cyclones and monsoons, landslides and earthquakes. This project will train U.S. earth and environmental scientists to engage in international field work, laboratory experiments and analysis and modeling. It will also train environmental scientists using interdisciplinary field courses in Bangladesh on topics of direct relevance to such natural hazards and to inform geohazard mitigation planning for the Mississippi River Delta in the United States.

International Consortium for Probing Novel Superconductors with Neurons, Muons, Photons and STM (Columbia University) PI Yasutomo Uemura is leading a project that forms a consortium of leading superconductivity researchers from the United States, Japan, Canada, the United Kingdom and China to fill gaps in current understanding of superconductivity. The project will advance the development of superconducting materials that perform better at room temperature for use in fast-performing devices, cost-saving electric motors, generators and power transmission lines. The project will strengthen and internationalize materials research programs at U.S. institutions and engage more U.S. students in international research collaborations. It will promote extensive research and education partnerships involving frequent reciprocal research visits for participating faculty and students.

Feedbacks and Consequences of Altered Fire Regimes in the Face of Climate and Land-use Change in Tasmania, New Zealand and the Western U.S. (Montana State University) Large scale landscape disturbances have altered the frequency and severity of forest fires globally. Under the direction of PI Cathy Whitlock, scientists from the U.S., Australia and New Zealand will study how and why factors related to climate change, human activity and biomass burning, have altered ecosystem dynamics. The effort is to model and predict future fires. Each country’s personnel lend unique expertise to this interdisciplinary team of biologists, geographers, geoscientists, paleoclimatologists and anthropologists who will draw from and integrate emerging methodologies to examine the past and present role of fire in the biosphere. U.S. post-doctorate, graduate and undergraduate students will participate in research projects, international workshops, courses and documentary film productions. A PI workshop was convened at the USDA Forest Service Fire Science Lab in November to identify areas of shared interest and opportunity.

Advancing the US-China Partnership in Electron Chemistry and Catalysis at Interfaces (University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB)). Led by PI Susannah Scott, this renewal award continues a collaboration between scientists at UCSB and the Dalian Institute for Chemical Physics in China, who are working to understand how small particles on the surfaces of catalysts are able to speed up important chemical reactions. Stubborn chemical processes, like converting plant materials to ethanol, may become economically feasible when the chemistry of catalysis is better understood. The near goal is to design nano-scale surfaces with predictable chemical catalytic properties. The ultimate goal is to develop a predictive design theory and apply it to key industrial and environmental problems, such as pollution abatement, conversion of methane to liquid fuels, solar energy and industrial chemical production.

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