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Number: 2004-014-1-020

Title: International research funding in the chemical sciences

Task Group
: Edwin D. Becker

Members: Arthur B. Ellis, Wenping Liang, Manuel Mendez Nonell, Lebusa Monyooe, Alejandra Palermo, Karlheinz Schmidt, and Erich Weigold

Completion Date: 2006 - project completed

To explore ways by which organizations and agencies responsible for funding chemical research in various countries might exchange information on international trends in funding and develop international partnerships for projects of mutual interest. The immediate objective is a meeting by the Task Group to examine the feasibility of a larger international conference/workshop and to plan the scope of such a workshop.

IUPAC's efforts to encourage international cooperation among chemists and to disseminate information globally about the chemical sciences rely on interactions among academic and industrial chemists and cooperation with chemical societies and academies of science. IUPAC has convened World Chemistry Leadership Meetings with representatives of these groups. However, one important group has not yet been consulted in an organized way - the agencies in each country that are primarily responsible for financial support of research in the chemical sciences.

Each country has a number of funding agencies, which are primarily concerned with in-country research. However, many have international programs, and some agencies in various countries interact formally [e.g., through CERC3 - the Chairmen of the European Research Councils Chemistry Committees]. Unfortunately, there is as yet no global forum for exchanging information and advancing international research collaboration and training in chemistry.

Informal discussions among IUPAC officers and officials in chemistry funding agencies suggest that IUPAC might be able to facilitate the development of such a global forum. The Task Group presenting this proposal comprises officials from funding agencies in six countries. We believe that an international conference or workshop attended by individuals from funding agencies would be of benefit to the participants in terms of identifying international trends in funding and developing international partnerships for projects of mutual interest. The outcomes of such a conference could be disseminated in various ways, perhaps including the use of the IUPAC web site as a central node for exchange of information of interest to the broader chemistry community. Continuing interactions, especially among geographic or economic subsets of the participating countries, might be developed.

The immediate aim of this project is to convene a meeting of the Task Group to evaluate the feasibility of a broader international conference and to plan the scope of such a conference.

A planning meeting was held in London on 15 July 2004. The meeting was designed to summarize aspects of funding of chemical sciences in several countries, articulate interests in funding of international science projects, determine what barriers exist to the funding of international collaborations, decide whether a broader discussion forum might be useful in reducing such barriers, and plan for subsequent activities.

After discussing the needs and possible areas where progress could be made with broader input, the task group concluded that it would be desirable to hold a workshop with about 15-20 participants. This would broaden the geographic coverage and still permit a small enough group for active discussion. Since only a sampling of important countries can be accommodated, it was felt that, with advance planning, participants could be asked to familiarize themselves with programs in neighboring countries and to report on relevant aspects.

The group favored holding the workshop in Beijing, China as part of the IUPAC General Assembly (GA) in August 2005. A period of 1½ days, 18-19 August 2005, was selected in the expectation that some attendees could then participate in the IUPAC-sponsored World Chemistry Leadership Meeting (WCLM) on the afternoon of 19 August.

Topics explored in the workshop include:

  • National research funding philosophies, conditions, and guidelines
  • Trends and priorities in chemical research
  • Tracking chemical research and measuring its impact
  • Programs in chemical research that encourage international partnerships
  • Resources that can be shared through international partnerships
  • Education and workforce in the chemical sciences

Prior to the workshop each potential participant was asked to complete a short questionnaire that elicited information on national research funding philosophies, conditions, and guidelines. A presentation summarizing this information served to catalyze discussion of similarities and differences among various countries and organizations.

Highlights and Outcomes:
Participants agreed that chemistry is international, and ideally anyone in the world could collaborate with anyone else. However, funding is almost entirely national. One objective for this group is to identify ways by which trans-national research can be initiated and carried out more easily and more widely. A second objective is to use international research experience to validate the assumptions and conclusions within each country regarding priorities used to establish the "science drivers" that are needed to obtain financial resources.

ERA-Chemistry, a project of the European Research Area, was described in some detail as an example of international cooperation in chemical research [www.erachemistry.net]. This initiative includes funding organizations in ten European countries aimed at supporting new cooperative projects, primarily between young researchers in different countries. Common procedures are being developed for submission and evaluation of proposals and for funding from a single source, built around administrative simplicity and flexibility. It is expected that the process will be rapid, involving about six months between announcement and funding decisions. The first round was in progress at the time of the workshop, with 78 eligible pre-proposals involving 189 applicants already received and final proposals due in October.

It is hoped that ERA-Chemistry will expand within the European Research Area. It could potentially be expanded or its tools could serve as a model for other trans-national cooperation arrangements beyond Europe. For example, a recently established program between the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) and the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) is set up to permit the use of existing NSF electronic review procedures in which the DFG serves as a 'guest reviewer.' Thus, applicants from Germany and the US can submit a single linked research proposal that receives a single review.
Particular attention was given to the emerging cyber-enabled chemistry, the term given to the use of the broad use of world-wide computer networks, so-called cyberinfrastructure, to permit not only such activities as remote control of instruments, but to bring together a vast array of databases, modeling capabilities and high speed communications that can be used to attack chemical problems of great complexity.

Project completed - download full report [pdf -394KB]

Last update: 18 February 2006

> Follow-up project 'IUPAC’s role in international research funding in the chemical sciences: a feasibility study' (2006-013-1-020)


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