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How can we place science & innovation at the heart of our future?

January 19, 2022

By Andrew Davis

NSF's vision outlined at 31st CaSE annual lecture

NSF Director outlines 4 steps his organization is taking to expand the frontiers of science in the US and UK

In the 31st CaSE annual lecture, National Science Foundation Director Dr Sethuraman Panchanathan outlines the NSF’s vision. Read more and watch the video below.

As nations worldwide turn to science to tackle unprecedented challenges, the leader of the world’s largest funding agency is focusing on an ambitious goal: “Placing science and innovation at the heart of the US and UK's future.”

Dr Sethuraman Panchanathanopens in new tab/window, Director of the US National Science Foundation (NSF)opens in new tab/window, addressed the international science and engineering communities in the 31st CaSE (Campaign for Science and Engineering)opens in new tab/window annual lecture, live-streamed on November 29.

As part of our support for the lecture, Elsevier CEO Kumsal Bayazit introduced Dr Panchanathan. She highlighted that 2021 had proven to be a pivotal year for science, with governments and corporations worldwide increasing R&D spend and directing investment toward life sciences, green technologies and artificial intelligence. However, she gave a cautionary warning:

Portrait of Kumsal Bayazit

Kumsal Bayazit, CEO

This is a delicate balancing act for governments, who must reconcile the desire to grow R&D investment with the immense need to manage the costs of managing COVID-19.

This tension is undoubtedly being felt by researchers, who face increasing pressures to demonstrate their research's tangible positive societal impact. Indeed, 51% of researchers surveyed for Elsevier's forthcoming Research Futures report indicated that there are more funding requirements now compared to 2 to 3 years ago — pointing to a longer, more detailed process for researchers to grapple with. The research was carried out as part of Elsevier's Research Futures project, which aims to understand the views of the global researcher community with an in-depth study of over 1,000 researchers globally.

So how can we navigate these new demands and make the most of this historic opportunity, placing science and innovation comfortably at the heart of the US and UK's future? As Dr Panchanathan stressed in his lecture:

This moment is about strengthening at speed and scale.

Dr Panchanathan outlined four steps the NSF is taking toward this vision.

1. Advance the frontiers of research into the future

The NSF is working on expanding scientific frontiers by making the pillars of engagement more malleable and permeable through public-private sector partnerships and collaboration. By cultivating innovation ecosystems at the local, national and regional levels (bottom-up), he said, ideas and talent across sectors will be energized, increasing the speed and scale of idea generation and extrapolation.

2. Ensure accessibility and inclusivity in all its forms and modes

For the NSF, accessibility and inclusivity are not only crucial for leveling the playing field and improving the equality of opportunity — bringing in the 'missing millions' — they are essential for developing a richer environment for research so we can find innovative solutions for the challenges we face. In addition, a wealth of opportunities can be created by continuing to nurture imagination and risk-taking in the rising generation of researchers and by investing in curious, courageous, and collaborative people.

3. Secure global leadership

By building partnerships with like-minded countries such as the UK, who share values such as openness, transparency, reciprocity and research integrity, the NSF hopes to create a world-leading ecosystem that will allow open societies to reap the benefits of cutting-edge innovation and realize the full potential of their research.

Dr Panchanathan also contended that countries can take advantage of scientific and technological advances by preparing workforces with the technical skills. However, this requires continued investment in ensuring that the advances in understanding produced by research are integrated into education.

4. Build strategic partnerships and international collaborations

Partnership is the bedrock of these three strategic pillars. These are partnerships of all kinds, including removing barriers to allow partnerships between researchers across disciplines to build cross-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary work across countries and continents. This approach also opens opportunities for academia to work more closely with industry, philanthropic organizations and other educational institutions.

Upcoming report supports this vision

Dr Panchanathan's lecture depicted this moment as one of mounting pressure and greater urgency — a story that resonates with the findings of our forthcoming Research Futures report. The pandemic has created a faster, more collaborative world for the research community, and we are at a tipping point. We need to adopt approaches, structures and technologies that meet ever-increasing and changing demands or we will face long-term issues for our landscape. Placing science and innovation at the heart of the US and UK's future will require harnessing our most potent tools: collaboration and partnership across disciplines, sectors and countries.

Watch the 31st CaSE annual lecture

Dr Sethuraman Panchanathan, Director of the US National Science Foundation (NSF), talks about "Placing science and innovation at the heart of the US and UK's future."

Watch videoopens in new tab/window


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Andrew Davis

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