31 No. 4
Chemistry Research Funding
by Edwin Becker, Christopher Ober, and Bryan Henry
Science knows no international boundaries, but funding for support of scientific research is mostly provided by national organizations. This is particularly true for the chemical sciences, where most research projects are relatively small—not the megaprojects characteristic of high energy physics, astronomy, space science, oceanography, ecological sciences, and biomedical research. In 2004, a group of representatives of organizations from several countries that support research in chemistry met under the auspices of IUPAC. They exchanged information and began discussions of the development of better mechanisms to encourage international research collaboration.
These discussions led to two IUPAC projects, 2004-014-1-020 and 2006-013-1-20, which brought representatives of major funding agencies together for meetings and workshops in London, Beijing, Budapest, Torino, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., from 2004 to 2008. Individuals from 16 countries participated in at least one of these meetings. Topics included:
- national research funding philosophies, conditions, and guidelines
- trends and priorities in chemical research
- methods for 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
Science knows no international boundaries, but funding for support of scientific research is mostly provided by national organizations.
A second theme focused on transnational funding programs. Although many formal bilateral agreements between nations encourage scientific collaboration, practical implementation of joint research funding has been difficult, partly because the policies, fiscal years, procedures, application forms, and sometimes languages used vary from one country to another. Nevertheless, several successful funding arrangements have been developed in the chemical sciences. These arrangements were examined with the goal of developing broader international funding programs. Ultimately, the hope is that these mechanisms can be used to facilitate funding chemical research in developing countries.
As a result of these projects, the Committee on Chemistry Research Funding (CCRF) was established in December 2007 as a body reporting directly to the IUPAC Bureau. Membership in the CCRF is open to people nominated by any national organization that provides substantial funding to research (including training and public outreach) in the chemical sciences. Most such organizations are governmental agencies, but some are not. For some countries, more than one such major organization may wish to participate. Also, an organization representing a large national region or a multicountry region may be eligible to participate. Appointments are made formally by the president of IUPAC or his or her designee on nomination by appropriate organizations. Each participating organization is expected to maintain its principal representative as a current staff member engaged in chemistry research funding. Either the immediate past president of IUPAC or an individual designated by the IUPAC president will chair the CCRF.
Within the context of IUPAC’s overall activities, the CCRF is expected to improve communications among the funding organizations and to help develop best practices for international research collaboration. For example:
- CCRF could catalyze the whole process of developing international funding mechanisms, with the objectives of increasing collaborative research projects and facilitating international exchange of scientists.
- CCRF might help with standardization of terminology in processing, reviewing, and funding. IUPAC might recommend principles for grant applications for international projects and for review of those applications.
- CCRF could help clarify internationally accepted definitions of and guidelines for such topics as science-driven versus industry-related research, bottom-up versus top-down approaches, peer review, conflicts of interest, scientific misconduct, and so forth.
- As this area develops, CCRF might be well positioned to provide shared guidance, especially to developing countries, on mechanisms for review and support of research in the chemical sciences.
- Workshops under the aegis of IUPAC would attract attention internationally and might include such topics as:
- needs of small versus large countries
- needs of developed versus developing
- intellectual property issues
- methods for tackling “grand challenges” in the chemical sciences
- ways to encourage greater participation and recognition of women in chemistry
- means of fostering interdisciplinary studies involving chemistry
- enhancement of dialogue between scientists and program officers
An early result from CCRF discussions is a pilot project in polymer chemistry. This project is an innovative first step in the development of international funding programs. The IUPAC Polymer Division Committee, in cooperation with several national funding organizations, has initiated a project to encourage and to support international research collaboration in several aspects of polymer chemistry. This project builds on successful bilateral projects among the National Science Foundation (USA), the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation), and other organizations, but it is intended to bring together researchers from at least three countries. This project is an effort to identify and to refine best practices in international research funding.
A call for preproposals to be submitted through IUPAC as a “neutral” international establishment will be issued in August 2009 [see note published in CI Sep 09]. Preproposals will be evaluated by teams appointed by IUPAC through the Polymer Division and the participating funding organizations, and full proposals will be solicited. Review will begin by e-mail, with the selection panel to meet at the World Polymer Congress in July 2010. Funding should start by August 2010. Results of this pilot project will guide further developments in soliciting multinational proposals in the chemical sciences.
CCRF will meet as part of the IUPAC General Assembly in Glasgow. CCRF is an exciting new IUPAC initiative, and input from any interested members of the IUPAC community is most welcome.
Please send suggestions to Bryan Henry <email@example.com>, chair of the Committee on Chemistry Research Funding.
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