Collaborative research needs to be encouraged

Experts say offering opportunities and mechanisms for scientists to work together is essential for the success of international partnerships

By Heitor Shimizu, in Davis

Agência FAPESP – The second day of FAPESP Week California on the campus of the University of California in Davis was launched by a panel that included researchers from UC Davis and the state of São Paulo to discuss challenges and opportunities in collaborative research.

“The success of collaborative research depends primarily on the interest of the researchers. In most cases, institution executives sign agreements and tend to think that things will just happen, but they do not. They will happen if the researchers are interested,” said Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, FAPESP scientific director.

“On the other hand, there are cases of very successful international collaboration that have come about due to the efforts of the researchers themselves without institution directors realizing it,” he said.

“So our role in making collaboration work is by offering researchers certain incentives so they are able to spot good opportunities and have the mechanisms to enter into the partnerships. And that is how we have worked on international research collaboration here at FAPESP,” Brito Cruz said.

FAPESP has agreements with dozens of universities, research institutions and funding agencies from a variety of countries. Through these agreements, calls for proposals are issued that offer researchers from the state of São Paulo the funding they need to carry out projects in partnership with colleagues from other countries.

FAPESP also offers scholarships and grants that enable scientists in the state of São Paulo to study or conduct research abroad, as well a mechanisms to fund travel to Brazil by visiting researchers, in other words, scientists from other countries who can spend extended periods working at universities or research institutions in São Paulo.

The role of FAPESP in promoting international research collaboration was highlighted by Ricardo Hauch Ribeiro de Castro, associate professor who runs a research laboratory in the Chemical Engineering and Materials Science Department at UC Davis.

“Because it has a research-sponsoring agency like FAPESP, the state of São Paulo is a great place to engage in research partnerships. I can say this with confidence having been on both sides, first in São Paulo and now at Davis,” he said.

Castro earned his undergraduate and doctoral degrees at the University of São Paulo and has been at UC Davis since March 2009. He received FAPESP funding through the Young Investigators Grant Program.

“I consider the support I received from FAPESP as essential to my career,” said Castro who in 2012 received the Outstanding Junior Faculty Award of the College of Engineering at UC Davis. In 2011, he received a five-year fellowship from the U.S. Department of Energy to carry out research in radiation-resistant ceramics. Castro leads a group of 14 researchers at Davis, five of whom are Brazilian.

Hugo Borelli Resende, director of the Lightweight Structures Laboratory of the Technology Research Institute, noted that when we think about international research collaboration, we have to consider the differences between the countries.

“In most cases, the differences are complementary rather than antagonistic though. For example, in computational engineering or mechanical structures, Brazil is strong in theory and basic science, and the United States is strong in practical approaches, and these two are complementary,” he said.

The panel session was opened by Linda Katehi, Chancellor of UC Davis since 2009. Before becoming chief executive at UC Davis, Katehi, an engineer with 19 patents to her name, was Provost and Vice Chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and professor of engineering at Purdue University and the University of Michigan.

“It is really good to see academicians from different countries getting together to think about important challenges and trying to solve them, having to overcome not only geographical barriers, but often political and social barriers as well,” she said about FAPESP Week California.

Ambassador Eduardo Prisco Paraíso Ramos, Consul General of Brazil in San Francisco, noted that the symposium was “an excellent opportunity to establish new collaborative initiatives between UC Davis and universities in Brazil.”

“In recent years, UC Davis has developed a strong relationship with Brazil, having signed agreements with several Brazilian universities as well as with CNPq, which makes UC Davis the university with the most fellows in the Science Without Borders program, with more than 170 post-docs, doctorates and undergraduates. UC Davis also has several Brazilian professors and will soon be offering an undergraduate program in Portuguese,” he said.

Other participants on the panel were Cleve Justis, Executive Director of the Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and Dushyant Pathak, Associate Vice Chancellor for Technology, Management and Corporate Relations, both from UC Davis, Roxanne Duan, Director of the MedImmune, a pharmaceutical company, and Euclides de Mesquisa Neto, professor at the School of Mechanical Engineering of the University of Campinas and member of the FAPESP Area Panel Committee on Engineering.

FAPESP Week California was held on two campuses of the University of California: November 17-18, 2014 in Berkeley and November 20-21 in Davis. The event was supported by the Brazil Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Institute for Scholars in Washington, DC.