In its first international mission, the U.S. research vessel Okeanos Explorer early this summer will team up with an Indonesian vessel, the Baruna Jaya IV, to probe the ecological hotbed.
The expedition ushers in a new era in science cooperation between Indonesia and the United States. The two countries have just inked their first S&T agreement, which is now awaiting ratification by Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. And two high-profile initiatives are in the works. In the coming weeks, the United States is expected to unveil an extensive education package, including university partnerships and dedicated funds for S&T collaboration; funding for the package could top $150 million. It will also tap Indonesia to host a regional center for climate change, one of the centers of excellence for the Muslim world that U.S. President Barack Obama promised to establish in a landmark speech in Cairo last year. (Both initiatives were to be announced this month during Obama's planned visit to Indonesia, which was postponed.)
Other signs of a closer relationship include an annual Frontiers of Science meeting that the Indonesian Academy of Sciences (AIPI) and the U.S. National Academies intend to launch next year to spark collaborations between top young scientists. And an Indonesian-U.S. team is now drilling ice cores from a tropical glacier (Science, 28 May, p. 1084). "This whole spectrum of activities will strengthen ties between our two countries," says Jason Rao, a senior policy analyst at the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy.Perhaps a better sign is structural help in the formation of a national science organization:
Yudhoyono spoke of Indonesia's own efforts to bolster science in a January speech to AIPI, urging researchers to take risks and "be much more open-minded and more progressive" than in the past. He returned to the theme in a meeting in Jakarta last month with Bruce Alberts, Science's editor-in-chief and one of three science envoys appointed by Obama to explore collaborations with Muslim-majority countries. Discussions are also under way on creating a merit-based agency similar to the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). After years of stagnation, researchers here sense "the beginning of a renaissance," says medicinal chemist Umar Anggara Jenie, chair of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) in Jakarta.
The United States is playing a critical supporting role in this revival. In his speech, Yudhoyono cited cooperation in technology and education as key elements of a "new strategic partnership" between the two countries. Another impetus is Indonesia's problem with homegrown terrorists. In Cairo, Obama vowed to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries. "We understand his intention to bridge Islamic civilization and the West. Science is the best way to do this," says AIPI President Sangkot Marzuki, director of the Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology (EIMB).And you can add science education to the agenda as well and its great to see National Science Resource Center getting involved in it:
A more fundamental concern is science education. The government intends to triple university enrollment in natural sciences to 12% by 2014. But students are ill-prepared: Primary school science education is woeful, researchers contend. Plans are under way to bring Indonesian educators to a workshop on inquiry science for children next month at the National Science Resource Center in Washington, D.C., run by the National Academies and the Smithsonian Institution. "The hope is to initiate an impressive program of science education in one or two carefully selected Indonesian school districts," says Alberts.I'm quite impressed by the breadth of involvement here. It wasn't clear earlier on, what kind of activities will be included in these scientific collaborations. But if we take this Indonesian example as a model, then we are looking at a potentially deep and fruitful collaboration beyond simple political rhetoric between the US and at least some of the Muslim countries.
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