India, the US looking into exciting joint science & technology projects to further expand ties: says top American scientist

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India, the US looking into exciting joint science & technology projects to further expand ties: says top American scientist

Wednesday, 21 February 2024 | PTI | Washington

India, the US looking into exciting joint science & technology projects to further expand ties: says top American scientist

India and the US are looking into exciting joint science and technology projects to further expand their relationship under the guidance of the top leadership of the two countries, according to a top American scientist.

Describing the US-India Partnership as a very important one for the Biden-Harris administration and also in Congress,

Dr Sethuraman Panchanathan, Director of the National Science Foundation said there's total bipartisan support for a strong partnership between two great democracies, the US and India.

Last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi kicked off his visit to Washington DC, for the historic State Visit, with a trip to the National Science Foundation headquarters in Alexandria wherein he interacted with the scientific community and the young scientist minds.

“Now, in terms of the National Science Foundation (NSF), we have started to work with India in the science and technology front with threads of partnerships, as I call them,” Panchanathan told PTI in an interview.

NSF started first with the Department of Science and Technology. Working together, they have already had two rounds of funding.

“We had started with 35 projects that we funded with the six digital technology hubs. This was in 2022,” he said. They are now looking into various exciting joint proposals between US and Indian researchers, many of whom are going to be funded.

“The Ministry of Information Technology met with us. They signed an implementation agreement last summer, and we already have put out a call for proposals. We are in the final stages of deciding on the specific projects that will be funded,” he said, describing it as the second thread.

The third thread is establishing a partnership with the Department of Biotechnology.

“With the Department of Biotechnology, we are just about to announce the joint funding proposal opportunity for people to be able to work together in the areas of Bioeconomy and Biomanufacturing,” he said.

“This is in line with President Biden's executive order not too long ago on Bioeconomy and Biomanufacturing. There's a similar interest in India. Therefore, bringing the two sides together, and the research groups together to work on that is truly a great opportunity,” he said.

During the interview, Panchanathan also said, "In the last 10 years, I've seen a marked, sort of, intentional intensity, if I can put it that way, in wanting to make sure that science and technology innovations are inspired at scale everywhere. It's also that the entrepreneurial outcomes from that are being made possible everywhere across India. I see it.”

Panchanathan, one of the topmost scientific advisors to President Joe Biden, has made several trips to India in the last year and a half to intensify the scientific collaboration between the two countries as directed by the president and the prime ministers.

“When I go to India and when I speak to people, I can see the palpable difference in terms of wanting the entrepreneurial ventures of the future, industries of the future. Of course, science and technology aspirations are being realised at scale. I see multiple institutions across India wanting to engage in fundamental discovery research as well as applied research. I find a lot more desire to work in partnership with industry,” he said. “So, there is a clear acceleration of the trajectory of wanting to build a science and technology-based innovative economy into the future. I see that,” Panchanathan told PTI when asked about the development of India's science and technology in the last 10 years.

“That is something that the US and India clearly share a value that we believe that we are able to deliver for our citizens if we have such a prosperous innovation ethos that we build in both of our nations, that can then be prosperity for all our citizens in both our nations. So clearly, I can see that marked an intentional effort with intensity over the last 10 years,” he said.

Panchanathan said he finds the launch of the National Research Foundation (NRF) by India a good step and then trying to see how you can synergise the investments that are being made by the various departments in promoting science and technology, innovations and discoveries being brought together; and also trying to build a lot more research intensity, not only in the premier institutions but in a range of institutions across the nation.

“That would be an important thing. Considering that there's a lot of youth in India to build skilled technical workforce-based institutions that ensure that people are trained for the industries of the future so that jobs of the future are then opportunities for everyone, but more importantly ensure the success of industries of the future,” he said.

The 15th Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) since June 2020, Indian American Panchanathan is a computer scientist. An IIT Madras alumni, Chennai-born Panchanathan was recently elected to the prestigious National Academy of Engineering.

The Department of Telecommunications has also expressed interest in wanting to work with NSF in areas where they have shared interest like the next generation of telecommunication systems Six G and beyond, the top American scientist said.

“We are thinking about how we might bring our assets together and see how we might bring both research groups wanting to work together in these areas. Ministry of Earth Sciences, Ministry of Mines, they have also expressed interest in wanting to work with us,” he said.

“So, as you can see, what we started off with, Department of Science and Technology and with the Prime Minister's (State) visit has already taken shape in terms of five or six threads of opportunity that we're working on,” he said.

During a meeting with the Chief Scientific Advisor, in Ahmedabad, before the G-20 Summit in New Delhi, they talked about how they might further enhance the partnerships by working together not only as bilateral between India and the United States but also looking at other like-minded partners who can work together to do bigger and better things for all nations, he said.

“We have also been exploring the Quad as a framework for how we might work together. India, US Australia, and Japan are the four countries working together, and we have identified AI for Agriculture. This is a great topic that's of interest to everyone.           Clearly has tremendous impact possibilities in the United States, in the Indo-Pacific,” he said.

“What we might do in bringing technologies like AI is to see how we can have much more efficient, effective, and technologically inspired agriculture and better outcomes through that. We are already advancing on that. We're about to announce some projects where we'll have some co-funding that we do for AI institutes that we are funded in the United States so that they can partner with companion institutions and researchers in Japan, India and Australia to further see how we can work together,” he said.

“We'll also be ensuring a joint call for proposals, bringing all the nations together around this thematic topic in the near future. With these several threads of bilateral partnerships and what we are doing as well as the multilateral partnerships, clearly, the researchers on both sides, India and the US, have got a tremendous amount of interest in wanting to work together for the global good and of course the economic vitality and the national security objectives of both nations,” Dr Panchanathan said.

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