Science Without Borders

Want to do science today? Make sure your passport is up to date.
Rick Spinrad, Vice President for Research, Oregon State University

Rick Spinrad, Vice President for Research, Oregon State University

When land grant universities were created 150 years ago, science was already an international activity. Well before the signing of the Morrill Act in 1862, American scientists aboard six U.S. Navy vessels had circumnavigated the globe, collected thousands of plant and animal specimens and mapped parts of the Pacific Ocean from the Columbia River to Antarctica. In 1859, Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution partly on the basis of a worldwide voyage aboard the HMS Beagle. The world’s first international scientific conference was held in 1860, two years before President Abraham Lincoln set the land grant research and education engine in motion.

These universities — the people’s colleges as they were called then — are a singular American innovation. They put a college education and the world’s collected knowledge within the reach of everyday people and focused their energies on such practical endeavors as agriculture and engineering. And they have made global impacts (think the Green Revolution or the computer). They have also made global opportunities available to the sons and daughters of every state, regardless of income or social class.

My own career as a scientist, begun through connections made at Oregon State, has taken me to South America, Africa, the Mediterranean and more than a few unlikely places, such as a cattle-hauling freighter in the Congo River. By its very nature, oceanography is an international endeavor. Ocean currents and ecosystems have no respect for political boundaries.

In one of the Earth's most active fault zones, OSU geoscientist John Nabelek and colleagues are defining the forces that created Mt. Everest and threaten millions of people. (Photo courtesy of John Nabelek)

In one of the Earth's most active fault zones, OSU geoscientist John Nabelek and colleagues are defining the forces that created Mt. Everest and threaten millions of people. (Photo courtesy of John Nabelek)

While we are committed to this state — its people, governments and businesses — international collaborations are also crucial to our mission. Our researchers, faculty members and students alike, work on transdisciplinary projects on every continent. In Terra, you can read about students studying wildlife management in Africa, deep-sea methane near South Korea and sea urchins in Ireland. Our anthropologists and agronomists are at work in India and China. Our geologists are studying the Himalayas and the Andes. Our chemists work with colleagues in Scandinavia, Germany and France. Water resources scientists advise the United Nations and national governments. Public health researchers work in Africa, Mexico and Taiwan.

In the OSU Research Office, we regularly review proposals from faculty members who are being recruited for international projects, but their work pays off for Oregon. It gives them a rich perspective on the world and enables them to train our students with the latest knowledge. And our graduates help Oregon businesses (farmers, equipment manufacturers, apparel design companies) compete in the global marketplace.

There are still important challenges to address in managing this far-flung enterprise. The volatility of the global economy means that three-month-old financial agreements might need to be renegotiated. Concerns about protecting national commercial interests raise regulatory compliance issues, which dictate careful, sometimes complicated considerations about access to equipment and materials. And, despite translation apps and cultural competency training, the Tower of Babel is still standing (How do you say “earned value management principles” in Farsi?).

Just as technology links the world economy and events echo within minutes across the globe, researchers collaborate across international boundaries in ways unimaginable only a generation ago.

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For more information about education abroad opportunities for OSU students, contact the International Degree & Education Abroad (IDEA) office at 541-737-3006.

 

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