Mobilizing across borders to address global challenges

For the most creative minds to work together to solve the world’s greatest challenges, it is essential for global collaboration to be unencumbered by distance. The MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) Global Seed Funds (GSF) program enables participating faculty teams to collaborate across borders with international partners to develop and launch joint research projects.

MISTI GSF is comprised of a general fund, open to any country, and a number of country-, region-, or university-specific funds. The resulting partnerships allow access to environmental resources, cutting-edge laboratory equipment, and perspectives not available on the Cambridge, Massachusetts, campus. GSF has made global research partnerships possible since 2008.

“[Our] collaboration was extremely fruitful,” says 2018 Israel fund recipient and MIT professor of architectural history and theory Mark Jarzombek. “The insights and knowledge brought to architecture students, both from local experts and particularly from the field of archeology, allowed them to approach the project from a unique perspective and disciplinary lens.”

Ellen Roche, the W.M. Keck Career Development Professor in Biomedical Engineering at MIT, had a similar experience with her 2018 collaboration with Spain: “Sending prototypes from one country to another and communicating transfer of manufacturing was sometimes challenging. However, working with Jose and his team was invaluable for their particle image velocimetry expertise.”

Mark Jarzombek (right) poses with MIT students in Jerusalem at a MISTI Workshop in June 2019. Credit: Mark Jarzombek

The 27 funds that comprise the MISTI GSF 2021-22 cycle awarded over $1.6 million to 75 projects from 20 departments across all of the schools in the Institute. This year's awards bring the total amount to $22.6 million funding 1,113 projects over the 14-year life of the program. This year, new funds helped MIT faculty collaborate further into Eastern Europe; funds in the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia were met with a large number of excited applicants. Over 70 percent of all MIT faculty members have submitted a GSF proposal, with many receiving multiple awards.

“We have applied for [another] Global Seed Fund to facilitate a similar project in Berlin,” shares Jarzombek. “We hope to expand the breadth and goals of the method we developed and to continue to examine and explore its pedagogical and scholarly implications for the field of architectural history and pedagogy in various sites across the globe.”

Faculty seed funds also provide meaningful educational opportunities for students. The majority of GSF teams include students, contributing to both the Institute’s educational mission and commitment to encouraging intercultural learning.

“It was my intuition when I [applied for a] GSF project that we need to engage students,” says MIT associate professor of metallurgy Antoine Allanore of his 2017 U.K. collaboration. “It is the way to make this a meaningful experience for all.”

On top of building their expertise, students are often able to contribute to the faculty member’s groundbreaking research at a high level. “Two of [our] students were extremely involved and helpful in the fieldwork and study of the site,” says Jarzombek. “We could not have achieved what we have without them.”

Helping unite top academics from around the globe to address the most pressing critical issues, GSF fosters lasting connections between MIT and other leading research institutions. Most GSF projects have often culminated in published research and many have leveraged their early results to obtain additional research funding.

“We are submitting a paper this year on the work on single ventricle disease, and we have also recently started a collaboration with another group in Barcelona,” says Roche. The collaborators also secured additional funding from La Caixa Bank and have submitted an additional application to the National Science Foundation.

“[Our] highly successful seed grant resulted in a publication in the premier conference in bioinformatics and in an awarded BSF [United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation] grant proposal,” says Bonnie Berger, the Simons Professor of Mathematics at MIT and a 2020 Israel fund recipient. “We thank MISTI for funding us with the seed grant, which allowed us to achieve these goals.”

The next call for proposals will be in mid-September. “Now that global travel has nearly fully reopened, we expect even more applications next year,” says MISTI Assistant Director Alicia Raun. “We can’t wait to see what innovative ideas our faculty bring to us next.”

MISTI is MIT’s hub for global experiences, providing immersive international programs that bring MIT’s one-of-a-kind learning model to life in countries around the world. MISTI empowers students and faculty to build cultural connections, make an impact in the world, and gain valuable perspectives that inform their education, career, and worldview.