With more funding, Israeli-US science research grows closer

Israeli scientists who partner with mostly Americans peers will soon be eligible for hundreds of millions of shekels more in funding of binational research projects.

In the next five years, the budget for Israeli research collaborations is expected to jump by at least 60%, according to a statement from the Planning and Budgeting Committee of Israel’s Council for Higher Education.

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Much of the funding will go to projects affiliated with both the US-Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF) and the US National Science Foundation (NSF). Other funds will be available for Israeli scientists to do joint research with European and East Asian peers.

Specific areas of research include engineering, computer science, natural and life sciences, earth sciences and social sciences, such as economics and psychology. Dozens of new joint research programs in those two fields will be inaugurated – a stark contrast to the current rate of one or two new research projects annually.

Israel already enjoys close government -sponsored research collaboration with the European Union, as seen by the country’s entry in the prestigious and lucrative Horizon 2020 program.

Now, Israeli scientists are growing ever closer to their American peers, despite the geographic distance.

“The expansion of the BSF-NSF program is an achievement for the higher education system in Israel,” said Prof. Yaffa Zilbershats.

“The United States is the world’s research superpower, and the American willingness, through the NSF, to significantly expand the scope of support and cooperation with Israeli researchers and institutions demonstrates the strength and quality of research in Israel,” Zilbershats said.

The Council for Higher Education has budgeted NIS 24.5 million annually for the projects in 2017 – and that number will jump up to NIS 38.3m. by 2022. On the American side, the NSF is expected to allocate much larger sums to support American scientists participating in the binational program.

The joint BSF-NSF program began, in 2013, to encourage research collaborations between Israeli and American researchers. In the framework of the program, researchers from both countries submit a proposal to the NSF, which examines the research proposal and confirms that researchers from both countries are cooperating.

In the first few years, the program budget was “relatively limited,” according to a statement from the council.

For Israeli researchers, the BSF-NSF program gives them the chance to break out onto the international scene, significantly expanding their research possibilities with American scientists.

The program also contributes to raising Israel’s profile in hard science academia, strengthening local universities in a day and age of incipient Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions threats.

Separately, the Council for Higher Education is increasing the number of scholarships for Israeli post-doctoral students in Israel – with an emphasis on recruiting current postdoctoral fellows from leading American and Canadian universities. This program is in conjunction with the Zuckerman Institute, and it focuses on fellows in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).