In today’s interconnected world, fostering global collaboration is essential in addressing complex challenges and advancing scientific progress. The Global Seed Funds (GSF) program at the MIT Center for International Studies continues to be a vital catalyst, enabling MIT faculty to engage in cross-border collaborations, fueling groundbreaking research projects, and resulting in innovative solutions.
Since its inception in 2008, the GSF program has made transformative global research partnerships possible by enabling access to resources and perspectives that reach beyond the Cambridge, Massachusetts campus. The GSF is comprised of a general fund that can be applied to any country, as well as a number of country, region, and university-specific funds.
"The collaboration has been a huge success," explains assistant professor of materials science and engineering Rafael Gomez-Bombarelli, who was a 2017 MIT-Spain INDITEX Sustainability Seed Fund awardee. "We have published a half dozen papers, including a Science article in 2021, and received a couple of patents. Furthermore, we have received funding from Deshpande [Center for Technological Innovation] to explore company creation in this space.”
During the 2022-23 GSF funding cycle, 168 proposals were submitted, reflecting the widespread enthusiasm and commitment of faculty and research scientists across the Institute. Ultimately, 91 projects were selected, awarding over $2.1 million in funding. This year's awards further solidify GSF's track record of support, as the program has funded 1,204 projects amounting to $24.7 million over its 15-year lifespan.
The GSF program plays a pivotal role in establishing rewarding connections between MIT and other leading research institutions worldwide. These partnerships often transcend the initial project and lead to ongoing collaborations, tackling critical challenges that necessitate international solutions. The research outcomes of seed fund projects frequently culminate in published papers. At the same time, early results leverage additional funding opportunities and attract industry partners, further accelerating the impact of the research. The GSF program serves as a steppingstone for long-term collaborations and opens doors for future joint projects, strengthening the global innovation and knowledge exchange network.
Research recently published in Nature was partly funded through a general pool awarded to Canan Dagdeverin, an associate professor at the MIT Media Lab. Her team tested a conformable sensory interface that can be attached to the inside of any user-supplied face mask. Integrating wearable electronics into masks for monitoring personal and public health is a crucial area of research, especially concerning infectious diseases and environmental conditions. “The GSF program recognizes the significance of research like this and its potential to address real-world challenges and advance knowledge and technology,” remarks Jin-Hoon Kim, a postdoc at the MIT Media Lab, and a member of Dagdeverin’s team.
The program also provides students with significant educational opportunities. With the majority of GSF teams including students, the program contributes to MIT's educational mission and promotes intercultural learning. Students actively engage in cutting-edge research, gaining valuable skills and contributing to groundbreaking discoveries. Their involvement extends beyond laboratory experiences and enhances their understanding of global challenges, ultimately shaping their future careers.
For example, the MIT students who collaborated with 2020 MIT-Israel Zuckerman STEM Seed Fund awardee Leo Anthony Celi “took part in a datathon and actively worked with their teams for two days. The teams were very diverse both in terms of skill sets as well as cultural backgrounds,” says Celi, who is a senior research scientist at the MIT Institute for Medical Engineering and Science. “The students thus not only learned about developing algorithms using real-world health data, but more importantly, gained perspectives about health and disease through multiple lenses.”
After 15 successful years, the GSF program continues to evolve and adapt to the changing needs of the global research landscape. By fostering interdisciplinary collaborations, promoting diversity, and addressing pressing societal challenges, the program plays a key role in MIT's commitment to global engagement. Through these seed funds, faculty members and students are empowered to push the boundaries of scientific discovery, nurture global connections, and shape a more interconnected and collaborative world.
The next call for proposals will launch on Sept. 12. “We are looking forward to another robust application cycle,” says Justin Leahey, assistant director of GSF. The 2023-24 call will include new funds in additional countries, including but not limited to Armenia, Brazil, India, and Norway.
The Center for International Studies produces research that creatively addresses global issues while helping to educate the next generation of global citizens. It is home to many programs, including the Security Studies Program and the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI), MIT’s flagship international experiential learning program. The CIS Global Seed Funds program was created to help MIT faculty foster new connections by supporting early-stage collaborations with researchers at peer institutions around the world. Since 2008, the CIS GSF program has awarded nearly $22 million to more than 1,000 faculty research projects.