The France Science Summit, a celebration of French research excellence in the United States

The CNRS Office in Washington D.C. and the Office for Science and Technology at the Embassy of France in the United States organized the first-ever “France Science Summit” on Monday November 6, 2023 at the Maison Française in Washington D.C. The day was dedicated to promoting French research in the United States, as well as highlighting bilateral scientific cooperation projects. The symposium highlighted the contributions of French researchers in three thematic areas: environment, health and emerging technologies. Scientists at different stages of their careers were invited to present their research and talk about the benefits of Franco-American bilateral cooperation for the advancement of science.

Eleven French and ten American researchers presented their research work. Some of this work is financially supported by major French research organizations such as CNRS, INRAE and INSERM, as well as by the Office for Science and Technology’s mobility programs (e.g. the Châteaubriand program, of which CNRS is now a partner). Researchers involved in the CNRS’s collaborative tools (International Research Center, International Research Laboratory, International Research Project, International Research Network) have testified to the usefulness of these funds in encouraging joint research projects of excellence and transatlantic mobility, in order to promote the advancement of science on a global scale.

The diversity of the audience underlined the importance of international scientific collaboration. The symposium was attended by researchers from a variety of disciplines, academics, students, diplomatic representatives (e.g. European Union Delegation to the United States) and officials from U.S. federal agencies (e.g. Department of State, National Institutes of Health, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Science Foundation, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine).

France Science Summit 2023 participants
© Nassereen Mirza/Embassy of France in the United States

An event dedicated to French excellence in the three priority scientific themes of France and the United States

After introductory speeches by Aurélie Bonal, Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of France in the United States, and Mireille Guyader, Counselor for Science and Technology, the symposium was divided into three themed sessions. The sequences were aligned with the priorities defined at the December 2021 Joint Committee meeting between France and the United States: health, the environment and emerging technologies. Each of these sequences gave the floor first to a French “grand témoin”, so that he could enlighten the audience on his subject of expertise, then to a panel composed of French and American scientists. The latter, at different stages of their careers, were invited to present their research, talk about the benefits of Franco-American bilateral cooperation and the associated funding or tools. At the end of the day, a panel discussion and testimonials were dedicated to the main existing Franco-American cooperation tools.

Health Segment

The first health sequence was dedicated to new applications in biological and medical research to treat health problems. It began with an enlightening scientific talk by Dr. Yasmine Belkaid (Director of the Microbiome Program at NIAID, National Institutes of Health), on the subject of microbiota control of host physiology. A prestigious panel including Dr Naomi Taylor (Senior Investigator at the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health and coordinator of a CNRS International Research Project), Dr Jean-Laurent Casanova (MD, PhD, Levy Family Professor at The Rockefeller University, Senior Attending Physician at The Rockefeller University Hospital and Head of St. Giles Laboratory of Human Genetics of Infectious Diseases, NYC, Investigator at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, DC, Professor at Université Paris Cité and Hôpital Necker Enfants Malades, Paris, and co-leader of an Inserm International Research Project), Dr. Emmanuelle Passegué (Alumni Professor of Genetics and Development and Director of the Columbia Stem Cell Initiative at Columbia University) and Kelly O’Shea (Chateaubriand Laureate at the University of Illinois, Chicago) gave these speakers the opportunity to discuss their respective research and collaborations.

Environment Segment
Environment panel (left to right): Sky Dominguez, Adam Chmurzynski, Dr Gabrielle Dreyfus, Sylvain Barone. © Loïc Ruffaut/LR Visuals

In the second sequence, the focus was on environmental research in the face of short- and long-term global challenges. Stéphane Hallegate (Senior Climate Change Advisor at the World Bank) gave an environmental economics presentation on how to measure the vulnerability of different populations to climate change. He pointed out that, in the context of climate change, escaping from poverty after periods of crisis was hampered by the fact that the time interval between these crises was shortening, or even that the state of crisis was becoming the normal state, and that it was necessary to work on new approaches to the “resilience” of societies. The following panel was composed of Sky Dominguez (Assistant Director of Engagement and Development at the CNRS International Research Center for Global Grand Challenges, University of Arizona), from Sylvain Barone (political science researcher at INRAE’s G-EAU laboratory in Montpellier, and visiting researcher at the University of Arizona), Dr Gabrielle Dreyfus (Chief Scientist at Georgetown University’s Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development) and ofAdam Chmurzynski (Châteaubriand laureate and doctoral candidate in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona).

Discussions highlighted the importance of exchanges between laboratories to compare data, strengthen analyses and complement each other on subjects such as glacier melt and water management, in order to better guide political decision-makers. The difficulty of articulating the long timeframe of environmental science data series and the short 3 or 5 year cycles of research project funding was also highlighted.

Emerging Technologies Segment

The final thematic sequence looked at emerging technologies at the dawn of tomorrow’s challenges. Dr. Oussama Khatib (Professor and Director of Stanford Robotics Lab and Department of Computer Science, Stanford University, and leader of a CNRS International Research Project) gave a captivating presentation on precision underwater robotics. He highlighted the technical complexity of today’s technological challenges, such as translating human skills into strategies that the robot has to learn, but which motivates technological research. With such constraints, you need to be visionary and capable of designing projects in collaboration with experts in all fields and on all continents, hence the importance of international collaborations. The panel that followed, made up of Dr Rémi Soummer (Director of the Optics Laboratory at the Space Telescope Science Institute and head of a CNRS International Research Project), Dr Manijeh Razeghi (Walter P. Murphy professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and director and founder of Center for Quantum Device at Northwestern University), Dr Anne-Elisabeth Courrier (Associate Professor of Law at the Université de Nantes and Visiting Scholar at Emory University’s Center for Ethics) and of Raza Sheikh (Chateaubriand laureate and research student at the University of Pittsburgh), emphasized the importance of researcher and student mobility for the advancement of science.

The round table also underlined the importance of a systemic and inclusive vision of research, and the need for multidisciplinary and multi-geographical research, as mentioned by Dr Khatib. France was once again cited for its talents in “hard” science, particularly mathematics and physics. The importance of researcher and student mobility for the advancement of science was also emphasized.

Panel on collaboration tools
Presentation by Dr José-Alain Sahel. © Erell Gloaguen/CNRS

Following these three science-focused sequences, the day’s final sequence highlighted the tools of transatlantic collaboration and mobility. Two testimonials were first given by Dr George F. Koob (Senior investigator and director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism at the National Institutes of Health), Dr José-Alain Sahel (Professor Emeritus and Endowed Chair of Ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Director of the Vision Institute at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Professor Emeritus of Ophthalmology at Sorbonne University). A panel discussion was then conducted by Dr Régis Ferrière (professor at the University of Arizona, deputy director of theCNRS International Research Center for Global Grand Challengesand director of a CNRS-UArizona International Research Laboratory) in the presence of Dr Lisa Bernstein (specialist in academic exchanges at the Department of State and responsible for Fulbright exchange programs with France, Germany, Italy, Malta and Switzerland), Dr Jean-Laurent Casanova, Laetitia Zecchini (CNRS researcher and director of a CNRS-UChicago International Research Laboratory) and Dr Albert Ruhi Vidal (Assistant Professor of Freshwater Ecology and Conservation at the University of California, Berkeley, and co-coordinator of the INRAE International Associated Laboratory MacLife).

Each brought a unique perspective on Franco-American partnerships. Discussions highlighted the contribution of exchange programs in facilitating the implementation of projects on both sides of the Atlantic. Initiatives such as Fulbright – where France is the second-largest provider of Fulbrighters in Europe – the France-Berkeley Fund, IRN, IRP, IRL and IRC supported by the CNRS were all cited. Finally, emphasis was placed on the role of Franco-American collaborations as a lever for young researchers and postdocs, encouraging them to conduct their own research and take up permanent positions at universities.

The symposium ended with the presentation of prizes for a photo competition organized by the Office for Science and Technology, rewarding the two best images illustrating Franco-American collaboration. Closing speeches by Dr. Kendra Sharp, Dr. Jason Donovan and Aurélien Lechevallier rounded off a day rich in exchanges. Dr Kendra Sharp, Head of the Office of International Science and Engineering at the National Science Foundation, spoke about the recent agreements signed between the Agence Nationale de la Recherche and the National Science Foundation. Dr Jason Donovan, Head of the Office for Science and Technology Cooperation at the Department of State, is a key contact for the Office for Science and Technology, helping to prepare the Joint Committees that set joint scientific priorities between France and the United States. Closing remarks by Aurélien Lechevallier (Director General for Globalization, Culture, Education and International Development at the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs), reiterated the importance and lasting impact of science diplomacy in advancing science on a global scale.

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