Q&A with Chike Aguh: ISR’s Newest Advisory Council Member  

November 2, 2023
by ISR Staff
Blog

The International Science Reserve is pleased to announce that Chike Aguh, former Chief Innovation Officer at the U.S. Department of Labor, has joined ISR’s Advisory Council. 

Under the Biden administration, he led efforts to use data, emerging technologies such as AI and quantum computing, and innovative practice to advance and protect American workers. We sat down with him to talk about what he learned from previous crisis response experiences and why it’s not a time for business as usual.   

As an advisor to the ISR, you are applying your expertise in data innovation to ensure that scientists worldwide have the resources to prepare for and respond to the next crisis, such as climate-related disasters or the next pandemic. What role do you believe data and innovation can play in crisis response? 

Data and innovative technology or practice are critical to crisis responses, respectively. During the fast-moving times of a crisis, data that can tell us what is happening and what has happened previously can be scarce. Who has access to data can be a life-or-death situation: people or governments who have it will weather the storm and those who don’t will be swept away by it. Whether it is mapping what symptoms people are searching on Google to determine what type and where pandemics may spring up, to analysis of large research data sets to mitigate these crises, data helps increase the confidence interval of the interventions that leaders must take to keep us all safe.  

Whether practice or technology, innovations are also indispensable during a crisis because the general operating procedures generally do not have the scale or speed required to stay ahead of the crisis. Innovations allow us to operate at “the speed of the fight” as my old boss, US Army General Stan McChrystal used to say.   

At ISR, we help researchers connect to emerging technologies and resources for collaboration across borders to address the worst impacts of crises. What are some lessons from your time in the Biden administration that could apply to researchers in ISR’s network?  

The lessons I learned were elegant and devastating in their simplicity. One, even the most cutting-edge technologies are not a replacement for strategy. Leaders must do the hard intellectual work of identifying the key problems and questions to be solved in a crisis. Only then can these technologies be applied intelligently and effectively.  

Two, sociology will overwhelm technology every time.  In the space of collaborative research, we can only achieve the collective brilliance of all involved if we have the goodwill and effective means of working together.   

And three, the most important power of these technologies is to help us think outside the parameters of normal practice and try things we would never attempt in normal times.  We should not simply use these technologies to do the same old things with incrementally better speed or effectiveness, but rather use them to take quantum leaps in impact. 

You once said that for any problem we are solving, “Those problems cannot be solved by any one person, one organization, or one sector alone.” Do you believe that more people are thinking and operating through a lens of collaboration in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis? What more could we do to implement this new way of working within crisis response?  

I do. Some of the greatest successes of the COVID-19 response, from vaccine development, testing innovation, treatment deployment, to the High-Performance Computing Consortium (HPCC) show what is possible when traditional siloes are sublimated for the sake of helping everyone.   

The key question is: how do we make this new collaborative lens not simply a feature of crisis response, but a key part of operating procedure for all of us?  My biggest recommendation is to keep the institutions that we have created like the HPCC running.  Then, they can be applied not simply when responding to crises but can help prevent crises before they ever start.   

ISR pre-positions resources, like high-performance computing, remote sensing, and geospatial models, so that scientists can connect to them quickly across borders to address the worst impacts of a crisis, without a long wait or extensive application.  Why should businesses make data innovations more available to researchers worldwide during crisis? 

When crisis events like COVID-19 occur, we have seen the impact on the economy and how it hits the bottom line of businesses. It is in a company’s best interest to do anything it can to fight and end these crises as quickly as possible, and that means making data and cutting-edge technology available to the scientists who are working on just that.   

Secondly, I also believe that business and business leaders feel a sense of duty to their communities and their countries.  This is a tradition that we have forgotten but one can go back to businesses like Bell Labs, who helped develop critical technologies like radars that helped during WWII.  We need to remember and keep this tradition alive now.  Business and the world will benefit as a result. 

We Don’t Have Time

September 21, 2023
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Climate Week NYC 2023: “The Road to COP28”

Q&A: Meet ISR’s First Science Community Manager 

August 17, 2023
by ISR Staff
Blog

Earlier this year, the ISR launched a Beta version of a free, digital hub for the 4,000+ scientists in the ISR network. The ISR Community builds on the learnings from our first readiness exercise in 2022, a test case around wildfires, where we asked scientists to submit proposals for how they would manage a cross-border wildfire crisis and consider what tools and resources they would need.   

In the wildfire test readiness exercise and throughout our ongoing conversations, ISR members were clear about the need for interdisciplinary, cross-geographic collaboration, and for easier and faster ways to engage in preparedness. We heard you. That’s why we built the ISR Community and have been working closely with Beta testers to ensure it is effective across disciplines and regions. A full, network-wide launch is expected in Fall 2023.  

Recently, we sat down with Jadson Jall, the ISR’s first Science Community Manager to learn more about the digital hub’s progress. Jall is a geneticist from Brazil and has a passion for bringing scientists together to unlock the power of scientific collaboration as a key to solving humanity’s greatest challenges.  

Why do you think the global science community needs a network like the ISR now? 

The global science community needs a network like the ISR because we live in a world with many compounding crises, such as pandemics and climate-related disasters. These crises are huge, affecting people and the environment in different countries and regions, and they are complex. That means they need lots of different kinds of responses and resources. So, one country’s scientific capabilities, or a single national science policy, can’t begin to resolve crises at that scale. An open, global network of scientists, such as the ISR, means individuals and institutions can pool resources and solve problems together, leading to faster and more effective responses to crises. Furthermore, the network’s principles, such as bringing together Scientists Without Borders and ensuring fair resource access, promoting collaboration, and including different voices, make it a much-needed platform for the current global scientific community. 

What would you like the ISR’s digital hub to look like a year from now, and how would scientists be using it?  

In my dream world, a year from now, the International Science Reserve (ISR) hub would be a globally recognized and effectively functioning platform facilitating seamless personal connections and collaboration among scientists worldwide. It would have grown beyond its current network, and its resources would be even more diverse and plentiful. Scientists would use the hub to conduct and participate in readiness exercises and explore crisis scenarios, helping them prepare for various kinds and aspects of disasters and emergencies. The hub would also be a place where scientists would know where to go and how to apply to connect to different scientific and technical resources in different situations. Ideally, the hub would have a track record of successful crisis response efforts. That will demonstrate its effectiveness and reinforce its value, most importantly, by having a positive impact. 

Can you share more about how you see early adopters using the online community, and their feedback? What do they want to see more of?  

Active community pioneers – our earliest testers – engaged in discussions on diverse topics, from climate change crisis simulations to challenges in research collaboration. Our testers from varied locations and research backgrounds provided invaluable feedback, helping us to consistently refine our virtual environment to better foster scientific engagement and collaboration. For example, they helped us figure out which formats could work for the ISR’s Readiness Exercises and helped us try out various types of activities and collaborations. During the current Beta phase of the ISR Community, we continue to learn from our early adopters. It is clear that our community is eager to collaborate across borders, and I am doing my best as Community Manager to facilitate these connections and collaborations. 

Why did the ISR choose to use “serious games” as an approach to crisis readiness? And how will the readiness exercises work in the ISR Community? 

The ISR chose to use serious games as part of crisis readiness because it’s a fun way to learn about and improve the decision-making process, so that participants can feel they are undertaking the process themselves. Role-playing puts the participant in the position of learning about the crisis in real time and actively experiencing the dilemmas and decisions of how to respond, rather than learning about it afterward. These scenario-based simulation exercises allow researchers and decision-makers to practice analyzing available, often limited, information and making the best decisions, as quickly as possible.  

Serious games will help members of the ISR Community explore decision making around issue areas such as water resource management, climate change adaptation, weather disasters, public health crises, and urban planning. These games serve as a hands-on and immersive way to understand the complexities and nuances of various crises and try different strategies for dealing with them. 

The ISR’s serious games will be conducted online, in a collaborative, interactive format. These exercises will simulate various real-world crisis scenarios, and participants will devise and implement strategies to manage these crises. The activities are being designed to help participants better understand how resources will be deployed and managed in future crises and explore related decisions, helping to prepare us for scientific work in times of global crisis. 

What kinds of resources are available to researchers in the ISR Community? 

 The ISR Community offers a rich suite of resources to its community of researchers and other stakeholders. They can be organized around two main areas. The first of these consists of specialized scientific resources such as high-performance computing, remote sensing, geospatial-temporal mapping, and databases. The ISR partners with organizations like IBM, UL Solutions, Google, Pfizer, and the National Science Foundation, offering various technical tools, data, and other resources. During a declared crisis, researchers will be able to log on to the ISR Community to gain access to resources like IBM’s Geospatial Discovery Network

The other key resource of the ISR Community is our global network of over 4,000 scientists who have come together around a common goal. The ISR Community provides a space for this growing network to prepare, learn, collaborate, and be ready for crises. We will be offering different types of preparedness activities to help facilitate some of the community’s collaborations, and we are also planning special features for the fall based on the interests of the community. 

One last question: why should your fellow scientists join you on the ISR Community 

I recommend that my fellow scientists join me in the ISR Community for a multitude of reasons, including: 

  • Joining is completely free, and you will receive global exposure and appreciation for your contributions to crisis resolution. Being part of the ISR is a unique opportunity to apply your research in a real-world context, contributing to tangible crisis solutions. 
  • As a member of the ISR Community, you will be part of a borderless network of experts, allowing for valuable collaborations and exchanges of ideas. It’s also an excellent space for professional development, offering opportunities for knowledge sharing, networking, and building community connections. 
  •  Being part of the ISR Community ensures that you stay in the loop, with critical crisis communication updates.  

So, the ISR Community is not only an opportunity to contribute to global crisis resolution but also a chance to grow professionally and expand our scientific horizons. 

Using Data to Protect Food Systems from Climate Impacts

June 8, 2023
by ISR Staff
Blog

The world has enough food to feed everyone, yet the World Food Programme estimates that 345 million people around the world remain acutely food insecure in 2023.  

Potentially further escalating this inequity, climate shocks are increasing the risks to agricultural yields. Heavy rainfall, droughts, and heatwaves can cause crop failures; climate and environmental pressures can decimate insect populations and microorganisms vital to plants and soil or let new crop pests or diseases emerge. Combined with a globalized distribution system and geopolitics, food system disasters are a compound problem.  

To plan for or reduce the impact of these catastrophes, a variety of datasets, modeling, and analytical tools will be key, including observational data, remote sensing, geospatial mapping, and satellite imagery.  

The International Science Reserve convened an expert panel from nonprofit and corporate perspectives across disciplinary and geographic boundaries to talk about the role of data in preparing for and responding to potential food system crises, as part of the International Science Reserve’s webinar series, Science Unusual: R&D for Global Crisis Response. Participants were: 

  • Michael Hinge, Senior Economist, ALLFED (Alliance to Feed the Earth in Disasters) 
  • Levente Klein, Research Staff Member, IBM 
  • Kyriacos M. Koupparis, Head, Hunger Monitoring Unit, United Nations World Food Programme 
  • Kay Sun, Senior Scientist, Mondelez International 
  • Vaishnavi Chandrashekhar, Climate and Environmental Journalist, panel moderator 

Here are the top takeaways from the discussion: 

Participants agreed about the urgent priority to get accurate data about what’s happening with food systems, weather, and climate patterns: 

The information needs to include a wide range of data inputs to make sure it includes the “ground-truthing” from sources where people are seeing the most immediate impacts.  

And in turn that the information, modeling and predictions should be made available to the communities who are most affected.

The panelists talked about climate impacts on specific food crop examples and ways that data-based planning can help deal with those impacts with alternative food sources or adapting agricultural cultivation methods.   

Visit our events page to watch the full webinar.  

Partnering with IBM to Put Advanced Data and AI Tools in the Hands of Crisis Researchers

January 9, 2023
by Mila Rosenthal
Blog

As part of our ongoing mission, the International Science Reserve (ISR) works to facilitate access during a crisis to specialized scientific and technical resources from public and private institutions. Over the last year, the ISR has interviewed dozens of members of our network – from Trinidad to Argentina – to hear directly from them about what they need to more effectively do their jobs.  

Access to real-time, complex, and global data sets and modeling was often top of their lists. For example, if a Turkish wildfire researcher in hydrology is collaborating with a soil agronomist across the border in Greece in responding to regional wildfire disasters, the team needs stronger data resources. More complex data will help them to understand wildfire spread related to water and land use patterns and it can contribute to advance plans to limit future damage across borders. 

IBM’s Geospatial Discovery Network

This is where the ISR can help fill in the gaps. Scientists face multiple barriers to conducting applied research in times of crisis – especially in contexts and countries where funding is inconsistent and advanced data resources are limited. IBM and the International Science Reserve are partnering to increase access to specialized, curated data and analytics during global crises. This first-of-its-kind partnership will help the international scientific community in responding quickly and effectively to crises, such as climate-related disasters. 

IBM will offer its Geospatial Discovery Network (GDN) – a set of data and information discovery and modeling technologies designed to anticipate environmental disruption and manage risk – to support the ISR’s scientific network in addressing the worst impacts of disasters, such as damage to people, communities, and livelihoods from heatwaves, wildfires and flooding. GDN’s data resources originate from IBM’s Environmental Intelligence Suite, and include hundreds of geodata sets from sources like satellite imagery, to which IBM applies analytics and AI for modeling. 

We know that access to this type of data works. For nearly a decade, IBM has been helping businesses improve sustainability and manage the negative impacts of the changing climate, including: 

IBM and the ISR plan to offer access to the IBM Geospatial Discovery Network to ISR’s network of researchers, at no cost, through a customized, fast-tracked process. When the ISR declares a crisis, scientists in the network will be able to apply to use the tools for projects that involve transnational research collaboration.  In the coming months, we will offer scientists in our network the chance to explore crisis scenarios and simulations in which they could use IBM’s GDN tools and to practice submitting proposals through the new application process     

We at the ISR are grateful to IBM for stepping up to reduce the red tape and break down borders to increase access to high-quality data and modeling tools for more researchers. 

When Waters Rise: Cross-Border Science for Global Flood Response

December 12, 2022
by ISR Staff
Blog

Around the world, flooding is wreaking havoc on people’s daily lives with increasing magnitude and frequency. Communities in Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Cameroon are experiencing some of the worst floods in a decade, as they sweep across western and central African borders.  

In Pakistan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Australia, and the United States—such as in Florida and Kentucky—communities have faced multiple dangerous and deadly floods in 2022. These unprecedented flood events have killed thousands of people, displaced millions, decimated farms and businesses, and destroyed homes and habitats. 

The World Bank reports that about one and a half billion people are at risk from flooding, one-third of whom are living in poverty, making them more vulnerable to migration pressures and economic insecurity. While flooding can be a natural phenomenon that can help provide fertile soil and sustain wetlands, today’s floods are becoming more frequent, dangerous, and deadly, as a result of human-caused climate disruption and development in urban, coastal areas.  

When flood water crosses national borders, “transboundary floods” can be even more catastrophic without international cooperation around emergency management, such as early warning systems. In a recent Science Unusual webinar, hosted by the International Science Reserve, a group of panelists explored the role scientific and technical experts can play in large-scale, international flood prediction, prevention, preparation and response. 

Speaking on the panel were:  

  • Nora El-Gohary, Professor of Construction Engineering and Management, The Grainger College of Engineering, University of Illinois 
  • Njoki Mwarumba, Assistant Professor of Emergency Management and Disaster, University of Nebraska Omaha 
  • Anthony Torres, Chief Meteorologist and Head of Global Science Operations, Currently weather service  
  • Campbell Watson, Senior Research Scientist – IBM Research, Global Lead, Accelerated Discovery—Climate & Sustainability 
  • Ugochi Anyaka-Oluigbo, Environment and Conservation Journalist, Nigeria (Moderator) 

Here are three big takeaways from the discussion: 

1. Breaking down borders between social scientists and other types of scientists who study floods will lead to better outcomes for people and communities.  

Njoki Mwarumba kicks off the discussion on why we need to break down siloes.
Nora El-Gohary on how scientists can help reduce the impacts of floods on infrastructure.

2. Using atmospheric data to predict flooding impacts is just the beginning. Protecting the most vulnerable requires a stronger analysis on how the atmosphere interacts with oceanic and local land systems, and human habitats.   

Anthony Torres on where meteorology interacts with other disciplines and AI to predict floods.

3. Scientists should work to understand indigenous knowledge in order to better collaborate on early warning systems that save lives. 

Njoki Mwarumba discusses the impact of leaving entire regions out of advances in technology, like early warning systems.
Anthony Torres on building two-way streets of communication between communities and scientists.

4. Artificial intelligence is enhancing our ability to predict and prepare for floods. But we must simplify access to increasingly complex data processes and improve their usage across borders. 

Campbell Watson shares his thoughts on AI and its impact on flood modeling.
Campbell Watson discusses how IBM is researching and responding to global floods.

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Do you want to watch the whole webinar? Here are three steps to rewatch the panel through the ISR Science Unusual series on-demand:    

  • Register for the webinar using this link   
  • Then, click “Join Event”   
  • After logging in, select the “Schedule” menu, or the grid menu (small squares) on mobile, located at the top of your screen, then click “On Demand” 

In Step with the UN on Science for Sustainable Development

November 15, 2022
by ISR Staff
Blog

For a United Nations discussion of the role of science in solving the world’s most urgent problems, the International Science Reserve (ISR) convened a panel of experts from the ISR network, across academic, private and public sectors. The recording is now available on-demand (viewing instructions below).

The panel was moderated by Mila Rosenthal, Executive Director of the International Science Reserve, and included:  

  • Nicholas Dirks, President & CEO, New York Academy of Sciences, ISR Executive Board Co-chair 
  • Erwin Gianchandani, Assistant Director for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships National Science Foundation, Federal Liaison to the ISR 
  • Tracy Marshall, University of the West Indies St. Augustine Campus. Trinidad and Tobago, ISR Science Community Member 
  • Philip Nelson, Director, AI for Social Good, Google AI, ISR Executive Board Member 

The webinar was part of the United Nations General Assembly’s Science Summit, where we discussed how the ISR can help in fast-moving climate and health-related crises to protect progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals – the Global Goals – and limit the damage to communities and habitats.

Mila Rosenthal (ISR) introduces the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their relationship to crises.

When a crisis hits, the International Science Reserve will help scientists in our network get additional access to specialized human and technical resources, like remote sensing, geospatial mapping and high-performance computing, so that they can apply their research for crisis response.

Here are two big takeaways from the discussion:

1. Human networks are key, and they need to include everyone to make sure that science and technology is aimed at helping the most vulnerable people and most fragile environments.

Erwin Gianchandani (NSF) on how the ISR democratizes access to resources.
Philip Nelson (Google AI) on the power of coming together.
Tracy Marshall (University of the West Indies – St. Augustine Campus) on how the ISR will support her work as a scientist.

2. You can’t just throw money at a crisis and expect rapid response solutions.  You have to learn from previous experiences and prepare in advance. 

For example, the ISR is keeping the life-saving public-private connections made during COVID-19 alive in order to prepare for the next crisis. 

Erwin Gianchandani (NSF) on why networks are just as important as money in times of crisis research.
Nicholas Dirks (NYAS) on collaboration between the public and private sector during crisis.
Tracy Marshall (University of the West Indies – St. Augustine) on valuing local contexts in disaster management research.
Philip Nelson (Google AI) on solving crisis-related problems in an open environment.

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Do you want to watch the whole webinar? Here are three steps to rewatch the panel through the ISR Science Unusual series on-demand:   

  • Register for the webinar using this link  
  • Then, click “Join Event”  
  • After logging in, select the “Schedule” menu, or the grid menu (small squares) on mobile, located at the top of your screen, then click “On Demand” 

Scientists Hunt for Clues to Post-Wildfire Recovery in Argentina  

September 23, 2022
by ISR Staff
Blog

In August, wildfires ripped through the Córdoba Province in central Argentina, leaving economic damage and a scorched forests and pasture land in its wake. Argentina is no stranger to wildfires, but climate change is making the fires more frequent, widespread and complex – and the impacts of drought and fires are stretching across borders.  

After thousands of acres in northern Argentina burned in February of 2022, ash clouds flew into Argentina’s neighbor, Paraguay, harming local residents’ health with smog-filled air. The country made international headlines just two years prior when another set of fires in Córdoba burned 60,000 hectares of flora, fauna, grassland, forests, and homes.  

Healthy farmland and soil are critical to the region, given that it relies heavily on its agricultural industry, like cattle farming. Crisis after crisis has forced the region’s leading scientists to rethink how fire-driven changes to soil properties implicates vegetation, plant regeneration and ecosystem services. And it has pushed them to work together across borders and scientific disciplines.  

“In late September 2020, it was easy to see from the Córdoba City the thick black plumes of smoke rising from the ranges, while hellish images were shown on TV and social media,” said Dr. Maria Gabriela Garcia, International Science Reserve community member and a geologist based in Córdoba. “This situation led me to wonder to what extent the fires have altered the chemical and physical properties of the soils, and ultimately, impacted their fertility and runoff control capacity.” 
 
After the 2020 fires, Argentina’s National Council of Science and Technology (CONICET) called researchers together from different disciplines to propose actions and lines of research that deal with different aspects of this crisis. Today, geologists, mineralogists, chemists, microbiologists and ecologists, are all working all together to rapidly characterize the dynamics of post-fire recovery.  

One unique collective of Argentinian scientists are on the hunt for stronger data about the soil in the aftermath of extreme wildfires. Through the NCST, Dr. Estela Cecilia Mlewski, a microbiologist, met Dr. Garcia, a professor at the National University of Córdoba. 

The team also brought on Edith Filippini, a lichenologist focused on ecological studies and biomonitoring of environments affected by fire; Romina Cecilia Torres – a specialist in postfire regeneration by resprouting and seedlings; and Daihana Argibay – a specialist in satellite image analysis. 

The group’s collected data will be fundamental to understanding the geochemical and microbiological disturbances that occur in soils of a semi-arid mountainous area of southern South America affected by forest fires, and help researchers design effective strategies for remediation of the affected ecosystems across the region. If their research can find the presence of microorganisms, for example, there is an opportunity for regrowth and regeneration of local flora – which could lessen the fires’ impact on farming or other ecological or economic activities. 

The group recently worked together on the International Science Reserve’s readiness exercise on wildfires. The ISR conducts readiness exercises – or scenarios – to bring scientists from across borders and disciplines together to prepare for crisis. The Argentinian scientists believe that the International Science Reserve can be useful for giving researchers the tools for fire prevention and support through much needed resources to predict fire behavior, and help in control and monitoring tasks against a crisis.  

“The ISR is an excellent opportunity to know researchers around the world working on similar aspects to us. It gives us the potential to generate collaborations between foreign groups and enrich our knowledge. The ISR’s readiness exercises can improve existing tools and more importantly, expand our ideas,” Dr. Mlewski recently told the ISR team in an interview. 

If you are interested in joining the International Science Reserve network and collaborating with scientists like the Argentinian group, please visit our sign-up page to learn more about becoming a member of the ISR community. 

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Researchers are invited to join our science community — a borderless global network of leading scientists from around the world. Join the community today to stay updated and learn how you can participate.

The International Science Reserve is a network of open scientific communities, bringing together specialized resources from across the globe to prepare for and help mitigate complex and urgent global crises. We focus solely on preparing and mobilizing scientists to augment existing response organizations.