The defining moment that year happened at the World Science Forum, aka the “Davos of Science.” When I casually mentioned to a new acquaintance that I had conducted my scientific training between Spain, Brazil, Australia, and the United States, she exclaimed: “You’re a science diplomat!”.
Until that moment, I had seen science and diplomacy as opposites: While science pursues the interests of all humankind, diplomacy seeks to advance national interests.
Since these characteristics are very valuable in the conduct of international relations, science diplomacy appeared as the perfect tool to make all my long-held idealistic views of science actionable and operational.
In 1961 John F. Kennedy established a science and technology cooperation agreement with Japan in an effort to restore the intellectual dialogue between the two countries after World War II. In 1979, President Carter and Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping signed a science and technology agreement between the United States and China following the establishment of formal diplomatic relations.
After my trip to the World Science Forum, I moved to Washington, D.C., for a research fellowship at the American Association for the Advancement of Science Center for Science Diplomacy, and I was fascinated to discover a vibrant ecosystem of government agencies, universities, think tanks, and nongovernmental organizations working to bring the scientific and foreign policy communities closer together.
We must prepare the next generation to tackle these challenges, and although there are limited formal opportunities for “Career” science diplomats-working as a science adviser to the foreign ministry or as science attaché at an embassy are some examples-there is a unique opportunity for universities, NGOs, the private sector, multilateral organizations, and civil society at large to harness the potential of science to bridge citizens, institutions, and countries all around the world.
The AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships place dozens of scientists and engineers each year in the federal government to infuse scientific and technical expertise into foreign policy, and Arizona State University’s Science Diplomacy & Leadership effort, which I designed, provides a policy and diplomacy immersion experience for early-career scientists and engineers from all countries in the Americas in Washington, D,C. Similar programs include the AAAS and World Academy of Sciences summer course in science diplomacy held in Trieste, Italy, the Hurford Science Diplomacy Initiative at Rockefeller University, and the science diplomacy course at New York University.