Bold Ambition: International Large-Scale Science


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Challenges for International Scientific Partnerships

Large-scale international scientific collaborations enable scientific discovery, drive technological innovations, and contribute to economic development. Successful collaborations leverage international talent and lead to discoveries that are simply not possible at smaller scales.3 As current work progresses on these so-called megascience projects and new initiatives emerge, these large and complex undertakings continue to demonstrate their value to our understanding of the world around us and our ability to expand our technical capabilities.

International large-scale science takes shape in varied ways, depending on scientific objectives. They may involve investigations hosted at, or dependent on, a large-scale research facility, investigations coordinated across multiple national research facilities, or investigations dependent on extensive networks of scientists pooling data to conduct a coordinated research effort. They may also involve the development and support of centralized services, such as computational facilities, data banks, and bio banks (see Structures of International Large-Scale Science Partnerships). Large-scale science efforts may require very large investments to develop the necessary research facilities and instrumentation or smaller investments to ensure connectivity among research networks. Large-scale science endeavors frequently require substantial multidisciplinary collaborations in both their development and their effective functioning.

At the same time, large-scale international projects can encounter significant developmental or operational setbacks if the partnership agreements for a project do not establish an environment conducive to scientific success and a clear understanding among the partners of the project’s goals and the partners’ responsibilities.4 The modern context for large-scale international collaboration includes several challenges that require ongoing communication with partners, diligence, and careful planning to overcome. These issues include the increased complexity of scientific problems, the challenges related to the planning and management of large international teams, financial challenges from both the start-up costs and ongoing operating costs, and visa obstacles for international scientists. There are also the cultural, national, political, and geopolitical issues that can arise in complex international partnerships (see Principles for International Large-Scale Science).5 However, there is a decades-long series of megascience efforts that have seen great success. These projects can instruct and inform future collaborations and serve as templates as additional international scientific partnerships are developed.