Why Study the Life Sciences?

by Sujata K. Bhatia

Today is a special day, not only because you are graduating, but also because you are entering the community of life scientists. Why pursue the life sciences? The pursuit of any scientific endeavor is noble, but the life sciences are particularly special. There are obvious practical reasons that the life sciences are valuable. The study of the life sciences lends important insights into disease processes, and allows the development of novel therapeutics and innovative medical devices, thereby directly improving human health. The life sciences also enable an understanding of the environment and the other living species with whom we share the earth; this knowledge guides conservation efforts and literally helps us to save our shared planet. Continue reading

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The Benefits of Africa’s New Free Trade Area

by Calestous Juma and Francis Mangeni

calestous pic The creation in June 2015 of a free trade area from Cape Town to Cairo is possibly the most significant event in Africa since the formation of the Organization of African Unity in 1963. It is a grand move to merge existing regional organization into a single African Economic Community.

The Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) includes the 26 countries that are members of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), East African Community (EAC), and Southern African Community (SADC). The TFTA covers a population of 632 million and a combined GDP of $1.3 trillion. The area spans 17.3 million square kilometers, which is nearly twice the size of China or the United States.

Critics argue a single trading bloc will not work where individual sub-regional ones have failed. To the contrary, the consolidation of the three trading blocs will build on previous trade gains and will result in the whole being larger than the sum of its parts. Continue reading

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Democracy and the Necessity of Drones?

by John Kaag, Scott Pratt, and Sujata K. Bhatia

Earlier this month, Firmin Debrabander argued in the New York Times that drone warfare creates a democratic disconnect between the American public and its leaders.  This disconnect, for Debrabander, is grounds to question current drone policies.  This is not a new thesis.  Many scholars have expressed this concern since 2009.  Drones permit us to lose track of our leaders’ military decisions.  When no one we know risks life or limb in an international conflict we tend not to care so much.

But a worry lingers in the back of our minds: perhaps, far from causing a disconnect, instead there might be a necessary connection between modern democracies and drone warfare. Continue reading

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What Does It Mean to Be an Engineer?

by Sujata K. Bhatia

Congratulations, engineering graduates! By completing this degree, you are becoming part of a very special group: you are becoming engineers. I want to share my own path to engineering; discuss what makes engineering a unique and noble profession; explain your roles and responsibilities as an engineer in our society; and give you some advice for success based on my own experiences. Continue reading

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Engaging Global Diaspora Communities for International Development

by Sujata K. Bhatia

Diasporas are communities of individuals who share a common heritage, yet are spread throughout the globe.  For instance, I am a member of the Indian diaspora, though I was born and raised in the United States.  My distinguished colleague Calestous Juma is a member of the Kenyan diaspora.  Such diasporas can play a powerful and influential role in international development, because the individuals in such diasporas share special knowledge and relationships within their diaspora communities.  Moreover, diasporans act as informal ambassadors for the United States in their countries of origin.  According to the United States Department of State, the United States is home to the largest number of global diaspora members of any country worldwide.  Continue reading

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Protecting US Critical Infrastructure: One Step Forward for Cybersecurity, One Back?

by Ryan Ellis

Ryan Ellis

Industrial control systems might be the most important technology that you have never heard of. They’re computer systems used to monitor and control a range of physical processes within critical infrastructures, such as opening valves or closing circuit breakers. It is no exaggeration to say that industrial control systems are essential to modern life: they help keep our lights on, our water clean, and our trains running on time.

But control systems—and the critical infrastructures within which they operate—are increasingly vulnerable to malicious cyber-intrusions. In last February’s State of the Union address, President Obama signaled the importance of protecting such infrastructures:

“We know hackers steal people’s identities and infiltrate private e-mail. We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets. Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, and our air traffic control systems. We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy.”

Shortly after, the President issued an Executive Order to enhance cybersecurity for US critical infrastructure. Then, in May, the Department of Homeland Security privately warned infrastructure operators that cyber-attacks were on the rise. There is no sense that these attacks have abated.

The growing awareness of the importance of protecting critical infrastructures from cyber-disruptions makes Rachel King’s July 20 report in the Wall Street Journal even more troubling. King reports that the Department of Homeland Security’s Industrial Control System Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT) recently canceled two long-planned conferences and a number of training sessions. The cancellations are likely an effect of sequestration—no funds. Continue reading

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Preparing Youth to Solve Global Grand Challenges

by Calestous Juma

In a bold move, the UK Government has announced the creation of a £1 million prize for a new “grand innovation challenge.”  According to Prime Minister David Cameron, the award would go to the next “penicillin” or a plane that could fly carbon-neutral across the Atlantic.

This effort will complement the £1 million Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering. The inaugural prize will be awarded to the inventors of the Internet and World Wide Web in London on June 25, 2013.

The prize will not only recognize those who come up with outstanding ideas, but it will also serve as source of inspiration for young people. Getting the youth to focus their creative energies on solving the world’s pressing challenges needs to start early, especially in high schools. Continue reading

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Doctoral Training in Science and Engineering in Africa


by Sujata K. Bhatia

The global community is increasingly facing critical challenges in healthcare, energy, sustainability, and agriculture.  These issues are technologically complex, requiring scientific literacy among politicians, policymakers, and populations in both developed and developing nations.  Moreover, these issues demand innovative discoveries, requiring well-trained engineers to both invent creative and cost-effective solutions as well as inform decisionmakers on relevant technical considerations.

In order for solutions to global grand challenges to be practical and lasting, the innovative process leading to these solutions must be inclusive.  The voices of scientists and engineers from all nations must be incorporated into inclusive innovation, and the approaches of scientists and engineers from diverse social and cultural backgrounds must be incorporated into engineering inventions.  For instance, scientists and engineers from low and middle income countries have the best insights into the needs of these countries, and they can often develop the most elegant designs.

Worldwide, PhD-level scientists and engineers play a crucial role in fostering a climate of inclusive innovation.  Doctoral training imparts a student with in-depth knowledge in a particular field of science or engineering. PhD students learn to identify problems and work independently to derive solutions to those problems.  A PhD empowers an individual to solve open-ended problems, and enables the trainee to write technical papers and teach undergraduate students, both of which are critical for knowledge generation and knowledge transfer.

Within each nation, PhD-trained scientists and engineers run research groups and teach classes at universities; start companies and develop new products in the private sector; and provide expertise for government officials in the public sector.

A cadre of highly trained, PhD-educated scientists and engineers is therefore necessary for each nation, not only to generate innovative discoveries and to train the next generation of scientist and engineers, but also to train the next generation of congressmen and cabinet ministers, and thereby guarantee scientific literacy among world leaders and throughout the world.

The African continent is currently coping with a massive shortage of highly trained scientists and engineers…  Continue reading

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Change the Conversation, Change the Venue, and Change Our Future


by Melissa E. Hathaway

The Internet, together with the information communications technology (ICT) that underpins it, is a critical national resource for governments, a vital part of national infrastructures and a key driver of economic growth. Over the last 40 years, and particularly since the year 2000, governments and businesses have embraced the Internet, and ICT’s potential to generate income and employment, provide access to businesses and information, enable e-learning and facilitate government activities. In some countries, the Internet contributes up to eight percent of gross domestic product (GDP), and recent reports suggest that the industrial Internet opportunity (through modernization) represents a 46 percent share of the global economy.

Today, businesses around the world tender services and products through the Internet to more than 2.5 billion citizens using secure protocols and electronic payments. Services range from e-government, e-voting, e-banking, e-health and e-learning to next generation power grids, air traffic control and other essential services, all of which depend on a single infrastructure. The Internet is the fuel of the global economy and the backbone of the international financial system.

No country can afford to put their economy at risk. Increasingly, though, the availability, integrity and resilience of this core infrastructure are in harm’s way. For example, in March 2013, cyber criminals successfully launched a virus that penetrated the defences of multiple financial institutions in South Korea, including Shinhan Bank, the country’s fourth-largest bank, as well as two other banks — NongHyup and Jeju.

The motive was destruction of data using a malware similar to that used in the recent incident against Saudi Aramco, which destroyed data and rendered the main operating systems of computers useless. Additionally, a distributed denial of service (DDoS) campaign has been underway for the last year against the United States’ top financial institutions, including JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, U.S. Bank and PNC. The DDoS attacks are reaching levels at which the telecommunications providers can no longer guarantee quality of service. In both cases, Internet banking services are being degraded or blocked outright…(Read more here.)

Melissa E. Hathaway is  senior advisor to Harvard Kennedy School’s cyber security initiative, Project Minerva, a joint effort among the US Department of Defense, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Harvard University. She served as former acting senior director for cyberspace at the National Security Council. Ms. Hathaway is president of Hathaway Global Strategies, LLC

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Africa’s New Science and Innovation Agenda

by Calestous Juma

I am on my way back from the World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Cape Town, South Africa. This was a remarkable meeting with an overwhelming intellectual energy.

The event was unique in many respects. But foremost, it was anchored by a preliminary meeting of the Grow Africa venture where private enterprises have pledged $3.5 billion in support to African agriculture. This was a serious event that involved heads of state and government from eight African countries.

I had the unique opportunity to be part of a small group of people working to connect science and technology with the larger business agenda of WEF. This group was moderated by the talented Lanre Akinola, Editor of This Is Africa, a regional brand of the Financial Times.

Lanre was superb. He had impeccable command of the details, and his ability to moderate a panel made up of ministers was truly masterful. My panel included Gunilla Carlsson (Swedish International Development Cooperation Minister), Claver Gatete (Rwandese Finance and Economic Planning Minister), and Frans van Houten (Royal Phillips Electronics CEO and Chairman).

The consensus of the panel was that Africa’s science and innovation agenda will be driven by contemporary challenges such as agriculture, health, and environment. “Africa’s solutions will help to contribute to solutions in industrialized countries in field such as green growth,” said Carlsson. Continue reading

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