US and UK Sign First-Ever Umbrella S&T Agreement

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Publication date: 
26 September 2017
Number: 
128

Last week, representatives of the U.S. and U.K. governments signed the first-ever umbrella agreement on science and technology between the two nations. The first major project that supported under the agreement is the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility / Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment project at Fermilab.

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UK and US S&T agreement signing ceremony

U.K. Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation Jo Johnson, left, and U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Judith Garber shake hands after signing the first-ever U.S.–U.K. umbrella agreement for science and technology.

(Image credit – State Department)

Public domain

On Sept. 20, the U.S. and U.K. governments signed the “first-ever umbrella agreement” on science and technology between the two longtime allies. The agreement, which provides a “flexible framework” for government-to-government research collaboration and establishes a set of common principles, has been in the works since 2015. U.S. science agencies had requested the agreement in part to make it easier to launch large-scale scientific projects.

In a ceremony that took place in the State Department’s Treaty Room, Acting Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Judith Garber joined U.K. Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation Jo Johnson in formally signing the agreement. Chief Executive Designate for U.K. Research and Innovation Sir Mark Walport was also present as part of the U.K. delegation.

At the signing, Johnson explained the U.K.’s interest in furthering scientific cooperation with the U.S.:

Our continued collaboration with the U.S. on science and innovation is beneficial to both of our nations, and through this agreement we are sharing expertise to enhance our understanding of many important topics that have the potential to be world changing. The U.K. is known as a nation of science and technical progress, with research and development being at the core of our industrial strategy. By working with our key allies, we are maintaining our position as a global leader in research for years to come.

While the text of the agreement is not yet publicly available, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy outlined its contours in a blog post:

Scientific and policy areas that this bilateral agreement aims to cover include basic science, early-stage R&D, emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, promising new public–private partnership models, and the role that science and technological advancement play in economic prosperity. The agreement sets forth principles for scientific collaboration on a wide variety of subjects, including the sharing of professional expertise, materials and equipment, the handling of jointly-developed intellectual property, and encouraging open data to ensure that collaborative research benefits the governments of both countries, and the private sector to drive job growth and economic prosperity.

Neutrino project is first major collaboration supported under agreement

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Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility / Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment schematic

The U.K. is pledging $88 million to support the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility / Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment hosted by Fermilab. Fermilab’s accelerators will send the world’s most powerful beam of neutrinos hundreds of miles through the ground to a detector under construction at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in South Dakota.

(Image credit – Fermilab)

Fermilab

As the first major collaboration supported under the agreement, the U.K. has pledged $88 million for construction of the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility / Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (LBNF/DUNE) hosted at Fermilab outside Batavia, Illinois.

According to a Fermilab spokesperson, it will be the largest physics experiment ever built in the U.S. The Department of Energy’s fiscal year 2018 budget request describes it as the “first-ever large-scale international science facility hosted by the U.S.” and estimates DOE’s share of the construction costs will be around $1.5 billion.

Fermilab says it is depending on international partners like the U.K. to help design, build, and operate the facility, and that more than 1,000 scientists and 31 countries are contributing so far. In a statement, Fermilab Director Nigel Lockyer explained the importance of the U.K.’s investment:

The United Kingdom has long been a leader in this area of science, starting with Ernest Rutherford in the early 20th Century. This agreement ensures that LBNF/DUNE will have great scientific and technical strength on the team as we chart the bright future for neutrino research.

After the State Department signing ceremony, Johnson traveled to Illinois to visit Fermilab, where he toured the LBNF facilities currently under construction and other areas of the lab hosting U.S.-U.K. research collaborations. Physicists hope LBNF/DUNE will lead to better understanding of neutrinos, which could ultimately help explain why matter predominated over anti-matter following the Big Bang.

Agreement builds on history of strong research collaborations

The agreement builds on a history of bilateral collaborations between the U.S. and U.K. in academic science and a broad range of industries. The State Department touts on its website that “the U.S.-U.K. scientific partnership is one of the world’s strongest, with bilateral collaborations resulting in 26 Nobel prizes for science and economics.

While this is being called the first umbrella research agreement strictly between the U.S. and U.K., the U.S. and E.U., of which the U.K. is currently a member, also have an umbrella agreement for scientific and technological cooperation that was first signed in 1997 and was mostly recently renewed in 2014 through October 2018. The U.K.’s recent decision to leave the E.U. has led it to seek a more independent policy and new cooperative agreements.

The new agreement recalls earlier military R&D arrangements between the U.S. and the U.K. during World War II and the Cold War. For example, the Quebec Agreement, signed in 1943 by Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt established the practice of “full and effective interchange of information and ideas” in scientific research and development related to the atomic bomb.

Other U.S.–U.K. joint S&T initiatives that the White House says are under consideration in addition to LBNF/DUNE include the “development of MRI and PET standards, quantum technologies, and collaborations on autonomous transportation technologies.

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