Science Envoy Bruce Alberts Builds Bridges with Indonesian Counterparts

Dr. Bruce Alberts, the renowned biochemist and former President of the National Academy of Sciences who has spearheaded U.S. efforts to improve science, math, and engineering education, visited Indonesia May 10 – 19 in his capacity as one of the first “science envoys” under President Obama’s initiative to engage Muslim-majority and other countries through science and technology partnerships. Researchers and academics from numerous universities, laboratories, and science and technology centers, as well as high-level government officials, warmly welcomed Dr. Alberts and his delegation, including OSTP Senior Policy Analyst and National Academy of Sciences Scholar Michael Greene.

Dr. Alberts’ journey started in cosmopolitan Jakarta, where he met with key members of the Indonesian Academy of Sciences (AIPI) and senior government officials from the State Ministry of Research & Technology, Health and National Education. Dr. Alberts also visited the Cibinong Science Center, the Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology, and the Science & Technology Development Center, conversing along the way with biologists, oceanographers, ecologists, and a wide array of other scientists. Through these interactions and several lectures geared toward both young and senior scientists, Dr. Alberts identified potential synergies between the United States and Indonesia and called for greater collaboration in areas of health, science, education, innovation, and technological development.

A highlight of the visit was Dr. Alberts’ courtesy meeting with President Susilo Bambang Yudhyono and several members of the Indonesian cabinet. During that meeting, President Yudhyono expressed his support for strengthening long-term science and technology cooperation, indicating that international, collaborative research will be critical to helping nations around the world face their many shared challenges.

Dr. Alberts also went to the city of Ternate in the Maluku Islands of eastern Indonesia—a region of historical and scientific significance as it was there that Alfred Russell Wallace, Charles Darwin’s contemporary, became inspired to write his now-famous paper describing natural selection as the basis of evolution. Dr. Alberts joined officials in Ternate to announce the launching of U.S-Indonesia Frontiers of Science, a program designed to foster scientific collaboration and the exchange of ideas among Indonesian and American scientists in areas of mutual interest. Scientists, professors, and influential leaders, including the Sultan and Mayor of Ternate, echoed Dr. Alberts’ call for greater science and technology cooperation.

On his return to Jakarta, Dr. Alberts visited the city of Bogor, where he engaged in energetic conversations with students and professors from the Bogor Institute of Agriculture, a leading university and major center for agricultural and forestry research. Dr. Alberts also visited a school that focuses on early education in math, physics and computer science. There he was enthusiastically greeted by students—some speaking English and others in their native Bahasa Indonesia—who at the end of the visit pleaded for Dr. Alberts’ prompt return to Indonesia.

Indeed, if there was one Indonesian phrase that came up more than any other during this trip it was “Jangan lupa dating lagi, Dr. Alberts!” which translates to: “Don’t forget to come back again, Dr. Alberts!” The envoy assured his hosts he will indeed return, to further strengthen the new bonds created on this inaugural trip.

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