Submitted by Ellis Rubinstein
President and CEO, The New York Academy of Sciences

USAID and its Administrator, Rajiv Shah, are onto something big: science, technology and innovation dedicated to the challenges of the Developing World.

During my decade as Editor of Science followed by another eight years at the New York Academy of Sciences, I have heard more than my fill of speeches about the value to the world of “curiosity-driven research”—the endeavors by basic scientists to answer puzzles that excite them without the slightest sense of whether they will have an application in the world as we know it.

There is no question that such research has not infrequently revolutionized our understanding of things that led, in turn, to advancements applicable to the challenges of society at large. But because this sort of fundamental inquiry deserves funding and because young people should be encouraged to follow their curiosity doesn’t mean that there is no place for—or no satisfaction in—research dedicated to the big problems of our planet.

One of the most personally moving experiences I have had in the last decade is to see how many young scientists, engineers, and clinicians are purposely applying their time and energy to make a direct difference to the world.

On Wednesday, September 22, from 2-5 p.m., USAID and the New York Academy of Sciences are partnering to present the “Science, Technology and Innovation Forum” —a celebration of the success of a set of brilliant and dedicated innovators who have developed ingenious, high-impact, affordable, and sustainable solutions to Developing World problems.

In addition, the New York Academy of Sciences will describe the new open-innovation platform it is creating on its Scientists Without Borders website so that individuals, governments, NGOs, and companies can launch challenges that would incentivize solutions that could make a pronounced difference in  the lives of hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens.

An extraordinary group of experts and leaders have signed up to participate in this event, and it is my greatest hope that the blog postings that USAID and others develop after the event will trigger more challenges and more solutions to the Developing World.

PS: If you would like to learn more about scientific solutions being developed to address global issues, here are links to video interviews with seven brilliant scientists who spoke at events the Academy has organized on such crucial topics as water supplies, vaccine development, malaria medication, and climate change. At the site of each of these videos, you can also find links to the complete multimedia report of the related Academy meeting or conference.

January 12, 2010: The Most Precious Natural Resource
Nobel laureate Peter Agre surveys some examples of pressing problems in the United States and around the world arising from threats to water supplies.

August 12, 2009: The Trouble with Dengue
Scott Halstead, research director of the Pediatric Dengue Vaccine Initiative, explains how global urbanization is promoting the spread of dengue virus and describes challenges to vaccine development.

July 2, 2009 : Influenza and Influenza Vaccines
Doris Bucher’s laboratory produced a seed strain used to develop a vaccine for swine H1N1 influenza. Here, she explains why she is “very optimistic” that an effective vaccine will be developed.

December 5, 2008: Connecting Human Rights and Public Health
Epidemiologist Chris Beyrer explains how in the absence of human rights, public health suffers. Beyrer is working in Burma to conduct public health research and provide health services to internally displaced people.

October 30, 2008: The Challenge of Climate Change
Considering humanity’s capacity to address this problem, longtime member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Michael Oppenheimer observes, “Things are under our control, if we choose to exert that control.”

March 21, 2008: Biogeochemistry and Climate Change
William Schlesinger of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies explains the likely consequences of climate change, including changes in the distribution of disease-bearing insects and plant pathogens.

January 18, 2008: Progress in Antimalarial Drug Development
After a resurgence in malaria burden over the last few decades, malaria specialists are once again talking about eradicating or eliminating the disease. Chris Hentschel, president and chief executive officer of the Medicines for Malaria Venture, explains why.