Opening Remarks at the U.S.-Turkey Science and Technology Cooperation Meeting

Kerri-Ann Jones
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
Ankara, Turkey
April 4, 2013

Good morning everyone. Let me first acknowledge and thank His Excellency Minister Ergün and his Ministry and TÜBİTAK for hosting today’s very important meeting. It is a pleasure to be here and co-chairing today’s meeting with Professor Altunbasak. I would also like to acknowledge and thank Ambassador Ricciardone for his comments and for joining us this morning as well.

It comes as no surprise that very early in his first term in office – President Barack Obama traveled to Turkey. In his speech to the Turkish Parliament, he said, “Turkey is a critical ally.… And Turkey and the United States must stand together – and work together – to overcome the challenges of our time.”[1] There is no better foundation on which to expand and deepen our ties and tackle the challenges that both our nations face than through strengthening our cooperation on science, technology, and innovation.

In 2010, our governments took a large step forward in these efforts by signing a joint Agreement to promote science and technology. Our efforts today, and going forward, are to define the ways that the United States and Turkey will work together under this Agreement – to continue to build bridges between our countries that advance our scientific and engineering objectives and also strengthen our economies and improve the quality of our citizens’ lives.

I will speak to three broad topics today: Why science and technology is so important to our bilateral relationship? What we hope to do to deepen and expand our science and technology relationship? And finally what are some of the current U.S. priorities for science and technology?

First, Turkey and America have stood together as NATO allies for over 60 years, resulting in greater security and prosperity for both our countries. Our countries are stronger and our people are safer because we stand together. Over the past four years, President Obama and Prime Minister Erdoğan have worked to expand this relationship beyond security by increasing trade, promoting entrepreneurship, and broadening the ties between our peoples.

American technological advances and scientific research are a major source of our economic and national security strength. A vibrant knowledge-based economy provides opportunities for our citizens to prosper and enjoy upward mobility. In tripling its economy over the last decade, Turkey’s economic growth has been extremely impressive. Some have even called this the “Turkish Miracle.” However, what I see is not a “miracle,” but rather an outcome of smart policies implemented by the Turkish government over the past 10 years, and smart, creative, and entrepreneurial people taking advantage of these policies.

Sustaining economic growth is an important objective for both of our nations and strengthening our science and technology enterprises and promoting innovation is fundamental to achieving that objective. Working together allows us to deepen our relationship and address shared problems. Our relationship in science, technology, and innovation is important because of the potential it offers to solve problems together and improve the lives of our citizens and people around the world.

What will we do here today to enhance our relationship? The work we are doing today will deepen our U.S. and Turkey cooperation by building on existing areas of collaboration. Currently there are nearly 65 active National Science Foundation awards involving Turkey. The Engineering for a Sustainable Future Working Group is looking to expand this cooperation further, specifically by focusing on ways to make buildings more energy efficient, through their design and the materials they are made from. The National Institutes of Health, or NIH, has supported research grants between U.S. and Turkish research institutions in the past. Now, the NIH and TÜBİTAK are exploring further collaborations in the areas of cancer, rare disease, infectious disease, diabetes, and regenerative medicine. Our scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey will continue to work with their Turkish colleagues to better understand earthquakes, which affect both of our countries. There are opportunities for Department of Energy laboratories to deepen their existing work to help Turkey meet its goal of generating 30 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2023 and increasing the energy efficiency of Turkey’s industries and buildings.

In addition to strengthening existing areas of cooperation between the United States and Turkey, we will launch some completely new areas of cooperation at today’s meeting. As the Ambassador mentioned, we will be looking at education and educational technologies to help teachers in both our countries employ technology more effectively to teach our next generation of scientists. This group is also looking to stimulate the public’s interest in and understanding of science through new science centers planned for Turkey. The Material Sciences Working Group is launching new cooperation related to designing and developing new materials to withstand extreme environments. The group working in innovative technologies in agricultural research is exploring new areas of cooperative research to improve crop yields and land use through new technologies.

As you can see, we have a lot of technical discussions, but we will also address both our nations’ commitment to fostering innovation and strengthening the breadth and depth of our scientific communities. We will examine best practices in supporting innovation through industry, government labs, and universities. I would also like to take this opportunity to express our deep appreciation for the partnership we have already established with Turkey to promote science and technology-based entrepreneurship. Turkey hosted, in partnership with the United States, the second Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Istanbul in 2011. This was an important international forum for promoting economic growth and the next Global Entrepreneurship Summit will be held in Kuala Lumpur.

Today both of our delegations include more than government officials and scientists. Representatives from academia and industry are also on both our delegations. Our science and technology enterprises have many important players and everyone needs to be engaged.

Last year, nearly 12,000 Turkish students came to the United States to study at our colleges and universities. This is more than from any other European country. More American students are studying in Turkey than ever before. By making more connections between Turkish and American universities, as will be discussed later on today, we hope to continue this very positive trend.

We have a tremendous resource in the large and active Turkish American diaspora community, who are also represented here today by several members of our U.S. delegation, including the Vice President of the Turkish American Scientists & Scholars Association, or TASSA, Professor Candan Tamerler. Professor Tamerler is not only here representing TASSA, but is also an esteemed professor of material sciences and engineering at the University of Washington and has played an active role in the Material Sciences Working Group.

We are grateful to have Nabil Habayeb, President and CEO of General Electric’s operations in the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey, joining us today to discuss his company’s work bringing U.S. and Turkish scientists together in their research and development efforts.

I am very pleased to announce that in May our U.S. Science Envoy Dr. Susan Hockfield will come to Turkey. Dr. Hockfield is the former President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She will be able to share her experience of building several successful public-private partnerships between universities and private companies while at MIT. I hope that a number of you will have the opportunity to meet her next month.

Finally, as this is our inaugural meeting under our 2010 U.S.-Turkey Science and Technology Agreement, I would like to touch briefly on the United States’ ongoing commitment to fostering research and the development of new technologies. We demonstrate this commitment through funding basic and applied scientific research and by continually championing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, or STEM education. President Obama has consistently highlighted the importance of science and technology. In 2013, even with the ongoing budget debates and challenges that we face, the President underscored that “now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race.”[2] He has continually called for strong, sustained federal investment in research and development, increased investment in STEM education, and championed the development of research infrastructure.

In the United States, our Federal government plays a critical role in funding basic and applied research – especially in areas in which the private sector does not have the economic incentive to invest. When looking at overall U.S. investment in research and development – 70 percent of the investment comes from the private sector.

U.S. Government research and development investments seek to improve the health of the population, move toward a clean energy future, address global climate change, manage competing demands on environmental resources, and ensure the security of our nation. Increasingly we recognize the role scientific investment plays in generating sustainable economic growth and in job creation. For example, the President has noted that “every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy.”[2] And just two days ago President Obama launched a new initiative – BRAIN – Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies – which will seek to advance our understanding of the brain, address brain disorders, and generate advanced research tools.

We remain strongly committed to the role of human capital development in science and innovation. The U.S. government is working to engage more citizens to enter STEM fields. The Administration has an “all hands-on-deck” approach to STEM education – working to ensure that STEM education is high quality and available to all. Several new initiatives are working to increase the number of students studying STEM subjects, and to prepare the math and science teachers we need to teach our future engineers, inventors, and innovators.

These programs include:

  • A $100 million investment by the National Science Foundation to improve undergraduate STEM education practices.
  • A new education initiative jointly administered by the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation to improve math education at the kindergarten to grade 12 level.
  • In addition, the President has also begun to host an annual science fair at the White House, as he feels it is very important to motivate and engage the youth early on.

The U.S. government continues to work to improve how we utilize research and development to strengthen the scientific basis for decision-making, particularly with regard to health, safety, and environmental impacts. This includes efforts to enhance the accessibility and usefulness of data and tools for decision support. We recognize the importance of science in our own decision making processes. We recognize the importance of transparency with regards to information and data. The Obama administration is committed to increasing public access to the results of federally funded research. In February, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy directed Federal agencies with more than $100 million in research and development expenditures to develop plans to make the published results freely available to the public within one year of publication. This increased access will foster innovation, which in turn we believe will support economic growth.

In closing let me state the obvious – that our countries share similar visions of the importance of science and technology. The scientific partnerships that we build together are important ways to address our shared challenges and meet our shared goals.

Thank you again for your hospitality and hosting us in Ankara today. I look forward to our discussions, and to the progress that we can make together.


1. Obama, B. (2009, April). Speech presented to the Turkish Parliament, Ankara, Turkey.

2. Obama, B. (2013, February). State of the Union Address presented to the U.S. Congress, Washington, D.C.