Diana Farkas, Virginia Tech professor of materials science engineering, has spent the past year as a Jefferson Science Fellow, working with the U.S. Department of State.

The Jefferson Science Fellows are tenured faculty in areas of science and engineering who are selected after a rigorous process by the National Academies of Science. Fellows serve in the State Department or the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) full-time for one year and for an additional five years in a consultancy capacity. 

Farkas, of Blacksburg, Va., worked in the Bureau of Oceans, Environment and Science, Office of Science and Technology Cooperation (OES/STC) and the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Public Diplomacy, to promote scientific collaboration and student exchange programs with various countries, particularly Latin America. This initiative is considered as key to the improvement of the international aspects of science and engineering in the U.S., and to the creation of more international experiences for students and scientists. The fellowship is also considered a tool of public diplomacy.

As a major part of this effort, Farkas spent the past year presenting lectures at many universities abroad, including locations in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, and Hungary. These lectures have been specifically on the topics of exchanges of faculty and students and the mechanisms of transferring scientific innovation from universities to industry.

Farkas also worked in the area of science diplomacy, promoting the idea that scientific endeavors help bring different cultures together and help build diplomatic bridges. She has continued the ongoing work of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. For example, she worked with the “Science Corners” program, a public diplomacy effort from the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. Farkas also participated with OES/STC in the organization of joint commission meetings with countries with which the U.S. has Science and Technology Cooperation Agreements.

The materials science and engineering professor also participated with the Organization of American States on its “Engineering for the Americas” educational program, an initiative to improve engineering curricula in Latin American countries.

Farkas continues to work on the organization of a U.S.-Brazil innovation forum that will discuss best practices for transferring scientific and technical innovation from the universities to industry, in a lab to market process. She also participated in the development of the 2010 strategic plan for the National Nanotechnology Initiative, and is involved in the activities of the Pan-American Nanotechnology Network, with the goal of increasing collaboration in the area of nanotechnology in the hemisphere.

In a ceremony held this past summer in the George C. Marshall room at the U.S. Department of State, Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton honored the ten 2009-10 Jefferson Science Fellows and thanked them for their service in the various bureaus of the State Department and the USAID. In her remarks, Clinton congratulated the Fellows, emphasized the need for scientific and technical expertise in government, and inquired about the most significant experience and contributions the fellows made to the missions of the U.S. Government foreign policy establishment.

Farkas is returning to the Virginia Tech faculty fall of 2010, but she remains available to the U.S. Department of State for short-term projects for the following five years.