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About Frontiers

The Academy's Kavli Frontiers of Science symposia bring together outstanding young scientists to discuss exciting advances and opportunities in a broad range of disciplines. The format encourages both one-on-one conversations and informal group discussions in which young participants continue to communicate about insights gained from formal presentations and the excitement of learning about cutting-edge research in other fields. By doing so, Frontiers helps to remove communication barriers between fields and encourages collaborations among some of the world's best and brightest young scientists.  Annual Kavli Frontiers symposia are held for young scientists in the U.S. and bilateral symposia have included young researchers in the U.K., Germany, France, Japan, China, Indonesia, and India.

U.S. symposium participants are selected from among recipients of prestigious fellowships, awards, and other honors, as well as from nominations by NAS members and other participants.  In addition to learning about research at the frontiers of fields other than their own, the program is intended to create a network of connections that can be maintained as participants advance in their careers.  Since its inception, 136 program "alumni" have been elected to the NAS and eight have won Nobel Prizes.

Program History

The first Frontiers symposium was held in Irvine, California, from March 2-4, 1989. It was organized by a committee of young scholars with the support of the National Science Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the National Academy of Sciences. The positive response to this meeting prompted the Academy to organize a second symposium in 1990 and annually thereafter. The symposia, which are held each November, are attended by approximately 80 to 100 scholars under 45 years of age, by up to a dozen senior colleagues, and by several science writers. Volumes that summarize presentations at the 1989, as well as the 1991 and 1992 symposia, have been published.* Participants include leading researchers from academic, industrial, and federal laboratories in such disciplines as astronomy, astrophysics, atmospheric science, biology, biomedicine, chemistry, computer science, earth sciences, genetics, material sciences, mathematical sciences, neurosciences, pharmacology, and physics.

At each symposium, approximately 25 young scientists report on current research within their disciplines to an academically trained and scientifically diverse audience. They highlight major research challenges, methodologies, and limitations to progress at the frontiers of their respective fields. All attendees participate actively in a general discussion period, during which they learn from and form collaborative relationships with other young scientists in different fields.

In 2005, the Oxnard, California-based Kavli Foundation, which supports scientific research, honors scientific achievement, and promotes public understanding of scientists and their work, provided a 10-year, $5 million gift. This gift provides a solid financial foundation for the program over the next decade, enabling broader dissemination of the content of each symposium, and strengthening opportunities for continued connections between participants over the years.

The success of the Frontiers symposium series has led to the formation of similar programs, such as the series on Frontiers of Engineering by the National Academy of Engineering, and the German-American Frontiers of Science, under the auspices of the German-American Academic Council and in coordination with the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the Max Planck Society. In addition, Frontiers of Science symposia with Japan and China began in 1998 and a bilaterial symposium with India started in early 2005. Thus, the Frontiers of Science symposia have become a major instrument in bringing together the best young researchers—the next generation of leaders—in the natural sciences and engineering fields, in the United States and around the world.

Pictured: 2010 Indo-American Frontiers symposium participants

*Topics presented at the 1989 symposium are included in Science at the Frontier, ed. Addison Greenwood (1989) (National Academy of Sciences/National Academy Press, Washington, DC).

Topics presented in the 1991 and 1992 symposia are included in A Positron Named Priscilla: Scientific Discovery at the Frontier, eds. Marcia Bartusiak, Barbara Burke, Andrew Chaikin, Addison Greenwood, T. A. Heppenheimer, Michelle Hoffman, David Holzman, Elizabeth J. Maggio, and Anne Simon Moffatt (1994) (National Academy of Sciences/National Academy Press, Washington, DC).

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