International alliance opens research and teaching possibilities near the Arctic Circle.
After a long winter you may shudder to hear this, but much learning remains to be done in the lands of ice and snow. Thanks to a budding partnership at the University of Illinois, however, that task is getting more exciting, and it leads through Sweden.
Researchers and educators across campus are expecting valuable opportunities to rise from a trans-Atlantic collaboration with KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm that has roots in the College of LAS. The partnership, which has been forming rapidly during the past several months, will allow Illinois to share expertise with a part of the world where studies in energy, humanities, information and communications, materials, medicine and biotechnology, and transportation are highly advanced.
The partnership, named Illinois-Sweden Program for Educational Research Exchange (INSPIRE), could also provide Illinois researchers and students with a new access point to the Arctic Circle, making for chilly but beneficial study-abroad and research possibilities.
“Even with the University of Illinois’s comprehensive educational and academic programs, there is relatively little taught at Illinois and relatively little research pursued that pertains to northern-most Europe,” says Anna Stenport, professor of Scandinavian studies and one of the chief organizers of INSPIRE.
“One of the motivators for me has been to increase knowledge of and exposure to the Nordic region for the University of Illinois student population and also its faculty researchers,” she adds. Stenport, a native of Sweden, has worked closely with Harry Dankowicz, professor of mechanical science and engineering, and who also hails from Sweden, to pull the partnership together.
The partnership began somewhat fortuitously in 2009 when a delegation from the Swedish embassy, including the Swedish ambassador, visited the U of I campus. Later, when KTH made known that they wanted to partner with institutions in the United States, a Swedish embassy staff member, who had visited campus during the 2009 visit, suggested Illinois.
Once the connection occurred, the idea grew, with collaboration amongst the Colleges of LAS, Engineering, Fine and Applied Arts, Media, and the Graduate College, along with the Chancellor’s office, International Programs and Studies, European Union Center, and Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research. In December 2010, KTH sent a delegation for a symposium at Illinois, and another symposium is scheduled this month in Stockholm to organize the effort.
Organizers hope the partnership will grow to include other educational institutions across northern Europe. Bruce Fouke, professor of geology and microbiology, recently received a research fellowship from Lund University in Lund, Sweden, and he believes INSPIRE is a “perfect” model for what he and other researchers are trying to achieve in Scandinavia.
“Sweden is traditionally a powerhouse in the natural sciences and they’ve just made some recent nationwide commitments to get seriously involved with space exploration,” Fouke says.
Through the partnership, Fouke, Stenport, Dankowicz, and others have been planning an Arctic field course that involves studying everything from microbial life to environmental change to the cultures of indigenous communities.
“We had this instant catalysis of interest due to major initiatives both in the U.S. and Sweden that were naturals to work together,” Fouke says. “And I think this is going to lay many years of very dynamic initiatives—both research and teaching—between our campus and Sweden.”