MEET DR. CLIFFORD GABRIEL –
A Plant Pathologist Sowing the Seeds for Increasing U.S.-Israel Science
Ever since Dr. Clifford Gabriel was a boy, he was drawn to biology. Growing up in the tropics, surrounded by jungle and coral reefs, he would marvel at the biological systems that comprised his surroundings. In later years, he would wonder how science could be used to solve society’s problems.
Dr. Clifford Gabriel
During a science career that now spans more than 30 years, that sense of wonder has led him to prestigious positions throughout the United States. As a Senior Advisor at the National Science Foundation (NSF), Gabriel provides policy guidance on a range of issues. As a long-standing member of the BSF Board of Governors, he has helped to guide and promote U.S.-Israel scientific partnerships for many years.
He said that U.S.-Israeli partnerships in science have changed dramatically since the BSF was established in the early 1970s.
“In many areas of research, Israeli scientists are now considered leaders in their fields. Israeli scientists are producing world-class discoveries in mathematics, computer science, physics, biology, and more. This was not generally the case 40 years ago. The BSF, through its support of U.S.-Israeli scientific partnerships, has played a significant role in this transformation,” Gabriel said.
With the increasing prominence of Israeli science, Gabriel said that partnerships between U.S. and Israeli researchers are “more intellectually robust and productive. This advances science in both countries.”
Gabriel began his career as a plant pathologist in the early 1980s, studying the biology of plant-microbe interactions to improve food security. Along the way, he has held top leadership positions at the Environmental Protection Agency and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
In his current position with the NSF, Gabriel often focuses on the Foundation’s treatment of transformative research. He believes that declaring research “transformative” is “always a bit suspect. The true transformative nature of research plays out over time, maybe decades.”
Still, he said that BSF made a strong impact in developing funding programs that support novel ideas that have the potential to become transformative.
“You can look to the work funded through the relatively new BSF transformative science program for examples of this, such as research targeting the development of new materials for electronic devices or exploring a possible novel genetic basis of viral diseases. The BSF is also fostering the next generation of transformative scientists through its early career start-up programs,” he said.
Along with BSF Executive Director Yair Rotstein, Gabriel was instrumental in creating new funding partnerships between the NSF and the BSF in many areas of science. Since the effort is so new, Gabriel said its impact cannot be measured yet.
“It’s a safe bet, however, that when you support partnerships between excellent U.S. and Israeli scientists, good things will happen,” he said. “I hope that the additional financial support provided by these new NSF-BSF programs will add depth to our scientific collaborations.”