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New agreement streamlines Harvard research collaborations with Facebook

When Regina Dugan, Facebook’s vice president of engineering and head of Building 8, spoke at Harvard, she described the discipline and architecture required for a company or institution to sustain “a hot cauldron of activity,” producing innovations of lasting impact.

Common to the greatest innovations in history is a shared passion for advancing “use-inspired basic research” — which is to say, “audacious science and an application that matters” said the former director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) during her Nov. 7 talk.

Affirming the essential value of transformative research in shaping the future, Harvard’s Office of Technology Development (OTD) has established a collaborative research agreement with Facebook. It establishes a platform on which Harvard faculty, graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers can quickly and easily pursue joint or sponsored research projects with Facebook, bringing both academic and product-driven perspectives to bear on scientific questions of mutual interest. Harvard is among 17 academic institutions that have signed on to Facebook’s Sponsored Academic Research Agreement (SARA), announced today.

Computer scientists, social scientists, and electrical engineers from Harvard routinely attend the same conferences as Facebook’s internal researchers, each presenting innovative discoveries that inspire new lines of inquiry. The new agreement facilitates the type of interactions and collaborations that naturally arise from this intellectual cross-pollination.

“When curiosity strikes, with this new agreement in place, Harvard researchers can initiate new projects with scientific colleagues at Facebook almost immediately,” said Isaac T. Kohlberg, Harvard’s chief technology development officer and senior associate provost. “Technological advancement poses urgent challenges and opportunities in fields such as computational science, artificial intelligence, privacy, computer vision, augmented and virtual reality, and advanced materials and manufacturing. This agreement with Facebook recognizes that the most significant, transformative solutions will be informed by university science.”

The University has similar agreements, typically known at Harvard as strategic research alliances, with companies including BASF, Evotec, UCB, Charoen Pokphand, and a group of Tata companies, among others. The alliances foster long-term scientific partnerships that can advance discovery in a broad area of science, drawing on strengths from across the University.