In a June 2009 speech in Cairo, Egypt, in which he promised “a new beginning” for US relations with the Muslim world, President Obama announced the creation of a new effort in science diplomacy: science envoys. Their role, Obama said, would be “to collaborate on programs that develop new sources of energy, create green jobs, digitize records, clean water, [and] grow new crops.” Since then, the Arab Spring took place, the program has been broadened to include non-Muslim states, and 13 scientists and engineers have served as science envoys to 30 nations.

The results of their travels can be measured in the scientist-to-scientist contacts established, lectures delivered, and meetings held with high-level officials. The envoys did not come bearing funding for research. In at least two cases, however, they helped to pave the way for closer bilateral science and technology relationships with the US.

“Every envoy we’ve sent out has...

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