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Published:April 21st, 2006 09:12 EST
American Association for the Advancement of Science

American Association for the Advancement of Science

By SOP newswire

Remarks Prepared for Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman
American Association for the Advancement of Science
Science & Technology Policy Forum
      April 21, 2006       

It’s great to see all of you here.


We are coming together at a time when science and technology are very much on the minds of the President, leaders in the private sector, the academic community and the American people. I think that is a very good thing.

We are at a moment of historic challenge and historic opportunity for the nation’s scientific community. A consensus is building—not unlike the one that moved the nation nearly 50 years ago—when we learned in 1957 that a Soviet space satellite called Sputnik was orbiting the earth. The consensus is that this nation must act, and act decisively, to improve mathematics and science education at all levels and expand its support for basic research and development work in the physical sciences.

Learning that a Russian space satellite was orbiting overhead shook the nation’s bedrock assumptions about where we stood in the space and arms race with the Soviet Union, then our most formidable rival on the world stage. It galvanized the nation to act and Congress passed the National Defense Education Act with the aim of encouraging more students to study science, mathematics and foreign languages at the college and graduate school level.

I was one of the beneficiaries of that legislation. The financial support it provided helped me to complete my studies for a doctorate in chemical engineering at MIT in 1965. It truly changed my life.

Thousands of other students were helped by the Act and went on to productive careers in science and engineering. The NDEA turned into a tremendous success story and the nation benefited. Within a decade the number of science and engineering doctorates awarded in the United States each year had tripled. By 1970, the U.S. was turning out more than half the world’s total graduates in these fields.

Thanks to the work of scientists and engineers at NASA and its contractors, a little more than a decade after the Act was passed; America landed the first man on the moon. By the 1980s, we had pulled so far ahead of the Soviet Union in the arms race that its leaders despaired of closing the gap. Soon after, the Soviet Union itself faded into history.

Today, the nation faces an equally serious challenge. It can’t be captured in a single stunning development like the launch of a space satellite, but the challenge is no less real. The speed and reach of the Internet and lower barriers to trade have given us a globalized economy that is changing rapidly.

Decades of public and private investment have given the United States a strong research and technological foundation that has spun off innovations ranging from nuclear medicine to the Internet that have powered our economy and given us steady gains in the quality of life.

But the long lead the U.S. has had over the rest of the world in this area is shrinking.

Other nations have studied our success and are moving aggressively to emulate it. China, as your organization has pointed out, has gone from ranking 17 th among nations in its support for in science in 1992 to 3 rd today. India and South Korea are also investing heavily in science and education. And, over the next 15 years, China plans to double its national investment in science and technology research.

Meanwhile, here at home, according to the National Science Board, only 15% of college students now choose to pursue degrees in science and engineering, compared with 38% in South Korea, 47% in France, 50% in China and 67% in Singapore. Even more disturbing, the Board has reported the number of bachelor’s degrees in engineering awarded in the U.S. fell 8% between 1990 and 2000, and the number of mathematics degrees dropped 20%.

Under President Bush, federal support for research in the life sciences has continued to climb. In fact, it doubled between 1998 and 2003. But over the last decade, federal support for research and development work in the physical sciences has remained essentially flat.

The long-term result if these trends are left to run their course is not in question. The leadership in science and technology that the U.S. currently enjoys could be put at risk with negative consequences for our economy.

The President recognizes this threat and has spoken out strongly. The future he sees is one in which this nation remains at the center of research and development and on the leading edge of technological change.

That is why he proposed the American Competitiveness Initiative to strengthen support for research and development work in the physical sciences throughout the federal government and for mathematics and science education at all levels.

It calls for increased spending of $5.9 billion next year and more than $136 billion over the next ten years on investments in research and development, improved math and science education and incentives to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation.

The program shares many of the goals of proposals to strengthen the nation’s science and technology sector that have been put forward by the National Academy of Sciences, the coalition of business and technology groups called Tapping America’s Potential, or TAP, and others.

Dr. Marburger, I know, has already has given you an overview of what this program will do. What I would like to share with you are some of the research areas at the Energy Department that will benefit from this initiative and what their implications could be.

The Department, through its Office of Science, already provides more than 40% of all federal support for research in the physical sciences. Next year, ACI would boost the funding for the Office of Science by $505 million, a 14.1% increase that will bring its total budget to $4.1 billion.

We have carefully weighed the choices on what areas to give priority and we have singled out those that hold the greatest potential for significant advances.

When I joined the Department a little over a year ago, it appeared that many of our research projects had limitless timetables and lacked measurable results. I have reminded the leadership of our Office of Science that I am 67 years old. You can study the actuarial tables and agree that I might be around for another 20 years or so. I have advised my colleagues that I’d like to see tangible results from these projects in MY lifetime. So we are focusing on targeted sectors that we believe have the greatest potential.

Those sectors include supercomputers, nanotechnology, high-intensity light sources, energy from biomass and nuclear fusion. We are also increasing our support for both high-energy and nuclear physics.

We have chosen to advance the further development of supercomputers at our national laboratories at Argonne and Oak Ridge. The budget includes an increase of $84 million for these and other high-end computing projects. I am proud to say that of the world’s 20 fastest supercomputers, the Energy Department’s national laboratories have nine.

Supercomputing is a field in which the United States retains a significant technological edge and it holds the promise of delivering greater understanding and ability to model complex systems.

These computers could ultimately make it possible to design automobiles and airplanes without the use of physical models, develop more efficient combustion systems, and even help keep babies in disposable diapers drier—thanks to a better understanding of fluid dynamics.

The budget also includes a $51 million spending increase on nanoscale science. Part of this money will go toward the completion of four Nanoscale Science Research Centers located at the Argonne, Lawrence Berkeley, Oak Ridge and Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories. We are also constructing a fifth center at Brookhaven. These will be world-leading centers for interdisciplinary nanoscale research.

We believe nanotechnology will lead to the development of new materials that are both strong and lightweight, as well as new lubricants, more efficient solar cells and countless other applications.

One key to our current lead in nanoscience is the advanced generation of high-intensity light sources we have developed for exploring both organic and inorganic matter at the nanoscale. We are continuing the construction of the Linac Coherent Light Source at Stanford.  This will be the world’s first electron X-ray laser with the ability to illuminate protein structures and other phenomena no other instrument or eye can see. It has great potential for aiding drug discovery efforts in the life sciences.

We are also completing construction of the Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge—the world’s leading facility for neutron scattering and a vital tool for researchers developing more efficient semiconductors, electric motors and generators. The budget also provides funds for engineering and design work and further research on the National Synchroton Light Source Two at Brookhaven.

This is another cutting-edge research tool with broad applications in biotechnology, nanotechnology and materials science.

Finally, in the area of biological and environmental research we will add $50 million in new spending to harness the powers of the microbial world to help us produce cellulosic ethanol and other biofuels cost-effectively and to aid in environmental remediation.

We will also contribute a total of $60 million next year toward ITER, formerly known as the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor Program, which will be built in France, to explore the use of nuclear fusion to generate commercial power.

I would add that a tremendous amount of thought has gone into the requested level of funding and what can be achieved with it, particularly given these tight budgetary times. Now, more than ever, this nation cannot afford to waste taxpayers’ dollars on programs that are not well-conceived or are unlikely to be effective, nor can we afford to impose unnecessary restrictions or requirements on how and where these programs should be carried out.

We have seen the unintended consequences of good intentions before when it has come to directing how and where dollars are spent.

So I hope my friends on Capitol Hill will agree with me on this point, and I look forward to working with them to ensure that we devote the necessary resources to these critical projects.

I know that those of you in the life sciences community may feel that your needs have not been fully addressed in next year’s budget proposal.  But I hope you will agree that the time has come for the physical sciences to start catching up with some of the gains your sector has achieved over the last ten years.

There are some very practical reasons for this. It is the physical sciences that give us the measurement tools that we must have to measure results in the life sciences.

And I would humbly quote from Harold Varmus, a former director of the National Institutes of Health, on this subject.

In an October 2000 op-ed column in The Washington Post, Doctor Varmus called attention to the lagging funding at that time for the National Science Foundation and the Energy Department’s Office of Science, compared with NIH, and said that balance among the sciences is essential to progress in all spheres.

“Medical advances may seem like wizardry,” he wrote. “But pull back the curtain, and sitting at the lever is a high-energy physicist, a combinational chemist or an engineer. Magnetic resonance imaging is an excellent example. Perhaps the last century’s greatest advance in diagnosis, MRI is the product of atomic, nuclear and high-energy physics, quantum chemistry, computer science, cryogenics, solid state physics and applied medicine.”

What the President hopes to see—what I hope to see—from the American  Competitiveness Initiative, is not only more students studying science and mathematics at all levels and receiving better training along the way, but a steady flow of  the kind of technical and scientific innovations that can spawn entire new industries.

These are the kind of industries through which we can deliver high-quality jobs to the nation and help it maintain its leadership of the world economy.

The President has staked out his position. Now is the time for all of you who support this initiative to let your voices be heard.

In today’s budget environment there is no interest—no matter how worthy—that can look on future funding as an entitlement. A strong case must be made in Congress and the public arena.

I am encouraged by the many statements of support that have been made from academic and business leaders for the American Competitiveness Initiative. Letters circulating in Congress in support of it have already attracted the signatures of 68 Senators and 139 House members.

That is all to the good. But I would ask those of you who care about what ACI represents to follow up and contact those members of Congress who have already committed to thank them for their support and continue to try to persuade the uncommitted to lend their support.

Shortly after I was sworn in last year, a group representing many of our nations’s leading universities met with me to discuss the need for more federal support for research and development work in the physical sciences.

The meeting prompted one of my colleagues at the Department to recall that when he worked on Capitol Hill for a key science committee he was visited ten times by representatives of the life sciences for every one time he heard from someone advocating on behalf of the physical sciences.

My friends, that imbalance must end. It is time for your community to step forward.

There are now bills before Congress that embody competing approaches to strengthening science and mathematics education and supporting research and development. And I understand that there may be reasons some of you will find compelling to support those bills.

But I would point out that the President’s budget is seeking actual appropriations—real money—as opposed to simply authorizing spending, as the bills in Congress would do.

Finally, I want you to know that I am optimistic we will succeed in this endeavor to strengthen the nation’s science and technology base. We have strong leadership from the President and growing support from the public. With your help, I am certain we will achieve the same kind of success that Sputnik helped push us towards fifty years ago.

Thank you.

Source: DOE