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NSF & Congress
Testimony

Dr. Neal Lane

Dr. Neal Lane
Director,
National Science Foundation

Testimony
Before the House Appropriations Committee
Subcommittee on VA/HUD and Independent Agencies
April 1, 1998

Mr. Chairman, Mr. Stokes, members of the subcommittee, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to testify on the budget request for Fiscal Year 1999 for the National Science Foundation. I want to begin by thanking you and the subcommittee for your generous show of support for NSF in last year's FY 1998 appropriation. We appreciate the subcommittee's consistent, bipartisan support for NSF's science and engineering activities and we look forward to working with you during this year's appropriation process.

The FY 1999 budget request for NSF represents a unprecedented vote of confidence from the President. If enacted, this budget would be the largest dollar increase the Foundation has ever received -- as the President noted in his State of the Union address. This investment will help set the stage for a new century of progress through learning and discovery.

For the coming fiscal year, the NSF requests $3.773 billion. This represents a substantial increase -- 10% overall -- over $340 million. This investment, part of the President's 21st Century Research Fund for America, is motivated by a clear vision of how science and technology can shape our future as a nation and drive progress, productivity and innovation across our society.

This budget request will allow NSF to continue our tradition of supporting a diverse array of excellent research and education activities ranging from individuals working on their own, to large, collaborative activities involving groups and teams of scientists and engineers. This investment in the best people and the best ideas will advance research and education across the frontiers and help keep U.S. science and engineering at the leading edge.

I have attached to my testimony a more detailed summary of our budget request, so let me instead focus on the major themes within our proposal.

NSF MAJOR THEMES FOR FY 1999

NSF proposes to continue our investment in broad thematic areas that combine exciting opportunities in research and education with immense potential for benefits to society. These are not budgetary categories but integrating themes that help us coordinate activities across the Foundation and better articulate the connections between discovery and service to society. For Fiscal Year 1999 the major themes include Knowledge and Distributed Intelligence (KDI), Life and Earth's Environment (LEE), and Educating for the Future (EFF).

Knowledge and Distributed Intelligence

The explosive growth in computing power and communications connectivity has brought forth unprecedented opportunities for providing rapid and efficient access to knowledge and information, for studying complex systems, and for advancing our understanding of learning and intelligent behavior of people and machines. KDI is a Foundation-wide effort that aims to improve our ability to discover, collect, represent, transmit, and apply information.

Within the KDI theme we intend to emphasize research on knowledge networking, learning and intelligent systems, and new challenges to computation. Also included is a request for $25 million to continue our support for research and infrastructure related to the interagency Next Generation Internet program. The request also continues investments in the very high-speed backbone network, which has brought new levels of networking capabilities to many of the nation's research universities.

Life and Earth's Environment

The FY 1999 request looks to expand support for specific activities that relate to our second theme of Life and Earth's Environment. LEE encompasses a wide range of activities on the complex interdependencies among living organisms and the environments that affect, sustain, and are modified by them.

FY 1999 investments will emphasize research on life in extreme environments, urban communities, environmental technologies, global change, integrated environmental research challenges, and environmental observatories. Within LEE, funding for the U.S. Global Change Research Program will emphasize climate modeling, earth system history, human dimensions of global change, and global ecology.

Educating for the Future

The request also includes continued support for innovative approaches aimed at meeting the challenge of educating students for the 21st Century. For example we intend to provide:

  • $25 million to initiate a program on Research on Education and Training Technology-a joint research initiative with the U.S. Department of Education. This program is a direct outgrowth of the recommendations by the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) for a research program focused on "the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of technology use within our nation's schools." The program will include support for efforts such as basic research on educationally relevant technologies, research aimed at developing new forms of educational software, and studies to determine the best and most effective ways to use new technologies in the classroom.

  • $28 million for joint efforts with the U.S. Department of Education to fund peer reviewed proposals in K-8 mathematics education to focus on the professional development of teachers and on the implementation of standards-based instructional materials.

  • Nearly $9 million to initiate a Children's Research Initiative that focuses on children's cognitive development and readiness to learn.

  • Significant increases for NSF-wide programs that stimulate the integration of research and education including a 14.5 percent increase for the REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) program, a 16 percent increase for the CAREER (Faculty Early Career Development) program, and a nearly 35 percent increase for the IGERT (Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training) program.

NSF INVESTMENTS: MEETING THE CHALLENGES OF THE 21ST CENTURY

As I mentioned at the outset of my remarks, NSF investments in the best people and the best ideas will help keep U.S. science and engineering at the leading edge. Above all however, I believe that these activities will enable new discoveries that result in the new knowledge that will help our nation address some of the most critical challenges of the 21st Century. These challenges include better health, increased economic well-being and opportunity for all citizens, a cleaner environment and better schools for our children.

We are also facing critical challenges relating to the information age. Drinking from a firehose" is how many people describe the challenge of coping with the information deluge flooding our society today. As recently reported in the San Jose Mercury News, "...only seven percent of the information expansively collected in corporate databases is used - the rest just sits there, gathering the electronic equivalent of dust." 1

NSF investments in Knowledge and Distributed Intelligence (KDI) aim to turn this information deluge into a wellspring of discovery, learning and progress. Doing this requires much more than just building bigger and better machines. It requires addressing some of the most fundamental questions and challenges in all of science and engineering such as the workings of the brain, how we learn and the nature of intelligent behavior.

I have long felt that the questions and challenges of KDI are best exemplified by the NECK-top computer, not by the desktop computer. Our own brains are among the most complex, efficient and powerful instruments on earth, yet we are just beginning to understand how our brains operate or understand how we learn.

Understanding the workings of the brain is critical if we are to treat disorders like dyslexia, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. But solving the mysteries of the brain requires answers to more than just medical questions, it requires fundamental breakthroughs across a number scientific and engineering fields.

To better understand the brain's secrets, researchers have to be able to view it functioning in real time. NSF support has enabled the first real-time magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain. This required bringing together cutting-edge work in statistics, neuroscience, and computer science. Because the imaging process shows how areas of the brain "light up" when in use, it is yielding invaluable insights into our understanding of learning and other cognitive processes. Of course MRI technology came out of physics - another reminder that the physical sciences underpin much of biomedical research and medical technology.

Another area that gets a great deal of attention is NSF's support of faster and more experimental computer and communications networks that will better link researchers and educators at colleges and universities. The use of high-speed networks to enable distributed groups of scientists and engineers to work together as one - in almost real time - is transforming the way discoveries and innovations are occurring. Their use of these cutting edge experimental systems will also lead to more powerful communications tools for society.

The NSF-supported National Nanofabrication Users Network is a good example of such a distributed network or "virtual center" as some like to describe the arrangement. In the "virtual center" concept, high speed connections allow any researcher -- regardless of where he or she may be located -- to remotely use the capabilities and instruments of each of the five locations across the country2 that constitute the users network.

And while the Nanofabrication Users Network is an exciting example of how KDI can transform discovery, the actual research conducted over the network is probably even more exciting. By using the facilities connected through the network, scientists and engineers are able to create, design and manipulate ordinary objects like ceramics or metals one molecule or even one atom at a time. This is research and engineering at incredibly small scales -- a nanometer -- often the measure used in this research -- is one billionth of a meter, about the length of 3 or 4 atoms.

If I were asked for an area of science and engineering that will most likely produce the breakthroughs of tomorrow, I would point to nanoscale science and engineering, often called simply "nanotechnology". The general idea of nanotechnology is not new -- it has been studied since Nobel laureate Richard Feynman outlined the idea in a speech in 1959 -- but only recently have scientists been able glimpse Feynman's vision by creating rudimentary nanostructures.

NSF support over the years has allowed nanoscale science and engineering to go from the realm of science fiction to science fact. One of the most notable NSF-supported discoveries was the Nobel Prize winning discovery by Richard Smalley and Robert Curl at Rice University and Harry Kroto of Sussex University in England of a hollow form of carbon known as Buckyballs. Subsequent research has shown that a related class of molecules -- the fullerenes -- can form "nanotubes" only a few atoms in diameter3 that could be the basis for a stunning array of new environmentally friendly, carbon based materials never known before.

The possibilities of nanotechnology are endless. Entirely new classes of incredibly strong, extremely light and environmentally benign materials could be created. Other possibilities include:

  • New generations of metals and ceramics several times harder and more ductile that today. This could enable the creation of inexpensive and readily available superconductive materials;
  • medical implants that are constructed to be accepted by the body; and
  • medical probes so small that they won't damage the tissue.

Some nanoscale scientists and engineers even envision nanomanufactured objects that could change their properties automatically or repair themselves. When you think about it, this idea is not so outlandish -- DNA molecules in our own bodies can replicate themselves with incredibly small rates of error. Much of the inspiration for nanoscale scientists and engineers comes from the biosciences and bioengineering - making nanoscale science a perfect example of the integration of the physical sciences and biosciences.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Through these and other investments described in our budget request, NSF's portfolio sets the stage for a 21st Century research and education enterprise that continues to lead and shape the information revolution, addresses key national priorities in such areas as the environment and nanotechnology, improves teaching and learning at all levels of education, and commits itself to reaching out and advancing public understanding of science and technology. Guiding all of these activities is the Foundation's longstanding commitment to merit-based investments in learning and discovery that adhere to the highest standards of excellence.

A wealth of evidence testifies to the impressive returns generated by these investments. One ground-breaking study funded by NSF and published in the Fall 1997 issue of the journal Research Policy found a rapidly growing linkage between industrial innovation and scientific research. The study examined patents in key areas of industrial technology, including biomedicine, chemistry, and electrical components. It found that nearly three-fourths of the research papers cited by U.S. industry patents are what the study termed "public science" -papers authored at universities, government laboratories, and other public and non-profit centers. Furthermore, the research underlying the cited papers was found to be heavily supported by NSF and other federal agencies.

These latest findings add to an already compelling body of evidence on the contributions of fundamental science and engineering to economic growth, productivity and innovation. As President Clinton noted in a speech given on December 16, 1997: "Half our economic growth in the last half-century has come from technological innovation and the science that supports it."

This request marks a significant step forward for U.S. science and engineering. The requested increase of 10 percent provides a level of investment in keeping with the wealth of opportunity that science and engineering offer to our society. In addition, rigorous priority setting within the investment framework, with its emphasis on multidisciplinary approaches and the integration of research and education, will help position America to remain a world leader in the information-driven economy of the 21st Century.

Thank you.

See also: Hearing Summary.


1 Robert S. Boyd, "Project aims to make what's available on the Net manageable", San Jose Mercury News, February 10, 1998.
Return to Testimony.

2 The five NNUN sites are: Stanford University, UC Santa Barbara, Cornell University, Penn. State, and Howard University.
Return to Testimony.

3 Next Electronics Breakthrough: Power-Packed Carbon Atoms, The New York Times, February 17, 1998, Malcolm W. Browne
Return to Testimony.

 

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