NSF & Congress
Dr. Rita Colwell
National Science Foundation
Before the Senate Health, Education,
Labor and Pensions Committee
July 12, 2000
Mr. Chairman, Senator Kennedy, members of the Committee,
thank you for this opportunity to testify in anticipation
of NSF's reauthorization. I want to begin by thanking
you and the subcommittee for your consistent, bipartisan
support for NSF's science and engineering activities.
The Foundation's priorities for the coming year are
very clearly delineated in our budget request for
Fiscal Year 2001. If enacted, this budget would provide
the largest dollar increase the Foundation has ever
received. I believe that this investment is the first
step in setting the stage for a new century of progress
through learning and discovery.
Let me highlight a few trends at the frontiers of science
and engineering that shape our priorities for the
NSF in the coming fiscal year. Then, I'll focus on
how NSF is responding to these trends and working
to improve learning and teaching at all levels.
The headliners in NSF's 2001 request are four focused,
multidisciplinary initiatives. In fact, they are really
national priorities: Information Technology Research,
Biocomplexity, 21st Century Workforce and
the emergent National Nanoscale Science and Engineering
Each initiative integrates research across the disciplines
of science, engineering and mathematics and fosters
strong connections to education at all levels. Solving
many of the challenges facing our society will require
more than individual discoveries. It will require
the integration of knowledge from all disciplines.
In addition to our initiatives, nearly half our requested
increase will support what we call the core activities.
It will help us with the biggest challenge: to strengthen
the core disciplines of science and engineering while
moving forward in interdisciplinary areas.
It was just fifty years ago - May 10th,
1950 to be exact - that President Truman signed S.
247, the act that established the NSF.
Our nation's commitment to science, engineering and
education did not begin in 1950. This commitment can
be seen from the very beginning of the nation. The
motto on America's first coin for example - minted
in 1792 - read: Liberty: Parent of Science and Industry.
That motto has just as much meaning today - in the
21st century - as it did in 1792, in an
era before the advent of the steam engine. Individual
scientists and engineers - supported by NSF and other
federal agencies - are using their talent and their
freedom to create, discover, and innovate.
Increasingly these scientists and engineers, and perhaps
even more important their students - are also
making the jump to the private sector.
This transfer to the private sector of people
- first supported by NSF at universities - should
be viewed as the ultimate success of technology transfer.
These talented scientists and engineers are part of
the new wave of entrepreneurs creating remarkable
wealth in areas like information technology, biotechnology,
and now in nanotechnology.
Nanotechnology - Mr. Chairman - is a new, emerging
field where scientists and engineers are beginning
to manipulate matter at the atomic level. Taking a
cue from biology, researchers across disciplines are
beginning to create nanostructures smaller than human
This "Lilliputian" technology has the potential to
revolutionize nearly every facet of our economy and
our lives. For example:
- Researchers envision building electronic circuits
from the bottom-up, starting at the molecular
level. In the future researchers may be building
molecular computers the size of a tear drop with
the power of today's fastest supercomputers.
- Combining microelectronics and neural research
holds great promise for developing prosthetic
devices for artificial limbs. Researchers are
creating nanochips where nerve axons can regrow
through the tiny grate in the center of a silicon
membrane. These chips then modify and distribute
the nerve impulses, simulating the electrical
activity of a normal nerve synapse.
- Researchers are already developing micromachined
needles with sharp tips of less than a micrometer
across. Such tiny needle tips can pierce the skin
easily and without pain-a novel new method of
There are many more innovations - most occurring in
the past year or so. We are also already seeing a
substantial amount of industry-university partnerships
in nanoscale science and engineering. Industry, as
well as other federal agencies like NASA, DoE and
DoD will be looking to our universities for the scientists
and engineers skilled in nanotechnology. That is why
I cannot overstate the importance of NSF's investment.
The transfer of scientists and engineers to the private
sector can probably best be seen in the Information
Technology sector. Everyday we read a news story touting
the latest Internet whiz kid or biotechnology IPO.
David Ignatius - in a recent column in the Washington
Post - wrote about a 27-year old Stanford graduate
student with a smart business plan and a hot Internet
search engine with the strange name of Google.
The offbeat name is actually a reference to the complex
math - actually a series of mathematical algorithms
- that makes the search engine work. It involves over
half a billion variables in its complex calculations.
The mathematical term googol represents 10
to the 100th power.
Google the company is an excellent example of knowledge
transfer from NSF investments in people. The company's
two founders were computer science grad students at
Stanford who studied under an NSF-funded faculty member.
One of the founders received an NSF Graduate Research
Fellowship. Google's Vice President of Engineering
is a computer science professor at the University
of California at Santa Barbara and recipient of a
prestigious NSF CAREER award.
This demonstrates how fundamental research in an area
like mathematics acts as the lifeblood of the IT revolution.
It also shows how the unparalleled innovation system
in the U.S. can quickly exploit new ideas developed
in university labs and bring them to market.
This example is really just the latest in a string
of NSF successes. The basic research that enabled
nearly all major search engines found on the web today
- including Lycos, Excite, Infoseek, Inktomi and specialized
search engines like Congress's own THOMAS - was conducted
by university researchers funded by NSF.
This trend hasn't gone unnoticed by industry. Now leaders
like Alfred Berkeley, the President of the NASDAQ
Stock Market and former Lockheed-Martin CEO, Norm
Augustine, talk about the importance of the NSF's
investments in basic research. I've included as an
attachment statements they made earlier this year
on the importance of NSF's investments to industry.
I've also attached the recent statement by the Council
on Competitiveness, which was co-signed by dozens
of CEO's and other industry executives.
Mr. Chairman, NSF has recently developed a strategic
plan that reflect our role in the innovation process.
The investments proposed in our FY 2001 budget were
crafted to address three strategic goals for the Foundation.
People -- We've always said that every NSF dollar
is an investment in people. We cover kindergarten
to career development to continuous, lifelong learning.
Ideas - This includes research at and across
the frontiers of science and engineering, and connections
to its use in service of society.
Tools -- These are the databases, the platforms,
and the facilities that keep us at the leading edge.
There are some new starts in here that I will highlight
in a moment.
I've already mentioned the initiatives within the FY
2001 budget request. I would also like to note that
nearly half our requested increase - $320 million
-will support what we call the core activities. It
will help us with our biggest challenge: to strengthen
the core disciplines of science and engineering while
moving forward in interdisciplinary areas.
NSF's investments in cutting-edge mathematics and statistics
are a perfect example of how investing in core disciplines
will sustain new fundamental discoveries and make
interdisciplinary activities run on all cylinders.
The story of Google shows how mathematics has become
increasingly important in Information Technology Research.
We are also seeing impressive contributions to the
new and emerging fields of bioinformatics and nano-scale
manufacturing. The greatest insights into AIDS have
come from mathematical models of disease.
Mr. Chairman, all of our advances in science and engineering
depend upon a workforce that is literate in science
and technology. When we talk about the equation for
science and society, this is a critical part.
Our request for programs specifically addressing NSF's
strategic goal of investing in People - spanning both
the Education and Human Resources and Research Accounts
- will increase by 10.8% over FY 2000. Within this
broader investment, our request for Education and
Human Resources represents a 5.5% increase over the
FY 2000 level.
NSF science and math education programs are - like
all NSF programs - "experiments". They are designed
to foster the natural connections between learning
and discovery. NSF-funded science and math education
projects come from proposals submitted by individual
investigators. These can be university faculty, but
they also include local teachers, administrators,
school districts officials, and state officials. What
they all have in common is that their proposals are
subject to merit-based peer review.
In recent years, NSF has supported a number of initiatives
that are beginning to have an impact. These include:
- K-12 systemic activities
- Professional development of teachers
- Improvement of instructional materials
- Research on learning & education
- Digital libraries
- Graduate students in K-12 education
Consistent with our mission, NSF's educational programs
all seek to integrate the best research across the
fields of science and engineering with the education
of the next generation.
Some - like our new interagency research initiative
in learning and education - are more research-focused.
Others are focused clearly on the classroom - such
as our efforts to develop instructional materials.
These activities seek to improve the quality of classroom
materials by injecting them with in-depth science
and engineering content.
Still others - such as our systemic reform efforts
- combine research and education by seeking to reform
science and math education in a locality in ways or
on scales that have never been attempted. Through
rigorous assessment, these systemic efforts can help
demonstrate which strategies work and which do not.
Other education highlights include:
- Funding for the Graduate Teaching Fellows in K-12
Education (GK-12) program more than doubles to
$28 million. The GK-12 program supports graduate
and advanced undergraduate students in science,
math and engineering to be content resources for
- The request for the Historically Black Colleges
and Universities --Undergraduate Program (HBCU-UP)
in FY 2001 is $11 million, an increase of $1.60
million or 17%. This reflects a contribution from
NSF's research account of $3 million. The FY 2001
request for HBCU-UP will provide continuing support
for 14 existing projects and support for up to
4 new awards in FY 2001.
- The request for the Advanced Technological Education
Program (ATE) - NSF's flagship program for 2-year
institutions - is $39 million, an increase of
$10 million or over 33%. The ATE program seeks
to strengthen the science and math preparation
of students in technical fields. This will enable
them to better compete in the high-performance
workplace in areas such as Information Technology
- Funding for education programs funded through
the H-1B Petitioner Account established by Title
IV of the American Competitiveness and Workforce
Improvement Act of 1998 (P.L. 105-277). These
activities include the Computer Science, Engineering,
and Mathematics (CSEM) Scholarships. Under this
program, merit-based scholarships of up to $2,500
are provided for new or continued enrollment at
institutions of higher education by eligible low-income
individuals pursuing associate, undergraduate,
or graduate degrees in the disciplines specified.
Our nation is in the midst of one of the greatest eras
of technological change in human history. In an economy
driven by knowledge and ideas, how we prepare our
workforce is paramount. NSF is committed to providing
leadership in this critical area.
Finally, I mentioned earlier that we have two new starts
in our investments in Tools.
One is NEON - the National Ecological Observatory Network:
a pole-to-pole network - Arctic to Antarctic - with
a state-of-the-art infrastructure of platforms and
equipment to enable 21st Century science
and engineering-based ecological and biocomplexity
research. The Major Research Equipment request for
NEON is $12 million in FY 2001.
The other new start is EarthScope, which is an array
of instruments that will allow scientists to observe
earthquake and other earth processes like volcanic
eruptions at much higher resolution. $17 million is
requested for EarthScope in FY 2001.
Mr. Chairman, since its founding fifty years ago the
National Science Foundation has been an important
and vital catalyst for discovery and innovation. From
the information technology revolution to the genomic
revolution and everything in between - MRIs, lasers,
the Internet, Doppler radar, and countless other innovations
- NSF-supported fundamental research has advanced
NSF's FY 2001 budget reflects the lessons of history.
It focuses on national priorities, as it should. But
it also recognizes that one of our highest national
priorities must always be to stay at the leading-edge
of science and engineering research and education
across the board. Over half of the increased funding
is just for that.
The entire NSF investment portfolio sets the stage
for a 21st Century research and education
enterprise that is focused on national priorities.
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.
This request marks a significant step forward for U.S.
science and engineering. The requested increase of
over 17 percent provides a level of investment that
is clearly in keeping with the wealth of opportunity
that science and engineering provide society. It positions
America to remain a world leader in the knowledge-based
economy of the 21st Century.