Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Chief Operating Officer
National Science Foundation
13th Conference on Current Trends in Computational Chemistry
Jackson State University
November 13, 2004
Good evening, everyone, and thank you, Dr. Okojie, for a kind introduction. I'm honored to have had this opportunity to spend some time becoming acquainted with the Conference on Current Trends in Computational Chemistry, enjoying the posters, and getting to know Jackson State University a bit better. It's also been a pleasure to meet so many of you who have forged vibrant connections through science and engineering with your community, your region, and - in fact - with the world at large.
First, let me offer a warm thank-you to President Ron Mason, both for inviting me to speak this evening and for establishing a strong leadership role for Jackson State University in the "cluster."
For those who don't know the term, the cluster is the partnership of research-intensive, HBCU1 institutions that have come together to capitalize on their capacity for discovery and their well-regarded ability to expand science, engineering, and technology degrees to diverse populations. I'd also like to thank Abdul Mohamed, Rita Presley and Jerzy Leszczynski for their kind hospitality and for spending their precious time informing me about Jackson State University's facilities and programs. I'm pleased, also, to see some old friends here, such as Marek Urban from the great polymers team at Southern Mississippi, and my former coworker at NSF, Bill Lester.
This is actually my second visit to Jackson State. I very much enjoyed my first, several years back, when I participated in the genesis of the university's engineering program. At the time, I was impressed with the strong focus on the needs of the local industrial workforce; that focus, I can see from my interactions during this visit, is growing in span and substance.
This morning, I had a chance to meet faculty and students. My discussions with them reinforce my impression of the intellectually integrative, cross-boundary strength of Jackson State's journey to the future.
Tonight's banquet marks the conclusion of a yet another worthwhile conference on computational chemistry. While the "computational" part of computational chemistry came along late in my career, chemistry certainly played a role in shaping my understanding of how engineering and science progress. During the race between RCA and IBM in the 1960s to develop a laser diode that worked at room temperature, I was a young engineer working at RCA, and part of a team running in that race.
That research drew upon a number of disparate streams - chemistry, semiconductors, electro-optics, voice modulation, holography, recording polymers, and more - culminating in such applications as laser-light communication for the Gemini VII two-person spacecraft flight. It was an exciting time, discovering and making things at the edge of what is known and unknown.
Only later did I realize how much that experience working in a team shaped my appreciation of research that travels across disciplinary and organizational boundaries, without bothering to stop for formalities at the borders.
The field that many of you call home--computational chemistry - exemplifies the foment of science and engineering at the edges of what is known. As a writer recently observed2, "Computational chemistry, like just about any other field with 'computational' at the front of its name, is in constant ferment. This is a blessing and a curse for those living in the tumult."
Helping us navigate the tumultuous seas, our new research tools robustly enable our abilities to simulate and to visualize - comprising a revolutionary capability for chemists to design new materials and understand the chemistry of life, among other achievements. One could not conjure a more synthesizing "inter-discipline" than that.
In addition, I've read of a project - I'm sure many of you are familiar with it--that exemplifies how computational chemistry is exploring new ways to do science. I'm speaking of the "Folding at Home" (folding@home) grid that connects more than 150,000 desktop computers to provide, creatively, computing power to simulate protein folding. Its creator, Vijay Pande, rather imaginatively compares its speed and method to producing a baby in one month by apportioning the work among nine mothers.3 This hints at the new and innovative ways of doing science that NSF seeks to bolster.
Here at Jackson State, what I have seen adds to my impression that its dynamic computational chemistry center ranks among the leading centers in NSF's CREST program - the Centers for Research Excellence in Science and Technology. This impression is reinforced by NSF's recent renewal of the Center's support. The CREST program's mantra is that "academic institutions with significant minority enrollments play a vital role in conducting research that contributes to our knowledge base in all disciplines..." The Jackson State University center certainly exemplifies that idea.
The work here at the Center personifies all three strategies applied in creating NSF's investment portfolio: investment in intellectual capital, integration of education and research, and promotion of partnerships. Achievements include bringing state-of-the-art computational tools to campus, encompassing undergrads to post-docs, and establishing a PhD program. With respect to CREST partnerships specifically, Jackson State excels. For example, its international linkages across many countries provide the global orientation our nation's students so vitally need.
Speaking broadly, viewing our nation as a whole, we need to integrate our educational strategies at all levels. Jackson State University has been able to integrate various types of support available across NSF, to take programs aimed at various levels of education, and at individuals and institutions, and make them into holistic activities.
One of these programs, about which I'm unabashedly passionate, is the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP, for short), and, of course, Jackson State is a player in one of the alliances. Louis Stokes alliances are collaborations among more than 400 colleges, universities and institutes across the country. LSAMP now includes what's called "Bridge to the Doctorate," which begins to focus on what happens to the students after baccalaureate graduation. An increasing number of students are taking the step onto this "bridge"-and I'd like to congratulate those here at Jackson State who are among that accomplished crowd. I'm told that one student's summer bridge experience even involved working in the lab alongside a Nobel Laureate. Investment of taxpayers' money cannot get any better than that.
To create seamless transitions among educational levels, NSF's Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP for short), come next. That's quite a mouthful, but it means linked investments that are creating a diverse group of potential faculty to help lead academe in the future.
A few years down the road, the graduates of the Louis Stokes AMP and AGEP institutions will be an integral part of the pool of candidates from which we recruit our research and teaching professors and our high school teachers. We want those candidates to represent our entire population.
We often note that diversity is a nation's competitive advantage. NSF is committed to the belief that a nation's future can be assured only by integrating ideas from all segments of its population. Today's scientists and engineers need a spectrum of capabilities that help them to work across boundaries, to handle ambiguity, to integrate, to innovate, to communicate and to cooperate. These components of a holistic education suit the science and engineering of our times, and include an enthusiastic embrace of diversity.
Broadening participation in science and engineering today ranks at the top of NSF's goals - in fact, it is part of our statutory mandate. Let me offer an observation on this topic that may fly in the face of conventional wisdom. It is this: Broadening participation is not about the total number of engineers and scientists a nation may or may not need.
It is easy to be distracted by debates about trends and statistics that attempt to make the case that the demand for science, engineering and technological workers is greater or less than the supply. Rather, we need to focus our vision and energies on drawing into the engineering and science workforce a larger proportion of women, underrepresented minorities, and persons with disabilities, no matter the workforce size. Whatever the numbers turn out to be, we need a robust and varied mix, and that means broadening participation.
Such diverse participation in a nation's workforce will ensure that it has the extraordinary capabilities to sustain its progress, and competitive acumen. It is a major goal of NSF to help shape our next-generation science and engineering workforce, one that has new skills that suit a world in which rapid change, increasing complexity and greater interdependence predominate across the globe.
Today's students, including those of you here tonight, will create and integrate knowledge, produce innovations we cannot now imagine, and design new options to meet global challenges. To be on the frontier of discovery, on the vanguard of innovation, calls for these new capabilities.
NSF's investments in frontier research and education, and their integration, are vital to making the US science and engineering enterprise dynamic and innovative, especially in a time of tight budgets - like the current situation. Such times demand implementing a strategic vision with focused investment.
This year, the President's advisors for policy and budget have given guidance to federal agencies, including NSF, that calls for emphasis on specific areas. Some of these will resonate strongly here at Jackson State. These are: homeland security research and development, networking and information technology, nanotechnology, physical sciences priorities, biology of complex systems, and research and development in climate, water and hydrogen fuel.
NSF's own priorities dovetail with that guidance. I have already discussed our focus on broadening participation in the science and engineering workforce, a crucial priority for the nation as a whole. We intend to put special emphasis on integrating the programs we already have - such as LSAMP--with the core disciplines. We also intend to strengthen research in the core disciplines and improve the funding rate for research grants. Balancing our investments across all fields will ensure the vigor and continual morphing of the core disciplines necessary for addressing discovery at their interfaces.
Hand-in-hand with this goes the commitment to provide powerful state-of-the-art tools for science and engineering. Gone are the rudimentary tools of the past; today's tools help propel researchers much more rapidly to new frontiers of knowledge, to address complex and expansive questions. In a real sense, the growing plethora of new technological capabilities is robustly changing the way research and education are done.
As just one--but very big--example: NSF is supporting the creation of the next stage of cyberinfrastructure - powerful, integrated, enabling facilities that are broadly accessible, no matter where the researcher, educator or institution is located. NSF is also supporting other world-class facilities to enhance research performance across the disciplines, whether in astronomy, earthquake research, ecology, oceanography, physics, and other disciplines, and - yes, of course! - computational chemistry. NSF responds in this way to accelerate what is happening across all of science and engineering.
Like the computational chemistry center, and like Jackson State itself, NSF is a firm believer in partnerships to work toward these priorities. At a time when U.S. leadership in a number of fields of engineering and science is being challenged by many nations, it is time to communicate and partner across traditional lines and beyond local and national boundaries.
I've been asked many times to explain how minority-serving institutions fit into this new century, how their role has evolved. The answer is not in the "fitting in" - the answer is rather, given the ever-evolving changes in our nation and across our globe, we are turning to Jackson State as part of a new wave of leadership institutions which will take us ahead in this increasingly complex and diverse world.
From your commitment and your enthusiasm, I know your hearts are in this work. From your successes and your contemporary challenges to others, I know your intellectual capabilities are up to this task. From your well-known mentoring embrace of those you bring along, I know your competitive edge is well-tuned.
Count on NSF as your more-than-willing partner in this quest.
1 Historically Black Colleges and Universities
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2 "Catch the Wave," by J. William Bell, NCSA "Access," Fall, 2003.
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3 "Turbocharging Computers," by Elizabeth K. Wilson, Chemical and Engineering News, 9-27-04.
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Return to a list of Dr. Bordogna's speeches.