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NSF & Congress

Hearing Summary - Investing in High-Risk, High-Reward Research

October 8, 2009

On October 8, 2009, Dr. James Collins, the Assistant Director for Biological Sciences at the National Science Foundation (NSF), testified at a hearing of the Subcommittee on Research and Science Education, House Committee on Science and Technology about "Investing in High-Risk, High-Reward Science." The purpose of the hearing was to examine the mechanisms for supporting high-risk, potentially high-reward research and the role the federal government plays in funding that kind of research.

Subcommittee Chairman Dan Lipinski (D-IL) opened the hearing by reviewing how the National Academies committee recommended that "each federal research agency set aside 8 percent of its budget for high-risk, high-payoff research" and "the National Science Board recommended that the National Science Foundation establish a transformative research initiative."

In the opening of his testimony, Dr. Collins stated that "the challenge for agencies like NSF that fund research done by other organizations is to create and sustain a culture of innovation in which the flow of information among its members creates an institutional culture and framework that stimulates, reinforces, and rewards creativity, and pervades the agency and guides its decision making process."

Dr. Collins reviewed several of the ways that NSF is facilitating transformative research. NSF established a definition of transformative research, has modified the intellectual review process to include transformative concepts and provided training to new program officers on the priority of supporting transformative research. Additionally, NSF is working on new mechanisms to identify transformative research including the foundation-wide funding mechanism of Early-concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) that supports the early stages of research of potentially transformative research.

Other witnesses at the hearing were Dr. Neal Lane, Malcolm Gillis University Professor and Senior Fellow, James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, Rice University; Dr. Richard McCullough, Professor of Chemistry and Vice President of Research, Carnegie Mellon University; and Dr. Gerald Rubin, Vice President and director, Janelia Farms Research Campus, Howard Hughes Medical Institute.