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Erich Bloch
Erich Bloch (1925-2016)
National Science Foundation
September 1984 - August 1990

Photo: NSF Collection

The eighth director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) served from September 1984 to August 1990. Bloch was the first director to come to the NSF from industry and the first not to have a Ph.D. He was the first director in two decades to serve out his complete six-year term. A controversial leader, Bloch was characterized by Science magazine as an "adept politician and a strong advocate for research." In 2002, Eamon Kelly, then chair of the National Science Board, described Bloch as "a visionary innovator" and "an exceptionally effective communicator of the benefits of public funding for science and technology." Some leaders of the scientific community, however, were unhappy with Bloch's priorities and his linkage of basic research with economic development.

Bloch studied at the Federal Polytechnic Institute in Zurich, Switzerland, and received his B.S.E.E. from the University at Buffalo in 1952. That same year, he joined the staff of IBM, where he remained until he came to NSF. At the time of his nomination for director, he was Corporate Vice President of Technical Professional Development.

Bloch may have been the most transformative director since Alan Waterman. He made the improvement of U.S. economic competitiveness a major agenda item of the NSF. He encouraged funding for high-risk, but potentially revolutionary research. To meet the challenge of technological transfer and to encourage interdisciplinary research, he established the Science and Technology Centers. He also increased funding for engineering, undergraduate research, education and computer science.