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Photo of Arden Bement

Dr. Arden L. Bement, Jr.
National Science Foundation

"The Shifting Plate Tectonics of Science"
American Ceramic Society
Frontiers of Science and Society
Rustum Roy Lecture
Baltimore, MD
April 10, 2005

See also slide presentation.

If you're interested in reproducing any of the slides, please contact the Office of Legislative and Public Affairs: (703) 292-8070.

Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you, Jim 1, for your introduction. Many of you will know Dr. McCauley through his work in organizing the Rustum Roy lecture. In fact he also bears the distinction of having been a student of Rustum Roy. Everyone may not be aware that Jim is also the inventor of a "new line of completely transparent, bullet-proof glass that is tougher than steel." This glass is "so tough that it can withstand a point-blank .357 magnum bullet and even an anti-tank projectile." 2 I can hear Jim saying, "Clint Eastwood made my day!"

Anyway, given the way Washington politics have been going, that makes Jim the right sort of friend to have around these days!

Speaking of friends, I'm pleased to note that the National Science Foundation is making an excellent representation at this meeting. Our materials research scientists and engineers are out here in force, including Lance Haworth, Lynnette Madsen, Carmen Huber and Yip-Wah Chung, who are all scheduled to speak. They will be giving an NSF perspective on materials research and education, on industrial participation, and on international activities, as well as on some specific scientific and engineering topics.

I myself feel very much among friends, having been inducted as an honorary member of this society in 1999.

As a metallurgist speaking to ceramists, I am reminded that while metals conduct heat, most ceramics store heat--and we metallurgists depend on refractory materials.

That makes us, collectively, a highly complementary case of interdisciplinary exchange; witness integrated circuits, ceramic coatings on turbine blades, and adiabatic engine technology--not to mention high-temperature superconductors and metal-ceramic composites.

I have been struck, in fact, by a broader bridging of the disciplines-even a kind of continuum of the famous "two cultures"--that is embodied in the American Ceramic Society. This is a rare organization in its embrace of both artists and scientists as members.

In ceramic science--as David Kingery and Pamela Vandiver note in their book, Ceramic Masterpieces--the "linkage of technology, structure and visual impact is both simple and important."

[Slide 1: Stained glass ]
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Art and science, of course, have been part of the materials story since ancient times. Artists of the Middle Ages added miniscule amounts of gold and silver to stained glass, producing the rich red and yellow hues. Unwittingly they were practicing nanotechnology, exploiting the powerful properties of matter at the scale of the very small.

As Northwestern University's Chad Mirkin notes, "Gold is a beautiful example of that -- [It's a] shiny, metallic material when it's a bulk material. You shrink it down to 30-nanometer particles, and it's now a very intense red color." The colors of the nanoscale dots here vary because of their different size, shape and composition.

[Slide 2: Painting from National Gallery of Art]
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Some Venetian paintings of the Renaissance-like "Saint Catherine," painted by Venetian Lorenzo Lotto in 1522--have recently yielded another materials-derived secret. Painters like Lotto added glass particles to their paint to create brilliant and translucent colors--colors that they could not have otherwise created.

As conservation scientist Barbara Berrie, from the National Gallery of Art, told Science News, "They used new materials to create an art of their time...Part of their greatness was to step beyond the established practice and adopt materials from other crafts and trades." 3 Berrie also noted, "The diversity of materials available to Venetian artists is a large part of the explanation of their fascination and use of color in their work." 4

[Slide 3: Rustum Roy and picture of his book, Lost at the Frontier]
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Speaking of stepping beyond established practice, I am especially honored to be delivering this lecture named for Rustum Roy. The decades of Rustum's fascinating career have actually just about paralleled NSF's own life-span.

I have known "Rusty" for over 40 years. As long as I can remember, he has been a leading spokesman for interdisciplinary research and for government-industry-university partnerships. In fact, he has been both a statesman and iconoclast at the same time--and plays both roles to perfection.

It has been said that Rustum Roy operates on a "broadband scale," so diverse are his accomplishments. His achievements as a pioneer in a young branch of science, materials research, are well known to you. He has long advanced the interrelationship of structure, property and processing in materials science.

He has also led the establishment of materials science and engineering centers. Rusty has led, in fact, one of the premier materials research centers in the world, dedicated to advanced ceramics. He also pioneered the field of multifunctional ceramics. His fingerprints are on many of the important advances and innovations in the field.

What is more, he has published some 1000 papers and is still at it. (I can't help wondering, from the NSF perspective, how many reviewers that has entailed! Probably at least 5,000...)

Of course, this annual lecture on science and society celebrates the fact that Rustum also "crossed over" into science and technology policy circles. Pictured here is his book, Lost at the Frontier. Written with Deborah Shapley, the book's title and content are a follow-on to Vannevar Bush's work of the late 1940s, Science--The Endless Frontier, which set forth the manifesto to create the National Science Foundation.

As the newer book noted, "...much of the nation's private, public and industrial life depends on science and technology...[Yet,] what has struck us so forcefully is the extent to which many scientists and engineers we both know are reluctant to get into the business of invention, or creating new industries, or helping with societal problems such as education."

The book also stressed the many interconnections of fundamental science and engineering to technology and to our national needs.

Lost at the Frontier called for "a change in the values of our scientists, particularly young people starting their careers, to stress the interconnections among disciplines, institutions, and across barriers and obstacles now separating basic and applied science, engineering and technology."

From a viewpoint twenty years on, I believe these prescient words have truly begun to take hold in science and engineering.

[Slide 4: The Shifting Plate Tectonics of Science (title slide)]
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That's why I chose to speak today about the shifting "plate tectonics" of science. Like the dynamic geologic plates that jostle, subduct and sometimes break loose in ways or at times we may not have predicted, the interactions of science within society are becoming more intense and complex all the time.

Within science itself, the transformation of scientific tools has brought us observations unprecedented in quality, detail and scope--observations that sometimes hover on the edge of comprehensibility.

Evolving in concert with the new tools are different ways of working within science, such as collaboration across large, multidisciplinary, often international teams. These new modes of working are essential to meeting the grand scientific challenges of our era--those overarching goals that require a concerted, large-scale effort.

I'd like to explore with you now this interplay of tools, observations, and human dynamics that is transforming how science takes place. Then I will focus in on some trends in materials research at the National Science Foundation, trends that reflect this dynamic shifting of the tectonic plates of science.

The new modes of conducting science employ embedded sensors in large grids, synthesis of massive databases, computational models of complex behavior, and international teams. We see these patterns whether the topic of investigation is earthquakes, ecological systems, oceans, or even gravitational waves.

I'll turn now to some cases of how new tools are transforming our ability to tackle new and complex challenges, across a range of disciplines. My first example is from the geosciences and it is called Earthscope.

[Slide 5: Earthscope animation]
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This observatory, newly installed three kilometers down in California's San Andreas Fault, is now probing one of the world's most active faults. The animation shows how the drill has burrowed down through the granite beneath Parkfield, California, puncturing the fault like a soda straw. Sensors lining the tunnel will search--for the first time--for signals that could alert us to a major earthquake.

Earthscope will ultimately give a three-dimensional view of the North American continent, from surface to core.

[Slide 6: NEES animation]
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A kind of flipside to Earthscope is NEES--the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation, dedicated to the grand challenge of preventing earthquake disasters. NEES facilities will simulate earthquakes and study how infrastructure and materials perform during seismic events.

One NEES node focuses on tsunamis--all the more pertinent in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. Overall, a community of networked researchers and students remote from one another will be able to observe and participate in experiments at the university sites, and will access data in a central repository.

[Slide 7: NEON network]
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Ecology is another discipline developing a blueprint for a network that will span the continent, and beyond. The National Ecological Observatory Network--NEON--is being designed to answer questions that cross space and time.

It will enable ecological forecasting--helping to chart how climate change will alter forests and crops, how an infectious disease like West Nile Virus emerges and spreads, and how a foreign species, like the snakehead fish, disrupts a native ecosystem.

[Slide 8: Monterey Bay]
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Planning is under way for ocean observatories, like the hypothetical one we see here in Monterey Bay. They will take targeted samples and measure multiple factors over space and time. For example, it will be possible to have instruments take samples automatically when triggered by actual events--such as emission from an undersea thermal vent.

A number of institutions are banding together to create a prototype grid of wireless and optical networks to link oceanographers to ocean observatories off the coasts of Mexico, the United States and Canada.

[Slide 9: NVO animation]
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Astronomical research is already moving to access on a global scale--with the National Virtual Observatory. It will offer access to all astronomy data and literature to anyone, wherever they may be. That all-important astronomical commodity, "instrument time," is no longer exclusive. As this video shows, an astronomer will be able to integrate data from the entire observation spectrum. The Internet will become, as astronomers put it, "the world's best telescope," 5 a supercomputer at your desktop.

By enabling comparison of massive amounts of data from diverse sources--such as space and ground, and radio, optical, infrared, and other wavelengths--the NVO will bring the power to look at the most fundamental questions, such as the evolution of the universe.

[Slide 10: Materials science graphic]
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From geophysics to earthquake engineering, from ecology to astronomy, the plate tectonics of every field of science and engineering has been rocked by the explosion of new tools for observation and collaboration.

Every field, in turn, is accelerating toward interdisciplinarity, the crossing of scales, and the growth of global collaborations. It also struck me that every one of the examples I have cited involves materials science.

For materials research, information technology has served as the accelerator from bench-top science to the global scale, even as IT has relied on materials--not least on ceramics--to propel its own spectacular growth.

Indeed, modeling and simulation of materials structure and properties have persistently been a major user of supercomputer cycles, since the very beginning of NSF supercomputer support.

Materials research has changed dramatically over my lifetime. It was once a highly compartmented pursuit, where different materials constituted separate fields--as if each were a distinct planet spinning in solitary splendor. Now we have a unified field of materials science and engineering with the basic principles interwoven into a single fabric.

That transformation enabled me to make contributions to nuclear reactor structural metals and alloys, nuclear ceramic fuels and fuel cladding, MHD ceramic electrodes and insulators, and high-temperature superconductors and ferroelectrics.

[Slide 11: Spintronics]
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This is an illustration that depicts a new field called "spintronics," a nanotechnology field being pursued worldwide through the evolving Materials World Network. "Spintronics" seeks to exploit the possibility that the electron's spin--in addition to its charge--can be applied to process and store information. (The solid lines show positive spin density in a manganese-germanium compound and the dashed lines denote negative spin density.)

The Materials World Network--which supports collaborations on this and countless other topics--began about a decade ago as an effort among the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Regional networks then began to take shape in Europe, Asia, the eastern bloc and Africa and now, in the Middle East. Altogether 47 nations now comprise the network, which has grown and coalesced from the bottom up.

[Slide 12: Naturally-derived scaffolds]
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This illustration of research on naturally derived scaffolds is another result of international collaboration through the Materials World Network. Work between Northwestern University and universities in Madrid and Seville has probed nature's solutions for material design with mechanical robustness. Transforming this wood by heat (pyrolysis) creates a carbon scaffold, which is then infiltrated by liquid silicon.

[Slide 13: Tracking the new plate tectonics in materials science]
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I'd like to explicitly cite several of the "shifting plates" in materials research at the National Science Foundation that exemplify some of the changing plate tectonics in science as a whole.

They are: nanotechnology; the materials-biosciences interface; the connections across lengths and scales; and the importance of cyberinfrastructure.

[Slide 14: Nano "flower"]
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Medieval art notwithstanding, nanotechnology is one of those genuinely new tectonic plates in science and engineering. With very sophisticated instrumentation we can now change matter at the nanoscale, which simply was not possible 10 or 20 years ago. Here we see an excellent example of how advances in tools engender progress in science. This "nano flower" is actually a three dimensional nanostructure grown by controlled nucleation of silicon carbide nanowires on gallium catalyst particles.

[Slide 15: NSF support for nano]
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This graph is a quick snapshot of how NSF support for nanotechnology has grown over just six years. NSF's Division of Materials Research actually accounts for about one-third of the NSF nano total.

[Slide 16: Nanoscale SECs]
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NSF's support for nanotechnology takes many forms, from individual investigators to small groups to centers. The Nanoscale Science and Engineering Centers are shown here chronologically by their year of inception.

[Slide 17: NSF centers with national outreach/societal dimensions]
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Here I focus in on three centers to emphasize how vitally we view the societal dimensions of nanotechnology. A Nanotechnology Center for Learning and Teaching was established in 2004 as a partnership among six institutions. Competitions are currently under way to choose a center for nanotechnology in society, and an informal science education network for nanotechnology.

[Slide 18: Molecularium]
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Outreach is already happening at the Rensselaer Nanotechnology Center's Molecularium. Here, in a planetarium style format, children in grades K-3 can journey to inner space--learning about atoms and molecules in a virtual world.

Unfortunately we could not bring the planetarium here, but to give a suggestion of what it's all about, I invite you to listen to the Molecularium's theme song...

[Slide 19: Bio-materials interface ]
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I'll move now to another aspect of the changing plate tectonics of materials science--that is the junction of materials research and bioscience. Like new seafloor emerging in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the materials-bio zone is new territory in constant creation. I use this image of a ribosome--one of the largest structures determined by x-ray crystallography--to exemplify this dynamic interface.

Physicists and materials scientists are exploring much common ground with bioscientists. Physical scientists bring a new way of looking at biological problems and are well-poised to contribute to biologically based materials and to systems biology. Of course, biological challenges have spin-offs for problems in physics and materials science.

A recent NSF workshop on the role of theory in biological physics and materials highlighted two major scientific themes at this juncture. The first is non-equilibrium thermodynamics. Biological phenomena, inherently non-equilibrium, could inspire the creation of new knowledge at the foundations of condensed matter and materials theory. Feeding back, this new thinking could give a different perspective on the living world.

The second theme is self-assembly, which occurs in biological systems on an enormous range of length scales and is often highly accurate. The workshop participants concluded that "Self-assembling materials may well be a major thrust in future materials development."

[Slide 20: Bacteria: Tiny bio-electronic circuits]
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Here is a new twist on the cross-fertilization of materials and bioscience, from the University of Wisconsin. Here we see individual, living, bacteria cells-the distinct, rod-like structures-being channeled along the dark lines to electrical gaps, where they are trapped by mild electric currents. The bacteria become "bio-junctions" and can be captured, interrogated and released.

A potential application could be new sensors to rapidly detect biological agents, such as anthrax.

[Slide 21: From quarks to the cosmos]
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I use this sweeping view of the physical sciences, all the way "from quarks to the cosmos," to suggest another aspect of the new tectonics of materials research. The need to look across scales was prefigured in 1928 by Sir Arthur Eddington.

"I ask you," he said, "to look both ways. For the road to a knowledge of the stars leads through the atom; and important knowledge of the atom has been reached through the stars."

The theoretical challenge to connect across time, length and energy scales pervades the physical and biological sciences, from the most fundamental constituents of matter to the structure of the universe.

Again, Eddington zeroed in on those connections when he said, "We often think when we have completed our study of one, we know all about two, because 'two' is 'one and one.' We forget that we still have to make a study of 'and.'"

An NSF workshop last year tackled the challenge of understanding phenomena that span disparate length and time scales. As the workshop report commented, "New concepts are...needed at successive length, time and energy scales at which collective phenomena emerge."

[Slide 22: Quantum to atomistic to continuum]
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Materials science and engineering has begun to burgeon with work across scales such as that illustrated here, bringing together engineers who deal with materials from a top-down perspective, to the bottoms-up perspective of materials scientists. For this work in multi-scale modeling, the focus is familiar and fundamental for ceramics: namely, brittle fracture.

Priya Vashishta and colleagues from the University of Southern California model fracture across length scales.

At left, brittle fracture is modeled on the continuum scale-the scale on which we live. In the center is the molecular scale, and at right, the spatial scale of electrons. To understand fracture we need to know what is happening at all these scales.

[Slide 23: Global collaboration on quantum-level simulations]
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This illustration also brings together large and small, again through information technology, but this time through grid computing. It shows how calculations at the quantum level, perhaps involving billions of atoms, can be carried out collaboratively between the U.S. and Japan, as shown in the maps at the bottom.

Computing enables the "divide and conquer strategy," as Vashishta puts it.

[Slide 24: Summary graphic]
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Rustum Roy has made it his life's work not only to observe the changing plate tectonics of science but to suggest how we might edge those plates in directions that truly benefit society.

Fulfilling the changing vision of science I have described today requires a partnership with society, one that engages every one of us.

Although we all inhabit this marvelous, dynamic and worldwide enterprise of science, too often our work goes hidden and unheeded. It has been said many times that "ceramics are hidden to society." Yet, as noted on the American Ceramic Society website, ceramics contribute to every one of the top engineering achievements of the 20th century.

As progress in ceramic science and engineering accelerates, we need to release some of that great store of creativity to advance one of Rustum's basic tenets: explicitly raising awareness of how fundamental research in materials science and engineering relates to everyday life.

As Ivan Amato wrote in his book Stuff--The Materials the World Is Made Of, "...contemporary materials science [and engineering] is likely to have as profound an effect on posterity as did [the] original act of materials...[utilization] in eastern Africa's Rift Valley, when the sound of stone against stone first snapped into the Paleolithic air." Let's all consider it our responsibility to communicate the value of our work to the nation--and to the world. After all, it's a materials world.

1 James McCauley, Senior Research Scientist, U.S. Army Research Laboratory
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2 Ceramics Media Tip Sheet, The American Ceramic Society
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3 "Venetian grinds: The secret behind Italian Renaissance painters' brilliant palettes," by Alexandra Goho, Science News, March 12, 2005.
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4 Abstract by Barbara Berrie, "Material innovation and artistic invention: A creative link,"; American Chemical Society local meeting (membership.acs.org/W/WashDC/emeetings.04.html)
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5 "The Worldwide Telescope," by Alexander Szalay and Jim Gray, Science, vol. 293, issue 5537, 14 Sept. 2001.
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