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Photo of Arden Bement

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

Materials World Network Symposium
Cancun, Mexico
August 22, 2005

Buenos dias. Good morning to everyone. I am delighted to join you in celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Materials World Network. As Director of the U.S. National Science Foundation, I am honored to participate in today's events, together with our able partner CONACYT and its director, Jaime Parada. I want to thank Pedro Hernandez and the Academia Mexicana de Ciencia de Materiales for graciously hosting this event, and Bob Chang of Northwestern University for organizing and chairing it.

Mexico was the site of the 1995 Saltillo workshop that sowed the first seeds of this innovative venture. We all have watched, with great satisfaction, the subsequent growth and development of the crop first planted a decade ago. The event today--a gathering of materials scientists, engineers and educators from around the globe--is ample testimony to the progress made in fostering global collaboration.

So, it is fitting that we should gather here today to elaborate a vision for the next decade. Looking back, I'm struck, above all, by how visionary the ideas were that shaped the Materials World Network--and equally by how much we take them for granted today!

Ten years ago it took extraordinary foresight to imagine a global network of materials researchers and educators working across borders, disciplines and cultures to advance the frontiers of knowledge.

We were just beginning to understand the speed with which our new computer and communications tools could open new portals of discovery and shrink our world. Today, scientists and engineers from nearly everywhere around the globe can join together in collaborative and productive work.

I don't need to remind you that ten years ago, nanotechnology was not the "household word" that it is fast becoming today. Few could have predicted then how thoroughly the potential of nano--and nanomaterials in particular--would animate researchers and educators and set governments and industry in hot pursuit of nano gold.

And finally, a decade ago we were just awakening to the central and accelerating role played by the creation of new knowledge and technological innovation as a driver of economic and social prosperity, and the consequences this has had for research, education and industry.

Viewed in this context, the guiding vision of the Materials World Network was way ahead of its time. Since we are gathered to plan for the future, this is a splendid time to take stock of where we are now, and how far we have come. Many threads intertwined to create the innovative tapestry that is the Materials World Network. I'll mention just three that will be familiar to you all.

The first is the realization that global collaboration can accelerate materials discovery and design, to the benefit of the entire international materials community. This innovative--even revolutionary--concept recognizes that a network is more robust and more productive when everyone is included as an integral part of the network.

In the language of networks, the more "nodes" and "hubs" in our evolving network, the better for all. A wise observation from Woodrow Wilson applies here. "I not only use all the brains that I have," he said, "but all the brains I can borrow."

The second conceptual innovation is the notion that a global network should foster genuine collaborations. This requires much more than simply linking the science and engineering talent that is abundant the world over.

Forming and sustaining valuable collaborations is not a simple matter of email correspondence or sharing information. People create new knowledge and advance technology most effectively when they engage collectively in the process of imagination and discovery.

Discovery requires intimate intellectual connections and collegiality, not simply information exchange. Access to databanks, broadband connections, and high performance computing--vital as they are--cannot nurture this intimacy. Genuine collaboration also requires that the researchers and educators who bring different perspectives, skills and resources to the table be equal partners in the enterprise.

Third, and perhaps the most radical of the three conceptual innovations, is the idea that we can design and foster a global network to achieve common, long-term goals. In this instance, the far-reaching and ambitious goal is the advancement of materials research to bolster economic development and social prosperity worldwide.

Global collaboration--among scientists, engineers, educators, industry and governments--can speed the transformation of new knowledge into new products, processes and services, and in their wake produce new jobs, create wealth, and improve the standard of living and quality of life worldwide. Collaboration can also speed us toward solutions for persistent problems in environment, health, energy and security.

As materials scientists and engineers, we often find ourselves in highly complex landscapes where fundamental and applied research blend and blur. Living on this permeable boundary, we can creatively push the research and simultaneously meet growing pressures to address local, regional, national and global needs.

Doing both is increasingly imperative. The unprecedented demands of economic growth, global security, and societal well being are stretching our scientific, engineering, educational and technological capabilities. At the National Science Foundation, we require that every research proposal include a component that considers the broader implications of the research. Proposals are rejected if they fail to address this concern. Worldwide networks can address similar global challenges.

Over the past decade, the Materials World Network has reached out to nearly every region of the globe. To my knowledge, there is no comparable effort to encourage a genuinely integrated world community in any other field of science and engineering. You have reason to be proud of your foresight and your accomplishments.

With a thorough understanding of how far we have come, we can look with confidence toward the future and ask, "What next?" I want to mention briefly several possibilities for you to ponder.

First, I firmly believe we must promote the rapid development of cyberinfrastructure on a global scale. Computer and communications technologies have transformed our science, as well as given us the ability to collaborate internationally. They will play an ever-increasing role for any nation to reap the benefits of materials development and design in the future. They will further shrink the world.

Second, we must encourage and involve young talent in materials research on every scale, from the local to the global. The potential to maintain our momentum toward path-breaking discoveries rests on the next generation of fresh talent.

Third, as we expand our collaborations among researchers and educators, we must consider new, creative ways to partner with governments and industry. After all, it is through "policies" and "products" that the benefits of our research will reach those who need them.

As we develop a vision and strategies for the next decade, we must continue to nurture our creative vision, but "business as usual" will not be good enough. We must look beyond what we can see to what might take us in new directions if we ask the right questions. That means measuring our own progress not by comparison with others, but with an eye on the next unmet challenge.

I am convinced that the future promises even greater rewards in new knowledge, deeper and broader partnerships, and a growing international cadre of sophisticated young scientists and engineers who will carry forward our work in decades to come. Most important, we can already anticipate progress in meeting human needs, stimulating economic growth, and improving the quality of life worldwide.

In the tradition of the World Materials Network, I have every confidence that you will be leaders in realizing this promise in the decade to come.

I am now pleased to relinquish the dais to Professor Chang and his colleagues. They will present an overview of the Materials World Network as a vehicle for international collaborations.

Muchas gracias!



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