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Photo of Arden Bement

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

"Crossing Borders to Advance the Frontier: NSF's Role in International Outreach"
American Physical Society Meeting, Session on "Public and Private Funding for International Research"

Dallas, Texas
April 22, 2006


Thank you, Dr. Bienenstock.1 First, I want to thank you, and the American Physical Society, for organizing this session. No subject could be more timely -- for all of the sciences.

In today's interconnected research environment, ideas and discoveries can emerge from anywhere in the world, and can be transmitted instantaneously.

With the speed of developments today, it would be easy for nations to get blind-sided by innovations taking place elsewhere -- if they weren't actively involved in the global network.

In the United States, we plan, of course, to keep our national R&D enterprise at the leading edge of innovation. However, I also see the future of global competition as being more than simply a race for individual nations to do things faster, better, cheaper.

We confront a world in which we must actively cooperate -- with our established international partners, those which are on a path to seek the frontier, and those nations which aspire to that path. The United States will seek to be a valued partner, which collaborates willingly and contributes our resources to the common advancement of knowledge.

NSF is committed to building bridges across borders to pursue these goals and collectively advance the frontiers of science and engineering.

We are moving forward on three fronts:

  • Serving as a catalyst for partnerships that employ the best talent in science and engineering, regardless of where that talent is located.
  • Encouraging national policies that facilitate collaboration while also promoting economic competitiveness. And....
  • Training U.S. scientists and engineers that are not only technically competent but are also skilled in cross-disciplinary, cross-cultural collaborations.

The U.S. physical sciences community has been ahead of many of the fundamental science disciplines in forming partnerships that employ the latest information technology and embrace the expertise found in other parts of the world. The latter includes the excellent physics resources of Europe and Asia.

The scale of resources required to proceed to the next level of physics experimentation has helped spur cross-border collaboration. It takes the drive and resources of more than one nation to operate a network of gravitational-wave observatories, to exploit the capabilities of a Large Hadron Collider, to build an ALMA observatory, and to consider a futuristic, superconducting linear collider.

The U.S. ability to lead, or contribute substantially to, international projects depends on maintaining the core strengths of our science and engineering enterprise.

One of those strengths is the high level of both public and private resources dedicated to science and engineering. Even today, with R&D investments rising in many regions of the world, we continue to lead most nations with the level of our commitment. Federal resources generally serve as the catalyst for the discoveries and innovations that keep our products and technologies in the forefront of the competition.

For more than 50 years, the National Science Foundation has provided federal support for fundamental, high-risk science and engineering research and education. Our job at NSF is to dog the frontier, always moving resources forward -- from concepts that are already maturing to those that are just emerging.

NSF's investments in research and infrastructure support many joint projects and shared networks that demonstrate the value of partnering with the U.S.

For example, Cornell's Laboratory for Elementary Particle Physics and the Beijing Electron Spectrometer are spearheading an "East-West Collaboration." Twenty U.S. and 18 Chinese universities will work together to conduct frontier research in elementary particle physics.

Ten years of collaboration through the Materials World Network is beginning to produce benefits for medical diagnosis, stronger materials for the housing and transportation industries, and more. The network includes institutions in Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia.

Collaborations among individual investigators are common. Recently, scientists at the University of Chicago created a single-molecule diode -- a potential building block for nanoelectronics -- and theorists at the University of South Florida and the Russian Academy of Sciences explained the principle of how such a device works. They jointly published their findings.

This year, we added a program specifically for Partnerships in International Research and Education, which expands on the extensive cross-border cooperation already taking place.

In today's highly sophisticated, technology-driven science, many international partnerships center around major, high-budget research facilities that are made possible only by combining the resources of more than one nation.

NSF's facilities budget includes construction funds for the IceCube neutrino detector, and antennas for the Atacama Large Millimeter Array. Other capabilities under development include new ocean and environmental observatories that are designed for integration into global networks.

These advanced instruments depend on a complex array of sensing, transmitting, data processing, and communications capabilities to accomplish their associated research. This is a trend taking place throughout all the sciences.

So at the top of NSF's list of priorities is development of the national science and engineering cyberinfrastructure.

Already, the Grid Physics Network and the international Virtual Data Grid Laboratory are advancing IT-intensive research in physics, cosmology and astrophysics.

NSF's goals for the national cyberinfrastructure include the ability to integrate data from diverse disciplines and multiple locations, and to make them widely available to researchers, educators, and students. Our success will ensure the U.S. a prime role in global research networks.

When the President announced the American Competitiveness Initiative earlier this year, he emphasized that U.S. competitiveness and leadership depend, more than ever, on fundamental discovery and innovation, and world-class facilities and infrastructure.

He pledged to double the federal investment in the physical sciences, as well as other research fields, over 10 years. The NSF FY 2007 budget request reflects the first stage of this increased commitment.

The President also emphasized that education is the gateway to a knowledge-based, innovation-driven economy, and therefore to our ability to compete in the global marketplace.

NSF's mandate is to prepare a U.S. workforce skilled in discovery and innovation, prepared to compete in the global economy, and eager to exploit knowledge and capabilities regardless of where they are located.

We are convinced that integrating research and education -- and providing hands-on experience at an early stage -- create a fast track to innovation excellence. Moving basic science and engineering concepts to application is hastened as students who are already involved in discovery enter the work force.

Again, the physical sciences have been out in front on this requirement. Each year NSF responds eagerly to requests for hands-on research experiences for students -- such as the summer programs at LIGO, at CERN, and at the astronomy observatories throughout the hemisphere. These programs train globally focused scientists, adept at operating in a world in which teamwork and partnering are highly valued.

In the past two years, NSF has taken steps to expand its portfolio of international opportunities for students to include choices in many more disciplines. This effort is receiving strong support from both the research directorates and the Office of International Science and Engineering.

These are just a few highlights of the NSF activities that contribute to the international science and engineering enterprise.

I could go on to describe our activities at the policy level, or to discuss the dozens of partnerships and opportunities we are supporting in physics alone.

However, I prefer to stop with this brief introduction, and use the remainder of the time to address your questions and concerns.

1 Dr. Arthur Bienenstock, Stanford University, session moderator.
Return to speech.



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