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Photo of Arden Bement

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

NSF Symposium on Cyber-Enabled Discovery and Innovation
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Troy, NY

September 6, 2007

Good evening. I'm pleased that the National Science Foundation had the opportunity to participate in this gathering at such a prestigious institution. And I'm always delighted to connect with my distinguished colleague and friend Shirley Ann Jackson.

The science and engineering enterprise has changed radically since she and I met. The establishment of research and development centers in many regions of the world has vastly increased the global competition, and shortened the timeframe for ideas to move from concept to innovation to marketplace.

We've invented sophisticated tools, to include transformational instrumentation, robust cyberinfrastructure, and advanced algorithms, which have revolutionized the conduct of research. We have evolved from past methods, which now appear to us as a pack horse hauling a plow, to modern methods that in contrast seem like a space ship accelerating to warp speed.

Those capabilities have brought us to this symposium, and to the dedication of a new computational center here at RPI tomorrow. Let me extend my congratulations.

Cyberinfrastructure has become one of the keys to meeting national goals in innovation, economic growth, and education. At this symposium, you have addressed many of the factors that will determine the breadth and scope of its contribution.

Last year, the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI) laid out concrete steps for addressing the challenges confronting the United States in a highly competitive global economy. They include strengthening the nation's innovation enterprise and training our youth to excel in a world that demands technical knowledge, creativity, and innovation.

The National Science Foundation was selected to play a key role in carrying out this initiative. NSF's mandate is to support fundamental science and engineering research and education that advances the frontiers of discovery, and equips the nation with a highly competitive innovation base.

I would like to offer some perspectives on how Cyber-enabled Discovery and Innovation (CDI) will help move the nation's innovation agenda forward.

One of the national goals of ACI is to provide world-leading, high-end computing capability, to advance science across a broad range of disciplines. NSF's investments in high-performance computing for research and education, namely; the TeraGrid infrastructure, middleware investments, and international network connections directly contribute to this goal.

The enormous growth in cyberinfrastructure is increasing the productivity of academic and industry research. And it is accelerating the transformation of research into products and services that drive economic growth.

As we all know, science and engineering have undergone a revolution. The traditional approach of observation, theory, and analysis has been dramatically enhanced by modeling, simulation, and visualization. Already scientists across the globe can access experimental equipment remotely. And already, information technology has made it possible for researchers to overcome distance and work together more effectively to tackle the hard problems of national and global importance.

Elaborate webs of wireless sensors are just beginning to provide real-time data, in domains as diverse as environmental science, astronomy, ocean science, and the tracking of seismic movements of earthquakes as they occur.

RPI has seized the moment by launching head first into the data revolution at the nanoscale.

With CDI, we will enhance our support for projects such as these that seek to analyze massive, complex collections of data. Currently, the ability to extract knowledge to find what is most important in an infinite amount of data from telescopes, satellites, surveys, and the Internet, is like uncovering a ‘needle in a very large haystack.' I foresee CDI making it possible to find that needle, or that new planet and proto-star.

CDI will broaden the Nation's capability for innovation by developing the computationally-based concepts and tools we need to exploit complex, data-rich and interacting systems.

Those concepts and tools will help us address the challenges posted by a world of petascale computers, massive data flows, and an economy dependent on digital activity. Researchers are yearning to understand complex interactions ranging from living cells to binary star systems or from computer networks to societal interactions. We cannot yet generate a hurricane to see how it develops and progresses or use routine brain surgery to experiment on neural synapses in the brain. However, simulation and dynamic modeling will allow us to experiment in ways unimaginable in the real world.

With the results of CDI, we can get industry what it needs to speed innovations into the marketplace. And we can get the right data to the right decision-makers to preempt a crisis, whether it be sensors detecting a deepening crack on a bridge or satellites observing the initiating stages of a forest fire.

CDI can only succeed through partnerships. The most successful partnerships will include a large diversity of skills – with the core science disciplines and computational science converging. They will require mathematicians, decision scientists, and information theorists working together. We will see collaborations among biologists, computer scientists, and sociologists.

In 2008, NSF plans to invest $52 million in CDI beyond what NSF's research programs are already committing to cyber-enabled discovery and innovation.

However, CDI will require resources well beyond those of NSF and the federal family – investments that can be leveraged through the multiple and diverse partnerships being formed among academia, industry, and government.

Partnerships are a valuable means of transforming research dollars into innovations that boost the economy. And partnering is the only way to bring together geographically diversified skills, and share the cost of high-priced, sophisticated tools.

In the past, the United States enjoyed a commanding position in science and engineering talent and innovation. However, the increasing global competition has forced us to take a hard look at the way we conduct education, and prepare for a different sort of future.

Even with advances in capabilities, we cannot sustain our innovation enterprise without a parallel commitment to educating and preparing the workforce.

NSF has redoubled its effort to support the training of our youth in the skills that count in a global workplace. These skills include the ability to adapt quickly to new ideas and technology, regardless of source, and to collaborate with colleagues across boundaries and borders.

These "boundary-crossing" experiences require more than technical knowledge and skills. They rest on competencies in collaborating and communicating across disciplines, distances, and cultures.

This is the world in which we must teach our students, and our existing workers not only to operate but also to collaborate on a global scale.

We encourage all of our grantees to consider how their work can contribute to the enrichment of students, and the development of teachers. All of NSF's directorates support hands-on experience for students and teachers and the incorporation of contemporary knowledge in instructional materials.

We gather tomorrow to celebrate a new center that represents all of these trend-setting factors. My congratulations, again, to Dr. Jackson and her exemplary staff and the RPI faculty on staying ahead of the pack in anticipating the future. The nation will gain enormous benefit from RPI's enhanced contributions to the U.S. innovation enterprise.

Thank you!