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Photo of Arden Bement

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

"Slowing Down Is Not an Option"
Universities Research Association (URA) Council of Presidents Annual Meeting and Policy Forum
National Academy of Sciences

January 30, 2008

Good afternoon. I'm pleased to be able to congratulate you in person for your accomplishments of the past year.

The URA community has enjoyed tremendous success in meeting its goals -- from designing large facilities to carrying out experiments that answer fundamental questions.

NSF shares your pride in the success of the Pierre Auger project in tracking cosmic rays to their sources, even outside of our own galaxy. We celebrate with you the first year of the Fermi Research Alliance and the outstanding physics resulting from the Tevatron Collider Run II.

These are the projects that maintain America's leading edge in discovery and innovation.

As you know, the Administration and Congress have conveyed their clear determination to build on America's history of science and engineering success. The President's American Competitiveness Initiative and the America COMPETES Act of 2007 acknowledge that America has reached an economic flash point.

The role of NSF and the other science agencies, under ACI and the COMPETES Act, are threefold: to invest in concepts that can lead to valuable and marketable technologies; to prepare the science, engineering, and technology workforce; and to invest in facilities and instrumentation that support transformative research.

In the new knowledge economy, every nation in the world understands the importance of these investments. More countries than ever are increasing their investments in R&D, education, and infrastructure in order to drive sustained economic growth.

A new survey from Georgia Tech shows that, in the critical ability to translate basic science and technology into marketable products, China's star is rising rapidly. This is not surprising, and rings an alarm bell for our own R&D investment strategy. If we continue on the current track, the U.S. and European positions in technological innovation could easily decline in relative terms.

What's more, the U.S. trade balance in high-tech products shifted from surplus to deficit six years ago, and shows every sign of continuing in the red.

America needs to act now to ensure that the fundamental research at the beginning of the innovation food chain is recognized for its essential role in long-term economic growth.

NSF's task is to keep U.S. science and engineering positioned on the breaking frontier and to train the next generation of workers who will advance that frontier. These investments are critical for replacing our aging workforce at universities and federally funded laboratories.

Our third objective is to help your institutions maintain the world-class facilities that attract the top international partners and provide the citizens of the world with new knowledge and technology.

We need your help in forcefully voicing the message that "We cannot maintain the U.S. position on the frontier, and produce the talent and facilities to advance that frontier, without consistent, reliable resources."

I know that you are concerned about how the FY 2008 funding situation will affect your institutions. You've heard from the other speakers already.

I'm certain that you will recall how I spoke with enthusiasm last February about the prospects for substantial increases -- namely, a doubling of the NSF research budget over the next decade.

I want to thank all of you for your support in driving home the importance of that doubling.

Marie Curie said that "the way of progress is neither swift nor easy." Our experience teaches us that it is also not predictable.

We've fallen substantially short for 2008, and, along with Ray Orbach, I'm disappointed with this outcome. We're in good company, apparently; from his State of the Union address, the President was also displeased.

Most emphatically, I am determined that flat budgets will not be the fate of NSF in the future. America's prosperity, global competitiveness, and the well-being of our citizens depend on it.

The result of NSF's FY 2008 budget is that several hundred grants, early career faculty, and promising graduate students have gone unfunded. Potential innovations have been delayed or deferred. And, what's equally disconcerting, the momentum of emerging fields has been sidetracked, and important new projects put on hold for a year.

In today's fast-paced economy, we can't afford such stagnation.

I want to turn now to what we are accomplishing in the face of continuing resolutions and fickle funding.

Earlier this month, I attended the dedication of NSF's new aerodynamic, state-of-the-art South Pole Station. I can assure you that this superb facility will attract talented researchers from around the world, and boost U.S. leadership in research on the nature of the universe, the ionosphere and magnetosphere, and climate change.

Last year, we dedicated the highly capable, 10-meter South Pole Telescope, marking the launch of International Polar Year. We retrieved 100,000 years of climate records from Antarctic ice cores. And, together with other agencies, we issued the first-ever report on the planetary carbon cycle.

These successes came about because of long-term planning and consistent investments. The plan for a new South Pole Station began taking shape in 1997. The ice core project has been 15 years in the making.

I know that the URA community is excited about the readiness of the CMS and ATLAS detectors at the Large Hadron Collider, and the design progress for the proposed International Linear Collider. NSF is thrilled to be partnering with the Department of Energy and our peers overseas to advance the high-energy physics frontier with these projects.

We are just as excited about the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, another international endeavor in which our scientists are taking a leadership role. This facility, now over half-instrumented, is operating in the observation mode.

After carefully weighing our priorities for the coming season, we remain firmly committed to the growth of cyberinfrastructure. We are encouraged by the initial success of the Open Science Grid. And we are exploring the potential of virtual organizations for increasing the productivity of teams of scientists and engineers.

This year, we are launching the Cyber-enabled Discovery and Innovation program. CDI is a five-year investment in applying high-end computational capabilities to frontier research. NSF's investments in terascale and petascale computing, in middleware, and in international network connections contribute to this goal.

Currently, the ability to extract knowledge from the explosion of data generated by telescopes, satellites, surveys, and sensors, and transmitted over the Internet, is much like uncovering a 'needle in a very large haystack.' CDI will explore concepts and tools that allow us to more easily exploit these data-rich, interacting systems.

For example, in 2009, researchers will begin to synthesize a wealth of data about system-scale environmental change in the Arctic and Antarctic. CDI will expand our ability to analyze and understand such complex systems -- and, ultimately, to predict their behavior.

The ability to develop models that simulate the features of systems found in nature, society, and the engineered environment will transform the way we approach global grand challenges.

Many of these investments converge at the nexus of science and engineering centers. These centers attract partners from universities and industries at home and abroad with a common interest in accelerating innovations from concept to marketplace.

Last year, one of NSF's Science and Technology Centers was recognized by the United Nations for its remarkable research into water usage and water management in arid regions. The center's 17 partners include the Los Alamos and Sandia National Labs.

In FY2008, NSF will expand its centers programs with a new Plant Science Cyberinfrastructure Collaborative, which was awarded today to a University of Arizona-led team, and a Center for the Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology.

There will be much more to announce in our budget rollout next Monday.

Dr. Orbach and I agree that we need to continually reinforce the point that investments in fundamental research and infrastructure need consistent support and nurturing to boost the nation's innovation base. In turn, it is our ability to innovate and transform that will sustain our competitive advantages in a flattening world.

Now, I would like to hear your ideas and strategies for accomplishing these goals.