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Photo of Arden Bement

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

"International Research Facilities and Infrastructure: Advancing Our Common Commitments"

Symposium "Internationalization of Science: Looking Forward"
AAAS Annual Meeting
Chicago, Illinois

February 15, 2009

[Slide 1: Title slide]
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Good morning. I'm pleased to join my distinguished colleagues, Dr. Winnacker1 and Dr. Fortier2 , as we discuss moving forward into a more interconnected world of scientific and engineering research.

[Slide 2: 400 Years of Telescope]
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In 2009 we are celebrating the International Year of Astronomy, and 400 years of sharing one of science's greatest marvels, the telescope. The National Science Foundation is proud to be supporting projects that take science directly to the world's citizens and form a cornerstone of this global celebration.

It is fitting that telescopes that peer into the universe were among the first large scientific instruments that brought us together as nations to push back the boundaries of the unknown.

By working together, we quickly obtain knowledge and technology that allow us to tackle scientific "grand challenges" of the highest order of complexity.

[Slide 3: NSF at the Frontier]
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First, we must provide the resources and capabilities to carry out those scientific grand challenges. NSF-supported facilities--such as centers, instruments, networks, and portals--underpin America's ability to stay at the frontiers of science and engineering and to attract overseas partners.

Cooperating with our colleagues in other nations is a natural outgrowth of the increasing complexity of scientific problems, and the growing size and cost of the tools needed to solve them.

[Slide 4: Engineering Marvels]
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Together we have developed international engineering marvels that compensate for the movement of the earth, electromagnetic interference, and the thermal currents of our atmosphere. We have gained the capability to discover amazing--and sometimes alarming--secrets about the universe, the climate, and life at the bottom of the oceans.

Many of the world's newest research capabilities build on decades of cooperation among the world's science communities to conduct joint research and education.

[Slide 5: Large Hadron Collider]
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The Large Hadron Collidor, for example, is a remarkable partnership among governments, academic institutions, and the private sector. It is every nation's honor to participate in such a futuristic endeavor, in which the world's most talented scientists seek to unlock the secrets of nature.

We are used to thinking of scientific instruments and facilities as "big hardware." And indeed, such facilities are testament to our ability to meet the highest priorities of the research community.

However, the advancing nature of science calls for us to expand the traditional definition of scientific facilities as single, physical entities--to include sensor arrays, remote access to instruments, and backbone networks that transcend physical barriers.

[Slide 6: Cyberinfrastructure]
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Cyberinfrastructure represents a new frontier, in which virtual communities of people conduct large-scale experiments on shared facilities and instruments.

For example, today, earthquake engineers on one coast test new building materials remotely, on a massive shake table on the other side of the continent. Elaborate webs of wireless sensors provide real-time data, in domains as diverse as environmental science, ocean science, and the tracking of seismic waves as they occur.

Thanks to broadband networks, national virtual research capabilities are expanding to become regional and even global, greatly expanding the opportunities for international collaboration.

NSF investments in high-performance computing have broadened from single-university supercomputers to a petascale, open grid infrastructure that connects researchers across the nation and beyond.

Through cyber-connections, we can pool our computational resources to simulate, model, and visualize functions that are difficult to comprehend and even harder to observe. For an example of such capabilities, I encourage you to visit the NSF exhibit here at the AAAS meeting, where our grantees are demonstrating climate modeling.

NSF has worked with many nations and organizations to bring together world-class scientists and engineers, both physically and virtually, through shared research capabilities. These collaborations have not only advanced the frontiers of discovery; they have also established relationships of mutual respect and friendship.

The new U.S. president, Barack Obama, has reaffirmed our commitment to seek international partners to address grand challenges such as climate change, space exploration, and preserving the health of the oceans.

[Slide 7: Facilities & Infrastructure: 28% of NSF Budget]
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As a governmental agency, however, NSF must balance the desire to build and operate major national and international facilities with the need to fund individual and small-group research projects. NSF's annual investment in research facilities and infrastructure is currently more than $1.8 billion, or roughly 28 percent of the NSF budget.

The demand for new facilities is intensifying rapidly, and the vastly increasing operating and maintenance costs are putting even more pressure on funding for individual research grants.

To help us make difficult funding choices, we rely on the science and engineering community not only to generate proposals for new facilities, but also to seek consensus on the highest priorities. This bottoms-up process allows us to select the best investments for the future of science, in conjunction with other federal agencies.

[Slide 8: Atacama Large Millimeter-Submillimeter Array]
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Likewise, international collaborations that begin at the working level help to develop science requirements, and designs, for facilities to the point where they can be considered for funding by national governments. These collaborations are a powerful mechanism for getting facilities "off the ground" because they offer credibility, momentum, and consensus. We depend on these consortiums to propose mechanisms for co-funding, sharing responsibilities, and leveraging the resources of national and international partners.

As the complexity of projects grows, so does the uncertainty--particularly the ability to predict technological and administrative risks, and to estimate the final price tag. The large-scale physics experiments at CERN, and the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, for example, have provided lessons in such difficulties as coordinating procurement and construction schedules and managing cost overruns.

[Slide 9: Challenges of International Partnerships]
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Together with our partners, we are addressing several areas that pose potential problems.

Perhaps the most vexing challenge we face is the need to synchronize national budget cycles, and maintain momentum in times of budget uncertainties.

Another challenge is the need to plan for the entire life of a system, from cradle to grave, including decommissioning, removal, and environmental remediation. NSF has adopted management and accounting policies designed to minimize the risks that can arise during planning and construction, and to make zero overruns in cost and schedule achievable. Yet our greatest challenge may be building a funding base for operations, maintenance, and upgrades—in order to minimize the impacts to core research programs.

Constructive dialogue is the starting point for resolving these issues, reducing overlap, and reaching consensus among international partners. Meetings of the G-8 Heads of Research Councils, and similar regional councils in Europe and Asia, provide venues for conversation and coordination.

[Slide 10: Reaching Out to Many Nations]
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Despite the challenges, our national visions coalesce in two promising areas.

First, we share a collective responsibility for reaching out to nations whose resources do not easily allow participation in world-class science. Last April, I signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the U.S. Agency for International Development to jointly fund projects in developing countries. Funding agencies in other nations are considering similar outreach.

The teams developing the major facilities of the future will undoubtedly lead us forward in making science and engineering a more inclusive enterprise.

[Slide 11: Educating and Training the Workforce]
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A second area of mutual commitment is to involve students in international facility teams. This benefits all of us by building an international reservoir of skilled expertise.

At NSF, our mission is to educate and train the future science and engineering workforce, and this goes hand-in-hand with our investments in tools and facilities. We expect that the facilities we fund will enable not only researchers, but also students and postdocs, to work alongside their U.S. and international peers.

One could say that our ambitions to collaborate, and to broaden participation in science, converge in this year's global celebration of astronomy.

[Slide 12: New World of International Cooperation]
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Just as Galileo's celestial vision changed his view of the world, so we are constituting a new vision for international science and engineering.

We can be proud of our collective efforts to build complex, multi-national facilities for discovery, experimentation, and education.

We have overcome a thousand logistical challenges to install instruments in remote, yet productive, environments--from high desert to Antarctic ice.

Together, we form a community capable of liberating the world from scientific ignorance--and finding solutions to global problems.

I look forward to addressing these issues in our panel discussion.


1. Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker, European Research Council–European Commission, Brussels, Belgium (Return to speech)

2. Suzanne Fortier, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (Return to speech)



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