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Photo of Joseph Bordogna

Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Deputy Director
Chief Operating Officer
National Science Foundation

Approaches to Combat Terrorism Workshop
National Science Foundation
June 8, 2004

Good morning. Welcome to the National Science Foundation.

We are here today to continue fostering an investment focused on acquiring new knowledge, advancing innovation, and making our nation more secure. As a group, and as individuals, you represent the potential to develop far-reaching insight in this quest, to turn the corner on established thought, and to reach beyond our present knowledge frontier.

We have just celebrated the 50th Anniversary of D-Day, so that World War II is very much on our minds. Science, engineering and technology played a central role in that war (e.g., radar and Turing's cracking of the Nazi code, to name just two of many) and have grown in importance in every war since.

We are currently spending a substantial fraction of our Gross National Product on the War on Terrorism, and it is thus important that science, engineering and technology be used in such ways as to make our efforts as effective and efficient as possible as well as direct research and education into new channels, producing new technologies, better understanding of human risks and reactions, and gaining greater insight into the interfaces of humans with technology.

What the approaches to Combat Terrorism (ACT) investment is about is helping the Intelligence Community harvest some of the rich bounty of new ideas and discoveries from research that NSF supports, and putting those ideas and discoveries to work in the War on Terrorism. We need better tools to assemble a comprehensive picture of not only the threats that we face, but how to predict them, how to prevent them, and, worst case, how to respond.

Fundamental research to combat terrorism is very much in keeping with the National Science Foundation's goals. Our mission, as described in our founding legislation in 1950, is: "To promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; and to secure the national defense." The founding of NSF has yielded a competitive advantage not enjoyed in WWII: we now have a grantee base to mine that wasn't available at the start of that war.

One of the aims in our present NSF Strategic Plan is to "Foster connections between discoveries and their use in the service of society." In today’s world there can be no greater service to society than to help keep terrorism at bay so that we can get on with all the other important things that we as a nation need to do.

One of the integrative strategies of the NSF Strategic Plan is to "promote partnerships." The Plan emphasizes that "Collaboration and partnerships between disciplines and institutions and among academe, industry and government enable the movement of people, ideas and tools [our goals] throughout the public and private sectors." In the case of ACT, what we are accomplishing through the NSF-Intelligence Community partnership is efficient movement of ideas and new tools from academic researchers and educators into the arsenal of the Intelligence Community.

A critically important feature of ACT is the clear understanding that the results of ACT-supported research will be published in a timely manner in the peer-reviewed open literature. We thank John Phillips for his strong support of, even insistence on, this principal. Such openness is the NSF way, and it is especially critical to the careers of the graduate students and postdoctoral researchers who participate as colleagues in most of the work on NSF projects. We will rely on effective partnerships to ensure that new ideas and tools generated in these projects move quickly from the lab bench to utilization by the Intelligence Community.

We were very pleased to learn that something like 68 out of 70 academic researchers said "yes" to the invitation to participate in the workshop that preceded the initiation of ACT. I believe that rather than the possibility of new funding or new intellectual challenges, it was a genuine spirit of patriotism that has inspired your participation in ACT.

It's nice, also, to see that all five MPS divisions are involved in ACT. It is gratifying that even what may seem the most esoteric of the MPS disciplines, Astronomy, can contribute. I guess it makes sense that the challenge of finding a single star in a galaxy is somewhat akin to some of the needle in the haystack challenges that an intelligence agency faces in searching for small amounts of meaningful information in huge piles of data.

Some of the projects that have been supported in the first round of ACT awards are truly fascinating, such as "Biofuel Cells Operating in Insects" and "Chemical Detection Modules Engineered from Bacterial Signaling Proteins," to name just two. Many of the projects are multidisciplinary, reflecting a growing trend in investigator-initiated NSF research. I note also that the largest number of projects are in the Sensors area, which is an area of increasing emphasis for the Foundation. Sensors are of growing importance in many areas as the enabling technology that captures data from the system that is being observed and interfaces with the cyberinfrastructure that transfers the data and converts it into information. I fully expect that the results of many ACT projects will be put to use in the public sector very quickly as well.

As you are no doubt aware, NSF plays an important role in the development of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics workforce. Working on ACT projects will provide superb training for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers for a variety of roles in this workforce. I would expect that those students and postdocs would be in great demand to fill positions in our national laboratories, as well as elsewhere in our economy, defense, and homeland security establishments.

I believe that in this workshop you should also look beyond ACT and explore how the results of the thousands of other projects that NSF supports could be more effectively harvested to benefit the Intelligence Community and Homeland Security efforts. We are not as effective as we could be in putting to commercial use discoveries and technology developed in our universities. Often it is the lack of partnerships or simply the lack of communication that leads to this result.

More generally, your research under the ACT program, can contribute to national goals beyond those only connected to terrorism. Viewing your work in a context beyond the norm can help attract young people to science and engineering, and help to secure the infrastructure that keeps our societal machinery humming. We have an opportunity, too, to answer the growing national appeal for examining the societal impacts of the science and technology we create.

In drawing our youth into professions that will continue the essential work of discovery and innovation, we inspire them through ACT by demonstrating the impact they can have on society through their decision to pursue a career in science or engineering research and education. A challenge that's readily visible and has the potential for "hitting close to home" adds convincing impetus.

Inviting students and teachers to toil alongside, in our physical and virtual laboratories, as we sift through mountains of scientific ore to unearth precious nuggets of pure discovery, adds to the greater synergy ACT can create.

As you examine the research outlook specified for ACT grants please keep in mind the potential for these broader impacts, and strive to integrate them into our research and education agenda.

We all carry the responsibility to make our nation and our world more secure. It is a privilege for us that in many cases, the work that scientists, engineers, and educators do can be harnessed to meet a pressing national need. We look forward to working with you in this ACT investment that informs both the core mission of the National Science Foundation, the needs of the Intelligence Community, and the greater interests of the nation.

I welcome any questions and comments you may have.

Return to a list of Dr. Bordogna's speeches.


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