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Dr. Bordogna's Remarks


Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Deputy Director
Chief Operating Officer
Keynote Address
Inaugural Research Ceremony
Florida State University

April 14, 2000

I am delighted to be a part of FSU's inaugural Research Recognition celebration. There is a sort of "rule of thumb" about after dinner remarks to which I shall adhere this evening. It advises that the more elaborate the meal, the shorter the remarks. Now, aren't you fortunate that we just enjoyed a grand and fulfilling dinner? Otherwise, I would be up here for half an hour or more talking to you. Given the combination of the reception and the dinner, I will only try to make a brief touchdown at the podium.

I want to heartily congratulate those who will be specifically recognized here. But I strongly believe that very good work comes out of places where the overall quality is exceedingly high and the environment of excellence has been created collectively. There is no question that Florida State University is such a place.

During the period we know as the Renaissance, there was a burst of creativity and discovery. Beginning with art and the humanities, and then the sciences, all fields burgeoned and flourished. Intellectual and creative ferment traveled across the land. And its special flavor was its holism, its connectedness, renaissance genesis, like nature, knew no disciplinary boundaries.

That same sense of fervor and excitement is replicated in modern times on campuses like FSU. I am especially impressed that your Council on Research and Creativity spans the arts, humanities, and the sciences... just as in the Renaissance. You are all fortunate to be working in this lively and invigorating atmosphere and each of you contributes to its continuance. And so, in many ways, I congratulate the whole faculty and administration at FSU.

Let me begin tonight with a comment by hockey great, Wayne Gretzky. Even though we are at a latitude that favors water skiing over ice hockey, I think we can all relate to his remark because it holds true for research as well as for hockey. He said, "I skate to where the puck is going, not to where it's been."

Gretzky was telling us about his "studied anticipation." As this audience knows well, "studied anticipation," vision, and foresight are important components of research. It is, in a sense, "informed imagining." In fact, Einstein was more forceful. He said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge."

At NSF, we try to fund where the fields are going, not to where they've been-a "studied anticipation," an "informed imagining." With the help of merit review, NSF has been able to invest in insightful proposals and visionary investigators across all fields of science and engineering. Many of those investigators are here at FSU and in the audience tonight. And, by the way, our newest directorate, Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences is of increasing interest because of our increasingly complex society-a trend which should be of interest for your Council on Research and Creativity.

Just a quick snapshot of NSF's "institutional vision" reveals, for example: that we funded investigators that led us through a path of ongoing work in instrumentation that advanced the development of MRI's and other imaging systems; that the work and people we funded in atmospheric chemistry identified ozone depletion over the Antarctic, or the "ozone hole" as it has come to be known; that in 1986, NSF-funded researchers established chlorofluorocarbons as the probable cause of the Antarctic ozone hole.

Identifying people of vision and insight is our business. These three examples provide just a glimpse at the discovery whirlpool that NSF has kept in constant motion for half a century. Describing them to you is not just boasting. It is the strongest evidence of the value of the Federal government's investment and involvement in research and development. And, as for boasting, I am sure that you all will join me in bragging about the NSF-supported magnificent National High Magnetic Field Laboratory under the yeasty leadership of Jack Crow. In addition to its elegant world class status, it is a wonderful example of Federal-State partnership-an S&T policy area growing interest at NSF.

The unique role of NSF is buttressed and enhanced by the diversity of the other Federal R&D agencies, and the network of national laboratories. Together they represent a universe of discovery, learning, and innovation that is the envy of the world. That success has always hinged on the interrelationships and connections between the federal R&D structure and our nation's universities. Your own Ray Bye has learned this lesson well in the DC trenches and affects leadership for all of us in enhancing the continuing evolution of this important national partnership.

The universities are the linchpins in this complex process. They are the consistent and cohesive element. The Federal government's role is as an enabler.

Research universities have masterfully integrated research with the education and training of our next generation workforce.

This combination is special to the American system and has created a synergy throughout our national research enterprise. The wisdom of this approach has been borne out over time. And its result has been to make the U.S. the most scientifically and technologically advanced nation in the world today.

However, just as science and engineering have consistently changed and enriched our world, the world of science and engineering is also changing and being enriched by a new sociology of scientific investigation.

This recent change has been driven by many forces, including the end of the Cold War and the subsequent globalization of the world economy. But the tools of information technology have probably had the most pervasive influence on what we are able to do in science and engineering over the last two decades.

These tools have become the new infrastructure of science. They allow us to achieve simultaneously both depth in and reach across a research frontier. They have enabled us to holistically view and tackle the panorama of an open-ended challenge. They have provided an understanding that is at the same time both unique and universal. The new tools of science and engineering reveal depth, complexity, vast distances, and unimagined connections.

With these new capabilities, we are discovering that at the most intricate and intimate level of all fields, there is a connection, a powerful binding to each other. We find that as we penetrate the deepest levels of complexity we often come to a path that leads us to the overlap and integration of fields and disciplines.

This has helped create a change in the social dynamic of science and engineering. Increasingly, researchers and educators are engaged in collaborations outside of their own disciplines.

And, increasingly, we also see the direct connections of research and development to economic success and long-term societal benefit. The Economist magazine probably said it better than I can. They recently wrote,

"America gets more than half its economic growth from industries that barely existed a decade ago-such is the power of innovation, especially in the information and biotechnology industries."

We are seeing the explosion of knowledge-based industries, and that knowledge comes from your research at FSU and from other university campuses.

The insight, vision, and "informed imagining" that is so fundamental to your work also holds true for much more than research in a world that is changing before our eyes.

Recently, Danny Hillis, computer philosopher and designer, who pioneered the concept of parallel computing, and in 1996 became the vice president of research and development at The Walt Disney Company, related this incident from his past.

"I went to my first computer conference at the New York Hilton about 20 years ago. When somebody there predicted the market for microprocessors would eventually be in the millions, someone else said, 'Where are they all going to go? It's not like you need a computer in every doorknob!"

Years later, Hillis went back to the same hotel. He noticed that the room keys had been replaced by electronic cards that you slide into slots in the doors. There was, indeed, "a computer in every doorknob," as well as sensors and actuators-and other hardware to make the software sing.

Danny Hillis may have seen that future for microprocessors, but right there in the midst of a computer conference two decades ago that insight was in short supply. That's probably why Danny Hillis is now head of R&D for Walt Disney.

There is an important lesson hidden in this example which is far more than just ironic or amusing. In fact, there is a responsibility here for us.

Part of the explanation for very smart people making, what in hindsight, are not very insightful comments, is that, even as prognosticators, we tend to think of what is in front of us but not what is also around us.

The future is never easy to "see." But the chances of having good vision are much better if we pay close attention to the larger context in which we work-the sector, the society, and even the time in history, the moment in civilization. Learning to read the larger context gives us a path for imagining the future.

I think that this is particularly important for you to convey to your students as their teacher, mentor, and often role model. Learning "how to read the context" is not an inherent skill for everyone. One of the great values of a background in history is that you learn the primary process of seeing events in the larger landscape of the times.

In science, we know the significance of teaching the scientific method as a process of analyzing and addressing problems. The discovery of scientific knowledge is just the beginning of a long societal process in which that knowledge is incorporated into society. As researchers we understand that the scientific method has value that stretches far beyond the science in our lives.

Likewise, teaching our students how to read the context in which they live and work is another important process of seeing with anticipation, of envisioning the future, so that more of them will see with the insight of a Danny Hillis. They will also make better decisions for their careers and for our society.

Our science and engineering majors need continued exposure to societal context and the lessons it offers. As educators, we need to present that larger perspective so vital to making sense of complex issues.

Let me just scan through several elements of today's context of which I hope students will be cognizant. At first, they might seem elementary but they have strong bearing on our insight and decisions.

... Since the end of the Cold War, the major organizing principle in the nation has moved from national security to the rush of economic competition.

... Technology-enabled service organizations predominate in our economy, and partnerships among our various sectors-public, private, and academic-are becoming a routine and effective vehicle for addressing issues and solving problems.

... The most talented and highly skilled workers in every country comprise the modern phenomenon of a global and mobile workforce. They can easily gravitate to where the best jobs are located. But information technologies have also made it possible for them to stay home and yet work abroad.

... Higher education across the nation is facing information-age transformations with virtual centers and institutes, shared infrastructure, long-distance learning, and a serious focus on the technical workforce. The future portends even more.

... Today's composite of digital, electronic, optical, and biotechnologies is reframing society as concept-driven, knowledge-ridden, and cognition-enabled. We have yet to see the ultimate impact. Our imagination takes us beyond today's so-called Information Age to a Knowledge Age, an Age of Cognition.

This would be the beginning of a context. I am sure you have more and better ideas to add of your own.

As students learn the value of reading that larger context, imagination allows them to envision projections of a future from a comprehensive perspective, and not from what they see just directly in front of them. The disparate pieces of a context tell us nothing in isolation, but they tell us many things in relationship to each other.

These skills are important for all of us, not just our students. Today the pace of change has accelerated to the point where "yesterday's context" could be irrelevant six months from now. The hyper-power of information technologies routinely redesigns the economic landscape. Advances in science and technology are fueling much of this transformation but science and engineering and the arts and humanities, are, in turn, being continuously transformed, too.

When Alan Greenspan says in his studied, unemotional tone,

"Something special has happened to the American economy in recent years. ...a remarkable run of economic growth that appears to have its roots in ongoing advances in technology,"

you know we're having a revolution.

The President's proposal for a record setting R&D budget comes not just in recognition of the power of science and technology but also with the understanding that there have been years of growing imbalances in the nation's research portfolio.

On campuses like FSU where you generate so much fine research, I'm sure there is great awareness of how lopsided funding can become. The Administration's budget is a strong effort to recognize that the research enterprise in the nation cannot be effective if we have a different "favorite flavor" each year.

The proposed budget begins to restore balance to the R&D portfolio. As all of you probably know, an historic increase has been proposed for the National Science Foundation. This will help us in carrying out our mission to keep all fields of science and engineering on the furthest frontier. This will help all of you to do the first rate work for which you are recognized.

Every field of research contributes to our national strength in its own distinct way. And today, we are increasingly aware of how each field can enlighten and enhance other fields. Further, synergizing the knowledge and skills of diverse disciplines and intellectual cultures is a noble goal to pursue. A most important reason to celebrate all of you here tonight.



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