Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Chief Operating Officer
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
National Society Of Professional Engineers
July 27, 2001
Good morning. I want to thank the NSPE for the opportunity
to make remarks at your annual conference. Your leadership
inspires us, and I am honored to be among you. Today's
engineering frontier is full of potential and almost
fantasy-like in scale, scope, and speed; a tantalizing
prospect for envisioning spectacular new engineering
wonders. I'd like to probe that frontier a bit with
But before we get serious, let me share with you a
tale of levity and learning to keep us mindful of
our need for each other.
A man is flying in a hot air balloon and realizes he
is lost. He reduces height, spots a woman down below
and asks, "Excuse me, can you help me? I promised
to return the balloon to its owner but, I don't know
where I am."
The woman below says: "You are in a hot air balloon,
hovering approximately 350 feet above mean sea level
and 30 feet above this field. You are at 40 degrees
north latitude, and 75 degrees west longitude."
"You must be an engineer," says the balloonist.
"I am," replies the woman. "How did you know?"
"Well," says the balloonist, "everything you told me
is technically correct, but I have no idea what to
make of your information, and the fact is I am still
The woman below says, "You must be a manager."
"I am," replies the balloonist, "but how did you know?"
"Well," says the engineer, "you don't know where you
are, or where you are going. You have made a promise,
which you have no idea how to keep, and you expect
me to solve your problem. The fact is you are in the
exact same position you were in before we met, but
now it is somehow my fault."
We often teach each other through our humor. Humor
can help breach barriers to the connections necessary
to embrace the frontier to our purpose.
Collaborations and partnerships are burgeoning in every
sector and institution for good reason. Everybody
on a team brings a unique perspective and contribution
to the mix. Partnerships bring to bear collective
talent so that we can all contribute to the improvement
of our society and we can all benefit.
I am delighted to be here in Detroit where collaboration
abounds. And I am excited to be among industry innovators
and engineering educators, and, indeed, among engineers
and managers. That's a sure-fire combination for getting
During many visits to Detroit in the past, I have witnessed
the "can do" attitude by the collaboration known as
the Greenfield Coalition. Greenfield is an NSF-funded
Engineering Education Coalition, based in Detroit
and composed of a group of universities and manufacturing
companies, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers,
and Focus Hope.
As most of you know, the goal of the Greenfield Coalition
is to establish a new paradigm in manufacturing engineering
education. The impetus for the Greenfield project
was the sense that most academic studies in manufacturing
engineering were devoid of real manufacturing experiences.
By integrating actual manufacturing experiences into
the academic program and expanding learning with web-based
tools, Greenfield is reinvigorating manufacturing
education and through Focus: Hope's Center for Advanced
Technologies, delivering it to a student body which
is 95 percent underrepresented minorities.
During this past year, Greenfield implemented the first
of its computer-based manufacturing case studies.
The case study supports a course in Engineering Economics.
The e-learning tool provides students with a problem
in a production line that produces pulleys. Students
work collaboratively in groups to determine the root
cause of the problem, explore potential solutions,
and recommend a course of action to management.
New times require new thinking and the "can do' spirit
in Detroit seems to be a good place to prove it.
In today's age of fast-paced scientific discovery,
spectacular technology, grand engineering achievement,
and increasingly complex societal systems, we have
learned that everything is connected to everything
And we have also learned that the best way to move
ahead is in partnership and collaboration. You know
better than I do that well-conceived teams and collaborations
are an effective means to sense an issue, solve a
problem, move an idea forward, or develop a strategy.
The distinguished participants on today's program are
well practiced in the art of building bridges, not
only to new frontiers but also to diverse partners.
It was exciting to serve on the private sector/government
Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV)
with the major automakers. That collaboration made
real mileage, no pun intended, toward the goal to
develop a new fleet of vehicles that conserves energy,
protects the environment, and meets consumer needs.
My remarks today are concerned with another group of
"majors," the five major capabilities for the next
couple of decades. They are key capabilities that
contemporary and future engineers will need to understand.
The theme for this conference suggests a new and very
different engineering workforce. "Engineering a New
Workforce...The Changing Face of Engineering" is right
on target in two respects. It encompasses the skills
and work that will define the "new engineer," and
it addresses who will comprise the future engineering
workforce. I will focus most of my comments on the
former, the skills and work of the 21st century engineer.
Your conference theme is in consonance with NSF's strategic
intent to invest in people, the ideas they generate,
and the tools they need to do their work along the
frontier of all fields of science and engineering.
In sum, we focus on developing a world-class science
and engineering workforce. The Greenfield Coalition
investment is an example of this intent.
Fundamentally, scientists and engineers are innovators.
They are always changing the present to become the
future. A few years ago, the Economist magazine
did a study on "innovation." One of the sidebars in
the report said, "Innovators break all the rules.
Innovation sits side-by-side with discovery and learning
in NSF's vision statement. The vision is direct and
crisp: enabling the nation's future through discovery,
learning, and innovation.
Engineers are inherently innovators because the nature
of engineering is problem identification and solution
at its most sophisticated. In any era and in every
era, engineers design and build the structure and
the infrastructure of society. They use the materials
of their time to create the world of that time.
We still appreciate the structure and beauty, the function
and form, of the Great Wall in China, the Aswan Dam
in Egypt, the Roman aqueducts, the Greek temples,
the European cathedrals, the tall ships - and now
everything from the slimmest chips to the behemoth
Space Shuttle and the international space station.
We are on the threshold of an era that sounds more
like science fiction in scale, speed, scope, and insight.
The National Science Foundation has zeroed in on a
group of emerging fields and trends that possess over-arching
potential - the five major capabilities I noted a
few moments ago - that help to connect and expand
the core science and engineering disciplines and further
enable industrial productivity and innovation.
We refer to them in our strategies and budgets as nanoscale,
terascale, cognition, complexity, and holism. In many
ways they will impel us to redesign our society. The
engineers and companies that get in on the ground
floor of these capabilities will be at the forefront
of next generation changes in technology and society.
I'll address each of them individually.
We use the term nano to express nanoscale science
and engineering, things in the realm of a billionth
of a meter, which is the width of five carbon atoms.
Nano's focus is at the molecular and atomic level
of things - both natural and human-made. It was a
brief twenty years ago, with the invention of the
scanning/tunneling microscope, that we could first
observe molecules on a surface. Now the micro world
is becoming a nano world.
As you know, nanoscale is three orders of magnitude
smaller than most of today's human-made devices. Nanotechnology
gives us the ability to manipulate matter one atom
or molecule at a time. Nanostructures are at the confluence
of the smallest human-made devices and the large molecules
of living systems. Individual atoms are a few
tenths of a nanometer.
To use another comparison, biological cells, such as
red blood cells, have diameters in the range of thousands
of nanometers. Micro-electromechanical systems are
now approaching this same scale. This suggests a most
exciting prospect. We can now envision building a
"wish list" of properties into structures large and
Let's look at a few industries to see what nano
might hold for their futures. In the automotive
and aeronautics industries, we can foresee nanoparticle
reinforced materials for lighter bodies, external
painting that does not need washing, cheap non-flammable
plastics, and self-repairing coatings and textiles.
Nanotechnology research will explode our design capability
with its potential to develop new, more affordable
ways to make bulk materials with unique electrical,
chemical, and mechanical properties.
For example, electrodes based on carbon nanotube fibers
may make it possible to design new alkaline fuel cell
systems able to "burn" reformed hydrocarbon fuel.
This would precipitate major improvements in cost,
efficiency, and lifetime of fuel cell automobiles.
Undoubtedly such development would have quantum positive
implications for global fuel availability and environmental
In the electronics and communications industries,
recording in all media will be able to be accomplished
in nanolayers and dots. This includes flat panel displays
and wireless technology. An entire range of new devices
and processes with startling ratios of improvement
await us across communication and information technologies.
It will be possible to vastly increase data storage
capacity and processing speeds. This will be accompanied
by both lower cost and improved power efficiency compared
to current electronic circuits.
In the field of chemicals and materials, we
foresee more catalysts that increase the energy and
combustion efficiency of chemical plants, super-hard
and tough (not brittle) drill bits and cutting tools,
and "smart"magnetic fluids for vacuum seals and lubricants.
In the burgeoning areas of pharmaceuticals, health
care and life sciences we will see new nanostructured
drugs and drug delivery systems targeted to specific
sites in the body. Researchers anticipate biocompatible
replacements for body parts and fluids, and material
for bone and tissue regeneration.
In manufacturing, we have most often thought
in terms of scale - large scale. With nano capability
we can expect precision engineering based on new generations
of microscopes and measuring techniques, and new processes
and tools to manipulate matter at the atomic level.
Nanoscale innovations will transform the whole concept
of manufacturing engineering.
Making things is one of humankind's most noble attributes.
Making things well is nobler still. Nanocapability
will enable manufacturing to achieve even nobler ends.
Keep in mind that when a business enterprise can change
manufacturing processes and product design to meet
the big directional changes in society, it is a pioneer.
This is an emerging field and the brass ring awaits
the early bird.
The new nano capability brings together many
disciplines of science and engineering to work in
collaboration. Its scope and scale create an overarching,
enabling field, not unlike the role of information
The expansion of our nanocapability will depend on
insightful researchers envisioning - imagining - its
possibilities - talented people with good ideas throughout
academe and industry.
The envisioners in the computing field have had a passion
for speed akin to racecar drivers. They dreamed of
what we now know as terascale computing.
Terascale is shorthand for computer-communications
technology that takes us three orders of magnitude
beyond prevailing computing capabilities.
In the past, our system architectures could only handle
hundreds of processors. Now we work with systems of
thousands of processors. Shortly, we'll connect millions
of systems and billions of 'information appliances'
to the Internet. Crossing that boundary of 10^12th
- one trillion operations per second - launches us
to new frontiers.
Take for example protein synthesis within a cell. It
requires 20 milliseconds for a nascent protein to
fold into its functional conformation. However, it
takes 40 months of processor time on current systems
to simulate that folding. With a terascale system,
we reduce that time to one day -- one thousand times
faster. Think what that means for the task of functional
genomics, that is, putting our DNA sequence knowledge
When we dramatically advance the speed of our capability
in any area we give researchers and industrialists
the mechanism to get to a frontier much faster or,
better yet in terms of NSF's mission, to reach a frontier
that had been, heretofore, unreachable, as well as
The revolution in information technologies connected
and integrated researchers and research fields
in a way never before possible. The nation's IT capability
has acted like 'adrenaline' to all of science and
engineering. A next step was to build the most advanced
computer-communications infrastructure for researchers
and educators to use, while simultaneously broadening
its accessibility. We refer to the major elements
of this system as the 4Ts:
- Teraops - computational power
- Terabits - a broader band network
- Terabytes - hefty storage or memory
- Terainstruments - the interfaces to the system
Our vision here is to reach terascale competency and
catapult capability into a whole new era of science
and engineering. In essence, we want to create a "tera
universe or era" for science and engineering ... and
a freshly robust national "cyberinfrastructure."
But, who will put all these tera and nano components
and ultra-fast reactions into a coherent picture?
Even the best tools are useless without well-trained
people who have the capacity to pose challenging questions,
conceptualize critical issues, identify opportunities,
and employ their skills to derive answers.
This brings me to the third capability we intend to
expand, cognition. Most of us would simply say learning.
Learning is the foundation territory of all other
capabilities, human and institutional. Our understanding
of the learning process holds the key to tapping the
potential of every child, empowering a 21st century
workforce, and, in fact, maintaining our democracy.
From the last 30 years of research, we know that people,
both young and old, absorb and assimilate knowledge
in different ways, and in more than one way. So the
"science of learning" is a critical inquiry into how
Because of new tools and interdisciplinary research,
our understanding of the learning process has changed
dramatically in the past two decades. A rich science
base in cognitive science has been developed jointly
by linguists, psychologists, philosophers, computer
scientists, engineers, and neuroscientists. We need
to put this knowledge of learning to work.
Research in learning has built a growing body of knowledge;
however, experts believe that it's only the tip of
the iceberg. But I know that one of their findings
already resonates with most of us.
From studies of people who have astute expertise in
areas such as chess, physics, mathematics, and history,
we have found, not to anyone's surprise, that being
an expert does not guarantee your ability to instruct
others about the topic. If our nation is to live up
to its potential and continue to be competitive, we
have to be able to provide the best instruction for
every student and worker.
From a very different perspective of learning, the
advent of non-invasive imaging technologies such as
the PET scan and MRI, has allowed neuroscience researchers
to directly observe the process of the brain learning.
Through these observations they were able to see that,
indeed, practice increases learning and, moreover,
that learning changes the physical structure of the
brain. With changes in structure, the brain reorganizes
itself. From this work we also know that different
parts of the brain may be ready to learn at different
Many of the new educational technologies have features
consistent with basic principles of learning. The
interactive feature helps students learn by doing,
receiving feedback, and refining their understanding.
Technologies help people visualize concepts that are
difficult to grasp. And the most obvious, technologies
provide access to a universe of information that includes
digital libraries, real-world data, and a panoply
of people for both information and feedback.
As industry increasingly seeks agile and adaptive learners
for its workforce, the science of learning will make
invaluable contributions. Our ultimate goal is not
to waste a single child and to do whatever is needed
to ensure that today's and tomorrow's workers are
This has prompted us this past year to envision a set
of Science of Learning Centers. They are intended
to coalesce the rapidly advancing cognitive knowledge
base with IT tools of growing capability. The Centers
are intended to complement our Engineering Research
Centers and Science and Technology Centers.
By focusing on cognition, we will advance our capability
in everything from teaching children how to read to
building human-like computers and robots. Industry
can capitalize on this knowledge in training initiatives,
in the manufacturing process, and in the development
of new products in a field that is blossoming. But,
fundamentally we will help empower people and thus
empower the nation, all of which can lead to wealth
creation, and social progress currently unimaginable.
Now to the 4th and 5th capabilities,
complexity and holism. They act as two sides of a
coin to guide us in the best way to use our accumulated
knowledge of science and technology to discover new
knowledge and better understand how to use it.
Mitch Waldrop, in his book Complexity, writes
about a point we often refer to as "the edge of chaos."
That is, "where the components of a system never quite
lock into place, and yet never quite dissolve into
turbulence either...The edge of chaos is where new
ideas and innovative genotypes are forever nibbling
away at the edges of the status quo..."
This territory of complexity is 'a space of opportunity,'
a place to make a marriage of unlike partners or disparate
ideas. High-paid consultants sometimes refer to people
who understand this territory and feel comfortable
there as 'out of the box thinkers.' The consultants
may use their vernacular but both Albert Einstein
and the American painter Edward Hopper pegged it a
long time ago as "imagination."
Today, researchers are trying to put polymers together
with silicon, a marriage of opposites because plastics
are chaotic chains while silicon is composed of orderly
crystals. The result can give us electronic devices
with marvelous flexibility that are also much less
The awareness of 'complexity' makes us nimble and opportunistic
seekers not only in our science and engineering knowledge
but in our industrial institutions. If we operate
with this awareness we will be able to identify and
capitalize on those fringe territories which have
potential for optimum arrangement.
Holism is the "flip side" of the complexity coin.
Holism and complexity have a symbiotic relationship.
Complexity teaches us to look at places of dissonance
or disorder in a field as windows of possibility.
Holism teaches us that combinations of things have
a power and capability greater than the sum of their
separate parts. Holism is far from a new idea. We
have seen it work in social structures since the beginning
of civilization. We see its power today in areas as
diverse as our communities, science and engineering
partnerships, and teams in any field of sports.
Something new happens in the integration process. A
singular or separate dynamic emerges from the interaction.
That's probably why when economists are analyzing
productivity inputs they refer to the residual, what's
left after you factor in capital, labor, land, etc.
as the "black box." They can't explain the dynamism
or interaction of the leftovers such as R&D, education,
workplace interaction, and the like. They can only
recognize that something better or more enhanced comes
out on the other side.
This integration and interaction works at many levels
- the sociology of a team of workers can be a stimulant,
with ideas firing-off in many directions. Holism creates
supportive space where taking risks and challenging
the unquestionable is acceptable. Holism engenders
elucidation, the discovery of your own knowledge transformed
by other perspectives.
Although holism is an ancient dynamic, what is new
is that it can be applied to the vast accumulated
knowledge of science and engineering and the new knowledge
that is burgeoning as we speak.
So when we train ourselves to think about complexity
and holism as two sides of a coin, we develop a pattern
or attitude to search for the disordered fringes of
a field and to pick out fragments of possibility.
With these pieces of potential, different 'wholes'
can be created in new integration. The possibilities
are endless when you think about the flexible building
power that nanotechnology will provide, the enormous
insight from research in cognition, and the ratcheting
up of speed that terascale computing offers.
Now if you take each of these 5 capabilities and you
ask, what is the 'constant' or fundamental ingredient,
it's the simple formula of talented people and the
power of their new ideas. Innovators are never confined
by what they know, never restricted by existing rules,
and never afraid to propose what no one else had seen
or imagined. They swing with no net but never lose
sight of the ground. They created everything from
Velcro to America's democracy. Any team of individuals,
any corporation or any industry can do the same.
As always, throughout civilization, the human resource
has been the most important resource. Engineering
educators must create fresh programs that incorporate
the thinking and skills of the 'big five capabilities."
In turn, the new engineer will employ them to create
the "intelligent renewal" of our existing infrastructure,
develop a continuously adaptable cyberinfrastructure,
and bring us into a sustainable future.