Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Chief Operating Officer
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
National Society of Black Engineers
March 28, 2002
Good morning. I want to honor tradition here today
because we all stand on the work of those who came
before us. And I also want to stand at the frontier
with you and share what we think may be coming . .
. and try to integrate the two.
It's a great pleasure to be here today. I want to thank
the NSBE (National Society of Black Engineers) for
the opportunity to make remarks at your annual conference.
There is nothing more exciting than when engineers
come together. Who knows what we'll innovate by the
I am also especially delighted to see my good friend
Gary May. I've known Gary since he was in college.
And it's been a pleasure to watch him flourish over
the years both personally and professionally.
His dual commitments then - when we first met - of
becoming a great engineer and attracting others into
the field remain a guiding light for me and many others.
Gary's efforts no doubt exemplify the NSBE founders'
intent to improve the recruitment and retention of
black engineering students.
The founders recognized the need to diversify the engineering
field nearly three decades ago. All of us understand
that the need to educate and address the potential
of all African American students still exists today.
Diversifying the engineering workforce is vital to
our nation's continuing prosperity and ability to
compete. Our economy is rooted in science and technology
and cannot sustain itself, let alone be robust, without
a cadre of world-class engineers.
The engineering workforce is the driver of society's
technological engine, an awesome responsibility. We
will not be able to address this responsibility without
diversifying the pool of science and engineering talent.
This broadening of participation must come from The
Land of Plenty, our mostly untapped potential of underrepresented
minorities and women - America's "competitive edge"
for the 21st century.
This presents an extraordinary opportunity, one that
we must meet with commitment.
By broadening participation of underrepresented minorities,
our engineering workforce will be ever more capable
and competitive. Industrial innovation will be ever
more robust from the benefits of diverse perspectives
from a diverse set of engineers. Society will be served
ever so much better.
I should like to make the case for these claims by
addressing with you this morning five key elements
underlying the swift current of change in which we
are engaged today at the forefront of science and
- Cacophony and complexity
- Heterogeneity and holism
- Nano (meaning a billionth)
- Tera (meaning a trillion)
These are shorthand for the new capabilities in science
and engineering we believe will transform society.
These are underpinnings for engineering careers in
all disciplines during the next couple decades.
Let's start with cacophony and complexity. Cacophony
is typically defined as "disharmony" but for our purpose,
it describes a bantering of ideas. Cacophony is a
wild discussion, brain storming, or heated debate
that leads our thinking to new places, breakthroughs,
and intellectual disruptions.
Cacophony's companion is complexity. 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 . . ."
You need cacophony to understand that complexity can
hold 'a space of opportunity,' a place to make a marriage
of seemingly unlike partners or disparate ideas. You
need cacophony to identify how to mobilize that locus
where chaos can be reshaped or transformed. The awareness
of 'complexity' makes us nimble and opportunistic
seekers not only in our science and engineering knowledge
but in our industrial and academic institutions as
If we operate with this awareness we will be able to
identify and capitalize on those fringe territories
which have so much potential. Complexity teaches us
to look at places of dissonance or disorder in a field,
as windows of possibility.
Now, let's take a look at heterogeneity and holism.
The dictionary defines heterogeneity as diverse, varied,
and non-homogenous. Heterogeneity depicts teams of
diverse professionals - maybe for example engineers,
chemists, programmers, psychologists, and social philosophers
- addressing a common problem.
The growing diversity of the U.S. population offers
us a unique advantage to marshal the perspectives
and wisdom of different cultures, thought patterns,
beliefs, and behaviors.
Holism, the companion of heterogeneity, 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. Something
new happens in this integration process. A singular
or separate dynamic emerges from the interaction.
Although holism, the process of integration, 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.
To gain the most powerful advantage from holism we
need to have heterogeneity of participants. We need
diverse perspectives, different beliefs, varied cultures,
numerous approaches in training, and maybe even rule
breaking across the board. This is a formidable task
but it is probably the surest path to innovative solutions.
The goal is to bring the intellectual chaos and disorder
together in a new way to form a different and unique
"whole," to create a distinctly different harmony.
The frontier of engineering presents an unimaginable
set of opportunities; engineers have a responsibility
to create a symphony from these which will enable
us to enjoy a better society. This certainly is a
task for which engineers are well prepared.
The third key capability, cognition, is central to
all we do. It is the very beginning of the engineering
process. The dictionary defines cognition as the mental
process by which knowledge is acquired. Most of us
would simply say, this is learning. Learning is the
foundation territory of all other capabilities, human
Our understanding of the learning process holds the
key to tapping the potential of every child, empowering
a 21st century workforce, redesigning education
from K through 16, and, even in maintaining our democracy.
The social philosopher and leader, Marian Wright Edelman
wrote in her thin volume, The Measure of our Success,
". . . America cannot afford to waste a single child."
President Bush calls his education initiative, "no
child left behind." 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.
We know that cultural experience, social interaction,
and communal participation are primary forms of learning.
We know that more than any other species, humans are
configured to be the most flexible learners. Humans
are intentional learners, proactive in acquiring knowledge
And, it turns out that we are more successful learners
if we are mindful or cognizant of ourselves as learners
Cognition is a critical inquiry into all aspects of
how people think and learn. It is the underpinning
of a new age of smart machines as well as enhancing
every citizen's ability to learn and create.
To date, our knowledge of the "science of learning,"
is just the tip of the iceberg of what we have yet
to learn. Our ultimate goal is truly [not] to waste
a single child and to teach and train a workforce
that is well prepared and can adapt and change. NSF
has launched two new investments toward this end:
the Math and Science Partnership Initiative and the
Science of Learning Centers program. We look forward
to NSBE's interest in these activities.
Of the five capabilities that form the cluster of my
remarks, the remaining two are advanced technologies
- nano and tera. Without the least exaggeration, I
can say that they will catapult us into a new and
Nano is short for nanoscale science and engineering
and it has the potential to eclipse everything we
can do in manufacturing today - from airplanes to
pharmaceuticals. It takes us to a design realm three
orders of magnitude smaller than what we can handle
At nanoscale, things are portrayed at the molecular
and atomic level of things, both natural and human-made.
A nanometer is a billionth of a meter. Until the scanning/tunneling
microscope was invented twenty years ago, we could
not observe molecules on a surface. Now, our micro
world is becoming a nano world.
We will connect nano-machines to individual living
cells. Nano capability will allow us to build a "wish
list" of properties into structures large and small.
For land vehicles and airplanes, nano-particle reinforced
materials will allow lighter bodies, self-repairing
coatings, and non-flammable plastics.
In electronics and communications, it will be possible
to vastly increase data storage capacity and processing
speeds. This will produce lower costs and improved
power efficiency as compared to current electronic
In pharmaceuticals, health care, and life sciences,
we will see 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.
This new nano capability brings together many disciplines
of science and engineering to work in collaboration.
The scope and scale of nano create an overarching,
enabling field not unlike the role of information
technologies today. We are witnessing the start of
a nano revolution.
Enter terascale computing, the fifth of the capabilities,
a power-driven tool that will boost all disciplines
and give wings especially to our nano pursuits.
Terascale computing is shorthand for computer-communication
technology that takes us three orders of magnitude
beyond prevailing capabilities. In the past, our system
architectures could handle only 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.
When we dramatically advance the speed of our capability
in any area we give researchers and industrialists
and scholars 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 unknowable. Terascale computing will launch
us to frontiers still without names.
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 is to build the most advanced
computer-communications infrastructure for researchers
to use, while simultaneously broadening its accessibility.
NSF is busy pursuing this goal as we speak.
Together, these five capabilities will have increasing
impact on the nature of society in the 21st
century. We know how the recent revolution in information
technologies has already connected and integrated
researchers and research fields in a way never before
possible. Integration of these five capabilities will
have a "wow" effect on all that we do.
By now, some of you must be thinking, how do you get
on this train? A good part of this scenario has to
do with perspective - the way we think about things.
Attitude, approach, and astuteness will count a great
deal. Putting together teams of people that can elucidate
each other's thinking instead of just agreeing with
it will be critical. Create a brouhaha of thinking.
Take educated risks. Believe in yourselves.
NSBE has the opportunity and the pioneer spirit to
tap into these new ways as you continue to evolve
in response to the changing needs of society. Just
look at how you've grown from six founders to the
large, respected organization that you are today.
It is going to be exciting to see now how you will
flourish and lead us into the robust engineering future
lying before us.