Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Chief Operating Officer
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
February 17, 2002
Good evening to all of you. I am very pleased to be
here tonight. The other day, I read a definition of
the art of public speaking. "It is the art of making
an audience believe that deep noises from the chest
are important messages from the brain." I will make
every effort not to let you down.
As you probably know, Philadelphia is my hometown and
nothing gives me more pleasure than to see higher
education flourish here in the place where education
has been respected and promoted since the time of
the Founders of our nation.
Philadelphia University, occupies a special place for
me. Several years ago, as you were contemplating big
changes, I was asked to weigh in with some advice.
I haven't been back since then but I have kept track
of your restructuring and have been most impressed.
And I am continually honored to be a recipient of
your centennial medal.
You are, to my mind, a university in continuous evolution
-- conscious of the changing world, and arching towards
those changes so that Philadelphia University students
have skills to match the times. This is a pursuit
that many larger, less agile institutions are not
able to realize.
Philadelphia University, in its several incarnations,
is one of the older entities in this city but you
have forward-looking ideas, a contemporary flair and
a futuristic spirit.
Complementing your vision, you have capitalize on two
practical advantages for being suited to embrace change
-- your size and your location. A smaller school has
a greater opportunity to innovate and take risks.
The larger an institution, the more difficult change
becomes. The federal government is a good example.
You, on the other hand, can expand intellectually
according to your vision instead of expanding from
the ailment we call "mission creep," which can be
likened to "getting bigger for the sake of getting
bigger." Some refer to the latter in our bureaucratic
federal democracy as a process of "democrasclerosis."
I am proud to report that NSF is one of the few federal
agencies whose budget is able to grow but whose bureaucracy
does not follow.
The advantage of location should never be underestimated.
In fact, I'm sure you've all heard the expression
from business parlance, "location, location, location."
Philadelphia has always been a vibrant city -- partly
because of its crucial role in the history of the
nation, partly because of its diverse population,
partly because of its flourishing artistic community,
but primarily because it is a cradle of higher education…all
of which integrated to an atmosphere of eclectic imagination.
In this age of partnerships and collaboration, the
proximity of our city's universities to each other
provides a unique window -- for exchange of ideas,
for partnering in projects, for sharing faculty, for
pilot projects, for intensive cross-disciplinary work,
and for collaboration among students across university
In addition to this being the age of partnerships and
collaboration, it is also a distinctly global new
age. There are new opportunities, new threats, new
priorities, and new constraints…but perhaps not a
new economy. In a more embryonic time, when Philadelphia,
our leaders, and the nation were filled with the excitement
of national youth and innocence, George Washington
advised us wisely for those times but perhaps not
as well for today's. In his Farewell Address, September
17, 1796, he warned, "Tis our true policy to steer
clear of permanent alliances, with any portion of
the foreign world. ...There can be no greater error
than to expect or calculate upon real favors from
nation to nation."
Today, we live in the antithesis of that mindset and
environment. Our global integration, prompted primarily
by technological innovation, creates a different set
of realities for government, industry, academe, and
the population in general. Our national security is
very much based on alliances and cooperation with
other nations. Instant communication and advanced
transportation make our world integrated, porous,
attached, and overlapping in every way. The events
of September 11 have brought that home in new and
In the public sector -- federal, state, and local -this
has brought new changed responsibilities and expenses.
The bounty of huge projected surpluses has, like Cinderella,
at the turn of the day suddenly turned to escalating
deficits. Already, the criteria and costs of "homeland
security" are reverberating through the economy. At
the institutional level, large and small, there needs
to be streamlined management, operation, and security.
For industry, the global marketplace is a wish list
of opportunity and a reverberation of the economic
woes of others. The accelerated pace of new knowledge
and technological obsolescence is simultaneously invigorating
For academe, the constant churning and change in society
makes us unnervingly alert to staying ahead of the
curve. As I think about Philadelphia University -
I think about success, potential, and opportunities.
This seemed to coalesce with some of the concepts
and priorities in NSF's agenda. They fit into your
vision for the university and form a conglomerate
for framing the future.
Even their sound is new:
Cacophony and complexity
Heterogeneity and holism
These are shorthand for the new capabilities in science
and engineering we believe will transform society.
They will also change and reinvigorate our nation's
system of higher education.
Cacophony is typically defined as "disharmony" but
for us, it describes a bantering of ideas. Cacophony
for us is a wild discussion, brain storming, or heated
debate at the knowledge frontier that leads our thinking
to new places breakthroughs, intellectual disruptions.
In what better root could scholarship lie?
Its 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
You need cacophony to understand that complexity can
hold a 'a space of opportunity,' a place to make a
marriage of 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 commercial institutions.
It is also needed to understand how best to move higher
education into a new era.
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.
As for heterogeneity, the dictionary defines it as
diverse, varied, and non-homogenous. This definition
serves us well. Heterogeneity depicts teams of diverse
"domain-trained" or "disciplinarily-trained participants
- maybe engineers, chemists, programmers, psychologists,
and social philosophers for example, - addressing
a common boundary - crossing problem. It also describes
a polyglot group of these folks along with students,
and school teachers forming a community of learners
and achievers. If you look carefully at NSF investments
you will see evidence of such attempted synergism.
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 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
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 a heterogeneity of participants.
We need diverse perspectives, different beliefs, varied
cultures, numerous approaches in training, and even
"rule breaking" across the board. This may sound like
a formula for disaster but, in fact, it is probably
the surest path to innovative solutions. The goal
is to bring the chaos and disorder together in a fresh
way to form a different and unique "whole," to create
not discordance, but, rather, a distinctly different
Cognition may sound like the odd one out in this list.
It not only fits but it is the very beginning of the
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.
By the time a child enters school, these cultural
norms and values are already in place. We know that
being an expert does not guarantee your ability to
instruct others about the topic. That has important
implications for training teachers.
We now know that knowledge acquired solely by rote
memory rarely transfers or converts as useable knowledge,
so the value of its applicability is limited.
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 skills, although much of what we learn is outside
of any formal instruction.
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 learn.
To date, our knowledge of the "science of learning,"
is probably 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.
Of the five capabilities that form the cluster of my
remarks, two are advanced technologies - nano and
tera. Without the least exaggeration, I can say that
they will catapult society into a new and unimaginable
Nano is short for nano-science and engineering and
it has the potential to eclipse everything we can
do in manufacturing today - from airplanes to pharmaceuticals,
from the smallest to the largest tools we use to learn
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. Soon, our micro
world will become 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 cars, trucks, 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 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.
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, a power-driven tool that
will boost all disciplines and give wings especially
to our nano pursuits.
Terascale computing is shorthand for computing technology
that takes us three orders of magnitude beyond prevailing
computing 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
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
computing infrastructure for researchers to use, while
simultaneously broadening its accessibility. NSF is
presently deeply into the process of enabling this
distributed leading - edge computational capability.
This decade will se extraordinary advance in our capacity
for visualization, simulation, and robust handling
of enormous sets of data - the latter being labeled
with moniker "Big Data."
Together, these 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. These
capabilities will have the "wow" effect.
By now, some of you must be thinking, gee I'm on this
train and have trouble hanging on or some of you may
be anxious to 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.
You need to gather unlikely partners whose theologies,
ideologies, and psychologies seemingly don't match.
Create a brouhaha of thinking. Take educated risks.
Believe in yourselves.
Philadelphia University has the opportunity and the
pioneer spirit to tap into these new ways as you continue
to evolve to the changing needs of society.
In closing, I leave you, as members of Philadelphia
society with its rich base of revolution, artistic
flair, educations substance, inventive accomplishment,
and great diversity, with this quote from Mark Twain:
"You can't depend on your judgment when your imagination
is out of focus."