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Dr. Colwell's Remarks


"National Science Foundation Initiatives for FY 2003"

Dr. Rita R. Colwell

National Science Foundation

The Engineering Deans Council Public Policy Colloquium
National Academy of Engineering
Washington, D.C.

February 12, 2002

See also slide presentation.

If you're interested in reproducing any of the slides, please contact
The Office of Legislative and Public Affairs: (703) 292-8070.

Thank you very much, David, for that kind introduction.

Thank you for the opportunity to discuss the goals and recent accomplishments of the National Science Foundation, and our efforts on behalf of the engineering community.

Our world has changed dramatically since September 11, and our nation's resources, particularly in science and engineering, must be tapped to respond to these new threats.

We must maintain a broad perspective so that all of our knowledge and resources can be used most effectively.

As Dean Gordon Brown of MIT stated in 1962, "Engineering is not merely knowing and being knowledgeable, like a walking encyclopedia ... engineering is practicing the art of the organized forcing of technological change ... Engineers operate at the interface between science and society..."

[NEW Title slide]
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As our national perspectives and objectives change, they will be reflected in budget priorities. Right now, there is a strong focus on marshalling the nation's resources on homeland security.

As President Bush said in his recent State of the Union address, our resources are plentiful, our people are able, and our commitment is strong - and these must guide us towards an even stronger and safer United States.

NSF has always been a fundamental resource for security - for more than 50 years, researchers funded by NSF have been pursuing the discoveries that have advanced materials development, computer technology, genomic techniques, and other fields.

[Sensors collage]
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Presently, we are supporting the engineering community in developing the next generation of biological and chemical sensors - early warning devices that will be portable, inexpensive, and effective against terrorist threats.

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One promising example is the silicon polymer nanowire - 2000 times thinner than human hair. These wires may soon be used to detect traces of picric acid and TNT in air and water, cheaply and effectively hunting for bombs and land mines.

And these efforts are not new. When September 11th struck, NSF engineers and scientists were principal players in our nation's response.

[Robots slide]
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NSF-supported engineers developed the shoebox-sized robots that enabled rescue workers to search for victims in the World Trade Center rubble.

[Structural engineering slide]
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Our Small Grant for Exploratory Research, or SGER, awards enabled structural engineers to analyze the Trade Center debris and simulate the dynamics of the explosive attacks.

The researchers are determining what structures and safety systems failed and how to design next generation structures that will not fail.

NSF-supported social scientists are analyzing the coordination and communications of the emergency, medical, law enforcement and military responders, finding best practices for potential future crises.

In addition, the National Tragedy Study - a University of Chicago survey supported by NSF and private foundations - found that Americans responded with resilience to the events of Sept. 11.

As a nation, we responded with a great increase in national pride, confidence in our institutions, and faith in our people.

[Bacillus anthracis]
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NSF has also supported research to sequence the genome of the Bacillus anthracis strain that was used as a weapon, killing five American citizens last year.

NSF's new biocomplexity efforts will further our efforts to sequence microbial genomes, while our ecology of infectious diseases initiative will allow us to determine how microbial communities develop and determine factors associated with the incidence and distribution of pathogens in the environment.

Both programs will enable us to fight infectious diseases with a broad understanding of ecological principles governing microbial communities.

[NEON slide]
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One of the most exciting and critical new programs is the National Ecological Observatory Network, or NEON.

Our Engineering Directorate, with other Directorates at NSF, will support NEON - a distributed network of biological, chemical, meteorological, atmospheric, and other sensor arrays - including nucleic acid profiling of microbial communities in water, soil, and air.

The arrays will be located in representative eco-regions, including near cities, and will transmit data in real time to scientists located across the nation.

Most critically, biological and chemical threats will be detectable by the network, not just telling us where and when a threat is occurring, but also whether there is a real danger or merely a perceived danger.

Bacillus anthracis exists naturally in soil, and NEON would have the capability of recognizing whether detection of this bacterium results from normal background levels or a terrorist attack.

[Cyberterrorism slide]
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One facet of cyberterrorism is the threat to cell phone and emergency communication, water systems, electrical grids, and even - as we have already seen on a smaller scale - access to the internet.

Prior to 9/11, NSF had begun a program on critical research in cybersecurity, e.g. the CyberSecurity Education and Research Center for Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio. These efforts will be significantly expanded.

Representative Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), Chairman of the House Science Committee, recently proposed the Cyber Security Research and Development Act, H.R. 3394.

Co-sponsored by Ralph M. Hall (D-Texas), the bill passed the House. It directs the NSF to create additional cybersecurity research centers, graduate fellowships, undergraduate program grants, and community college grants, all within the purview of NSF.

In a recent op/ed in The Hill outlining his proposal, Boehlert summed up our community's priorities succinctly:

"Just as it took the greatest scientific minds and technological advances to win World War II and the Cold War," he says, "the success of America's "New War" will be measured not only on the battlefield but also in the laboratory."

Fundamental to all of these efforts is a well-trained workforce capable of answering the current threats and envisioning solutions for threats we have yet to imagine.

An educated society is critical not just for developing technology, but for supporting that development, both by the public and by government.

This year's NSF budget provides $78 million in support of education and career development programs for Engineering.

[Student Research]
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One of the increases that has been long overdue is a boost for annual graduate stipends.

The increase to $25,000 per year will allow us to attract the best engineers and scientists, not only into research, but into the education-oriented goals of the Graduate Teaching Fellowships in K-12 Education and the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeships.

Initiatives such as the Research Experience for Undergraduates program, bring young engineers and scientists into the lab at an early stage.

As the great Chinese philosopher Confucious stated roughly 2500 years ago "Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life." At NSF, we take such words to heart.

The Bridges for Engineering Education program brings Engineering and Education colleges and schools within a University together to restructure curricula - ensuring that undergraduates are aware, early on, of what engineering careers are available.

NSF supports a variety of teacher enrichment programs. The Research Experience for Teachers program, which partners engineering and science PIs at universities with high school teachers, giving the teachers access to research labs and professionals will be increased by $1.5 million.

[ADVANCE slide]
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NSF supports engineers as they progress through their careers, and not only through project-specific grants.

This year we have doubled the funding of ADVANCE, a program designed to increase the representation and advancement of women in academic engineering and science careers.

ADVANCE offers three types of awards. Fellows Awards assist promising researchers who had to leave the academic community to fulfill family obligations, such as child-rearing or elder-care responsibilities, or the relocation of a spouse.

The award allows the researcher to establish, or re-establish, their career after a crippling hiatus.

Institutional Transformation Awards enable research institutions to develop procedures for bringing women faculty into the leadership ranks of engineering and science.

By supporting the groundwork necessary to transform institutional practices, these awards create positive, sustainable, and permanent change in academic environments.

Finally, Leadership Awards will recognize contributions made by organizations or individuals towards the participation of women in engineering and science careers, and will allow awardees to both initiate new activities and maintain existing ones.

At a recent address at the AAAS, the President's science advisor, John Marburger, specifically emphasized the importance of engineers in the fight against bioterrorism and the protection of homeland security.

The President has made it clear that in this time of crisis, research must be clearly defined and have targeted goals.

President Bush's vision for reforming and improving government is shaped by three simple principles:

  • First, government must be citizen-centered, not bureaucracy centered.
  • Second, it must be results-oriented.
  • And finally, it must be market-based -- namely, innovation should be actively promoted through competition.

When it comes to better research and development criteria, the President has put performance squarely in the spotlight in the years ahead.

His aim is to ensure that every Federal R&D dollar is invested as effectively as possible. The Office of Management and Budget has made it clear that a well-directed R&D portfolio must demonstrate measurable progress towards the portfolio's strategic goals, without necessarily expecting success from each and every project. In order to promote U.S. leadership across the science and engineering spectrum, this Administration believes that these investment criteria will better focus publicly-funded research programs on performance.

Applied research programs must be better focused on achieving well-defined practical outcomes. And basic research programs must better target improving the quality and relevancy of their research.

That is why the National Science Foundation has been commended. It is because our priority areas reflect our objectives of maintaining excellence, maximizing effectiveness, and minimizing costs.

In short, when the day is done, it's the results that count.

As an agency, we operate with extraordinary efficiency, with only 5 % of our annual budget going towards administration and overhead.

That means that last year, 95% of our $5 billion budget went directly to the engineers, scientists, educators, students and institutions that drive technology forward in our nation.

I am proud to report that OMB Director Daniels has been making special mention of the Foundation's effective financial management, including a speech at the National Press Club over a month ago.

This was reaffirmed when NSF was singled out for recognition as the only federal agency on the President's Executive Branch Management Scorecard to receive the "green" score - the highest mark - for our financial management efforts.

OMB has recognized NSF's efforts to embrace advanced information technologies, and operate in a "paperless" environment.

They also recognized that our grant workload more than doubled from $2.1 billion in 1990 to $4.4 billion in 2000, yet the number of employees actually decreased.

Our FY 2003 Budget Request ensures that we can maintain the high quality and performance by providing an additional 67 new employees.

Our proposed Fiscal Year 2003 budget reflects this growing awareness of the fundamental nature of technological and scientific research for national progress and defense.

[Budget changes: total]
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This year, I am very pleased to report, even in these tight financial times, our total budget request will be $5.036 billion, an increase of 5% or $240 million over current levels.

[Budget by appropriation]
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As you can see from the appropriations, both research and education funding have been increased. The request builds on NSF's strength as the only federal agency devoted to promoting basic research and education at all levels and across all fields of science and engineering.

[Math and Science Partnerships]
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The Math and Science Partnership Program, a fundamental component of the President's education policy, has been increased to $200 million, 25% above last year.

The program links teachers and students at underserved preK-12 schools with universities, bridging a gap in our nation's educational infrastructure.

[Automated under-ice vehicle]
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The Climate Change Research Initiative is part of the Administration's new multi-agency initiative to advance understanding in highly focused areas of climate science, to reduce uncertainty, and to facilitate policy decisions. $15 million has been provided for the first year of the initiative.

[Priority areas]
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In addition to a balanced portfolio of core investments, NSF identifies and supports emerging opportunities that hold exceptional promise.

[Information Technology]
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NSF's Information Technology Research - now entering its fourth year - will support large-scale, safer networks; create advanced architectures for high-end computing; and integrate information technology into classrooms.

[Mathematics slide]
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Mathematics has become indispensable in fields as diverse as biology, sociology, climate, and proteomics. We propose to invest $60 million as part of a new priority area in mathematical and statistical sciences - doubling our FY 2002 budget.

[Learning for the 21st Century]
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$185 million will be directed toward NSF's Learning for the 21st Century Workforce, including $20 million to fund new multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional Science of Learning Centers for research into how we learn and remember.

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The emerging field of nanoscale science and engineering -- the ability to manipulate and control matter at atomic and molecular levels - promises revolutionary breakthroughs.

Advances will come in areas such as materials and manufacturing, medicine and healthcare, environment and energy, biotechnology and agriculture, and national security.

Nano-structures are at the confluence of the smallest of human-made devices and the large molecules of living systems.

With them, we will be able to connect nanomachines to individual human cells to target the delivery of medicines or create materials nearly free of defects and imperfections.

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In addition to continued support for projects such as NEES, the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation, and the Terascale Computing System - recently ranked as the world's fastest university-based computer system - the Budget supports two new programs, NEON and EarthScope.

The EarthScope program will assess and mitigate national earthquake, volcano, and landslide risks through a national earthquake detection and research network.

[Closing slide]
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Engineers and scientists have always responded to, and shaped, national sentiments. Clearly, there are many challenges ahead, and many exciting opportunities to meet them.

In 1960, Columbia University engineer and educator James Kip Finch very succinctly stated the task at hand. He said, "The engineer has been, and is, a maker of history."

I look forward to continued success as the National Science Foundation and the engineering community, together, make history.



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