Email Print Share


Photo of Dr. France A. Córdova

Photo by NSF/
Stephen Voss

Dr. France A. Córdova
National Science Foundation


Before the
American Association for the Advancement of Science
2016 Annual Meeting
Washington, D.C.

February 12, 2016

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

[Slide 1: Title slide: NSF in the Global Era ]

Good morning. It is an honor to be part of this conference -- thank you to the AAAS for its valuable work to advance science. It is special for me to be on a panel with my colleagues and friends John Holdren, Lynn Orr and Charlie Bolden.

Since we have both the world of the very small -- namely particle physics [Orr] -- and the world of the very large -- namely the cosmos [Bolden] -- represented on this stage, let me start with this figure which shows science at the scale of the universe.

[Slide 2: Science at the scales of the universe]

This is a figure that Fleming Crim, Assistant Director for Math & Physical Sciences at NSF, is fond of showing. It goes from 10-24 m to 1024 m, that is, from the scale of the neutrino to the scale of the super-cluster of galaxies in Virgo. Note the 100 Hz gravitational wave at 3 x 106 m.

[Slide 3: Science at the scales of the universe]

At the bottom of the scale you will see where each of the divisions within Fleming's directorate operate -- chemistry and materials and physics to the smaller scales, astronomy to the larger, and math across the entire spectrum.

Yet Math & Physical Sciences is only one of several areas of research for NSF. Most of the other areas operate in a narrower, intermediate scale, from 10-9 m to 107 m, as this next figure shows.

[Slide 4: Diagram of scales ]

Our Biosciences Directorate supports research on the brain, with neurons at 10-6 m, as well as plants and animals, and you and me, at 1 to a few meters. BIO is constructing a large ecological network on a continental scale. Our Social & Behavioral Sciences Directorate and our Education Directorate also explore humans, in action and in context, up to the scale size of communities. Geosciences explores nature, the ocean and land on continental scales. Our Computing and Information Science Directorate does its exploration from the nanoscale of the transistor to the scale of supercomputers.

Systems funded through our Engineering Directorate principally straddle the middle range, with the exception of nanoscale devices at the lower scale and giant electric grids at the upper scale.

These figures illustrate that NSF supports fundamental research across all scales of science and engineering.

The next breakthrough might come from any of the disciplines or cross-disciplinary work we support, and from any of the people that we support. 217 Nobel prizes and countless other prestigious awards have been won by NSF-funded people, some as early as graduate students. Take, for example, Steve Chu, Nobelist and previous Secretary of Energy, who was funded as a NSF Graduate Fellow; or take NSF-funded graduate students Sergey Brin and Larry Page, whose NSF grant called "BackRub" led to their founding of Google. Or take Charles Townes, inventor of maser and co-inventor of the laser. He was funded over his lifetime with numerous NSF awards.

Of the most recent group of National Medal of Science winners and National Medal of Technology and Innovation winners, NSF funded nearly all of them.

The scales I have showed you are illustrative of the expanse of research NSF funds; what is not captured are the interrelationships between systems and individuals: for example, how national policy affects individuals and how individuals affect national policy. Or how nations collaborate. This, too, is part of NSF's portfolio.

And that brings us to the theme of this AAAS meeting, international collaboration. What are the trends for science in an international context? What is NSF's strategic plan to exploit these trends in furthering its mission? How are the scales I have shown you populated, enriched, through global collaboration?

[Slide 5: Increasing multiple authorship in research]

There are many indicators of increasing global dependency in science. The recent Science & Engineering Indicators, published by the National Science Board, revealed that collaborative authorship of published research has increased -- and these collaborations are frequently international. The third set of bars shows the increase of multiple international-author papers.

Funding trends in recent years show that many nations are increasing their investment in science and engineering.

[Slide 6: Comparative R&D intensity among some nations ]

The "R&D Intensity" shown on this figure is the expenditure for Research and Development as a fraction of Gross Domestic Product, or GDP. The United States is decreasing in R&D intensity relative to other nations. With increasing global investment we have more opportunity today to advance transformative science by leveraging our own investments through collaborations with other nations.

Global challenges need global responses, and NSF is working with international partners on such challenges as building low-carbon smart cities (with China and India), on water issues (with the Czech Republic), on radioactivity post-Fukushima (with Japan). NSF rapidly funded awards after earthquakes in Nepal and Chile and during the Ebola outbreak. Early this week, we issued a Dear Colleague Letter for proposals that address the transmission dynamics of the Zika virus and signed onto a worldwide agreement to freely share data resulting from NSF-funded research.

Of NSF's numerous international partnerships, there is a particularly visible manifestation in the large astronomical facilities we support. This figure shows these facilities.

[Slide 7: Diagram of scales ]

NSF hosts a suite of ground-based Great Observatories, "multi-messenger" in that some instruments detect photons, some detect charged particles, and some detect gravitational waves. These facilities include the Atacama Large Millimeter/sub-millimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, the Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico, and the twin infrared-optical Gemini telescopes, one in Chile, one in Hawaii. They include the High Altitude Water Cherenkov, or HAWC, gamma ray observatory near Puebla, Mexico; the largest neutrino detector, ICE CUBE, at the South Pole, and the Advanced LIGO (Laser Interferometry Gravitational Wave) detectors in Washington and Louisiana.

They include two Great Observatories under construction, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) in Chile, and the largest solar observatory in the world, the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope in Hawaii. And NSF contributes to the two principal particle detectors (ATLAS and CMS) at CERN in Geneva.

[Slide 8: ALMA]

Nearly all have international participation. ALMA, for example, has received more than $1 billion in investments from a broad coalition including Europe, East Asia -- led by Japan -- and Chile.

ALMA is providing a testing ground for theories of star birth and stellar evolution and solar system formation, as this illustration of a very young star (HL Tau) with its planet-forming disk shows.

[Slide 9: Gemini]

Partners in the International Gemini Observatory include the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Argentina and Chile.

Gemini has recently commissioned a new camera, developed by an international team, that directly images planets around other stars.

By using adaptive optics and a coronagraphic mask, the camera can image planets that are a million times fainter than their host star. It is arguably the most powerful instrument ever available for directly imaging extra-solar planets. And it can produce some spectral information as well.

The GPI Exoplanet Survey discovered last August a young Jupiter-like exoplanet, designated 51 Eridani b. It is one of the first exoplanets to be imaged as part of a Survey that will image 600 stars over the next three years.

The spectrum shows deep absorption bands in the atmosphere of this planet, which has a mass twice that of Jupiter.

[Slide 10: LSST]

The LSST -- the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope -- will invite international collaboration when it is operational. The telescope was the highest priority of the 2010 National Academy of Sciences decadal survey of astronomy. It will be a wide-field "survey" telescope that photographs the entire available sky every few nights.

It will have the largest digital camera ever constructed, thanks to Department of Energy funding, with a large-aperture, wide-field optical imager capable of viewing light from the near ultraviolet to near infrared wavelengths. Advanced computers will gather and analyze the millions of gigabytes of data LSST will generate each year.

[Slide 11: IceCube]

A team of researchers with the IceCube Collaboration -- an international scientific group headquartered at the Wisconsin IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison -- announced earlier this year a new observation of high-energy neutrinos, confirming they had found particles from beyond our solar system -- and beyond our galaxy.

[Slide 12: HAWC]

HAWC, the gamma ray observatory near Puebla, Mexico, will perform the deepest uniform sky survey at the highest gamma-ray energies to study the most extreme environments in the Universe.

HAWC will monitor approximately two-thirds of the sky every 24 hours with unprecedented sensitivity to the highest energy gamma rays. It will complement the operations of NASA and DOE's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope and the VERITAS gamma ray Observatory.

These examples of NSF-supported work to explore the most fundamental questions about the Universe would not be possible were it not for international collaboration.

And then there's LIGO...

[Slide 13: LIGO]

Yesterday the scientific world was hushed as the first sounds of gravitational waves arriving on the Earth were heard. The signal, observed in both LIGO facilities in Washington State and Louisiana, is thought to be caused by the merger of two large black holes of 36 and 29 solar masses, at a distance of 1.3 billion light years. The merger into a single black hole caused the liberation of energy equivalent -- in an instant -- to the annihilation of three and a half solar masses. The observation was made by an international team of more than 1,000 people, representing more than 90 institutions and 15 nations. It heralds a new era in gravitational wave observing.

[Slide 14: Global STEM education ]

STEM education is a key part of the NSF mission, and a personal mission for me. International opportunities are available to both undergraduate and graduate students through programs like Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) and Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide (GROW).

On the horizon for all areas of science and engineering are big challenges with global impacts, and all NSF directorates and cross-directorate work will increasingly rely on international collaboration.

[Slide 15: Cross-agency new initiatives]

For example, each year we focus on identifying new challenges that are cross-disciplinary and will engage broad international communities. For Fiscal Year 16 these are: Understanding the Brain; Understanding and Modeling the Food-Energy-Water Nexus; and Understanding and Being Prepared for Extreme Events, like tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, and landslides. These are clearly global challenges.

The NSF support of international collaborations through funding people and facilities around the globe is vital to the progress of science in the United States. It gives our scientists and engineers access and opportunity to create new knowledge and form new alliances.

I hope I've communicated how important international collaboration is to NSF.

And now, looking forward, just imagine this: International science at the scale of the globe.

[Slide 16: Earth from space]