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Photo of Dr. Subra Suresh

Dr. Subra Suresh
National Science Foundation

Remarks on the NSF's 2012 Budget Request to Congress

February 14, 2011

Photo by Sandy Schaeffer

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.


Good afternoon. It is my pleasure to welcome you to the National Science Foundation today and to present the President's fiscal 2012 budget request for the NSF.

It is my honor to serve as the 13th director of the National Science Foundation. This is an organization dedicated to the support of fundamental research in all disciplines, to the advancement of science, engineering and the study of social impact, and to educating a new generation of innovative leaders and practitioners in these areas.

The budget request is designed to maintain the agency's position as the nation's engine of innovation in science, engineering and science education.


The President's fiscal 2012 budget request for NSF is $7.767 billion. This represents an increase of $894 million, or 13 percent, over the 2010 enacted level.

In these challenging fiscal times, when difficult financial choices have to be made to return our nation to solid financial footing, this budget request reflects the confidence that the President is placing in NSF as an agency.

While domestic discretionary spending is being frozen overall, the President targets scarce federal resources to the areas critical to winning the future. NSF is one such investment.

This budget acknowledges that NSF not only innovates through its support of fundamental research in all of the disciplinary areas, but also, through that innovation, generates jobs, grows the economy, adds immeasurably to the global store of knowledge and educates our workforce.

This investment advances the frontiers of all scientific disciplines, and it develops the human capital needed to forge the next generation of breakthroughs. In this way, it builds on everything NSF has done to fuel America's innovation engine for more than 60 years.


NSF was born out of the remarkable vision of Vannevar Bush. This set in motion an astounding record of discoveries and innovations across the nation and around the globe.

I am personally familiar with Dr. Bush's legacy as well as the vision that he laid out in the seminal document Science, The Endless Frontier. Until a few months ago, I had the privilege to serve as the Dean of Engineering at MIT, a position first filled by Dr. Bush. I have also had the privilege of being the Vannevar Bush Professor of Engineering at MIT.

As we look forward, there is an even greater opportunity in our future, following Dr. Bush's legacy.

With this budget request, I also hope to accelerate NSF's role as a leader in catalyzing scientific discovery. This goal will advance and expand on Dr. Bush's original vision in keeping with the rapidly changing environment in which science and engineering are conducted in the 21st century.

When NSF was founded, basic research was characterized as "the pacemaker of technological progress."

As we move toward an innovative future, I often reflect upon another statement from that report: "New products and new processes do not appear full-grown. They are founded on new principles and new conceptions, which in turn are painstakingly developed by research in the purest realms of science!"


The questions for us today are:

How should NSF adapt to meet today's new challenges? How can we make "NSF a leader for the 21st century"?

The good news is that we are well suited to tackle these questions.

NSF is a nimble organization, shouldering only six percent overhead. We attract the top talent from the nation's educational and research institutions to our staff positions and to advise us on which of the thousands of competitive proposals submitted every year are most worthy of support.

We enable fundamental scientific discoveries in all disciplines that lead to innovations that profoundly impact the nation's quality of life, economy, job creation and national security.

We maintain a long-term focus on fundamental research that covers the entire spectrum of science and engineering.

These many advantages enable our research and education community to be change agents. They position us to tackle complex national and global issues. These are familiar to all of us: Clean energy, clean water, clean environment, sustainable transportation and cybersecurity. And that's just a partial list.

NSF provides the assets that will be central to our success in this emerging era. I call it a "New Era of Observation." It is as paradigm-shifting in its own way as were the first crude microscopes in the infancy of many branches of science. They revealed the existence of life at scales that had never been imagined before.

This New Era is a temporary pinnacle of achievement. Our goal is always to do better.

But we should recognize that the New Era is without precedent in terms of the sheer scale, scope, reach, resolution and volume of what we are able to observe, thanks to the innumerable previous breakthroughs in mathematics, engineering and other scientific disciplines that gave us today's marvelous and far-reaching tools.


Today, telescopes high in the peaks of Hawaii or at the South Pole show us the far reaches of the solar system.


They help us discover new planets. They even, in effect, let us peer back through time to observe the universe as it was shortly after its origin.


They help us to probe changes in the vast expanses of ice on our planet from the Arctic Ocean to the Antarctic continent that have very real physical consequences for all of us, no matter whether we live--above the Arctic Circle or nearer the equator.


This is strenuous science which requires new tools and techniques.


Equally difficult is the research needed to unlock the secrets of the world's temperate oceans, whose health is vital to the global biosphere.


NSF's reach also extends into the skies, where aircraft sample the nature of our life-giving atmosphere.


All of these capabilities increase our knowledge of many hidden worlds. They bring us closer to answering those difficult questions about weather and environmental complexity.

This, of course, is just one end of nature's spatial range: the realm of the very large; "the macro, the mega, and the giga" in the physical world.

Equally significantly, NSF-supported research takes us to countless other realms: to observe the smallest subatomic particles;


and ponder the inner workings of complex biological systems,


and the complexities that give rise to the human condition.


This view of the world is courtesy of nature's "nano, pico, and femto" scale of phenomena.

As a result of a new, impressively broad and powerful spectrum of observational capabilities, we have also entered another new era:


The "Era of Data and information," where we are now entering the realm of the peta, and exa, and an emerging "fourth paradigm" of data-enabled science.

Today, science gathers data at an ever-increasing rate across all scales and complexities of natural phenomena. We need to store, integrate, and extract meaning and information from all of these raw numbers and data points.

This present reality requires new approaches to computer science, mathematics, engineering, data-management, education, and distributed networking. And it will also require an understanding of social behavior.

But the payoff to making the appropriate investments in our cyberinfrastructure will be immeasurable in terms of scientific productivity.

The need to reflect and respond to this incredible intellectual diversity and wholesale change is evident in the breadth of NSF’s research investments across all disciplines and in the highlights of this budget request.

The budget request recognizes these many challenges. It embraces the broadening scope of science, which enhanced observational capabilities make possible. It grasps the dual challenges of managing the data produced by these new observational tools and transforming data into knowledge. And, it commits NSF to new ways of doing business to reflect a changed world.

Key to my vision for advancing NSF's mission--and Vannevar Bush's vision--in this new "era of observation" and "era of data and information" is the concept of "OneNSF."


The National Science Foundation will be an agency that works seamlessly in a well-integrated way across organizational and disciplinary boundaries.

The OneNSF approach will allow us to:

  • Support fundamental research in every disciplinary area;

  • Address complex multidisciplinary challenges of national and global significance;

  • Spark greater innovation and opportunity for scientific discoveries in the NSF grantee community;

  • Create new networks and infrastructure for the nation to address complex scientific issues and grand challenges;

  • Improve organizational efficiency; and

  • Catalyze human-capital development and talent for the science and engineering workforce of the 21st century.

Much of this may sound familiar. In fact, it should. It is, of course, fully in keeping with the traits that have made NSF a model agency for more than 60 years.

Disciplinary depth and rigor--a strong focus on fundamental science in the individual disciplines--are in fact essential to becoming more multidisciplinary in scope.

We will continue to support strong disciplinary excellence and fundamental research driven by strong intellectual curiosity and potential significance as we address complex multidisciplinary challenges.

So, what are we aiming to do? Here are a few starting points:

  • Better align the operations of the Foundation with the increasingly interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary nature of modern science and engineering;

  • Employ multi-disciplinary and cross-directorate approaches to address complex societal problems while emphasizing basic research and fostering disciplinary excellence;

  • Position the Foundation strategically so that it anticipates and successfully adapts to leadership roles in response to the rapid pace of technological development; and

  • Improve the education of our next generation of scientists and engineers in new and innovative ways. We aim to broaden participation and be more inclusive of the talent in all segments of our increasingly diverse population.


This is all part of the Administration's overall strategy to strengthen the three pillars of the ecosystem of innovation, as described in the Administration's Strategy for American Innovation; These pillars include (1) investing in the building blocks of American innovation; (2) promoting competitive markets that spur productive entrepreneurship; and (3) catalyzing breakthroughs for national priorities.


Let's look at how NSF will catalyze breakthroughs through the fiscal 2012 budget request and beyond. Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability, or (SEES), is a portfolio of programs designed to spark innovations for tomorrow's clean energy. It is defined by a broad and cross-disciplinary approach to sustainability science.


SEES is designed to foster innovations in the environment-energy-economy nexus that will increase the effectiveness of all our activities in the area of sustainability. It will improve our capabilities for rapid response to extreme events.

For fiscal 2012, NSF is requesting $998 million that is $337 million over the fiscal 2010 enacted level for SEES. SEES will involve every NSF directorate and office in its mission with clearly articulated pathways.


Cyberinfrastructure for 21st Century Science and Engineering, or CIF21, is a new, cross-directorate, investment in the fiscal 2012 budget.

It builds on NSF's long history of providing leadership for cyberinfrastructure and computational and data-enabled science for the U.S. academic science, engineering, and education communities.

Both SEES and CIF21 will also pioneer new ways of collaborating with our sister agencies and with the national and international research and education communities.

CIF21 will enable new ways of doing science and education--supporting new modalities such as distributed collaborative networks, allowing researchers to more easily adapt to changes in the research and education process, and providing an integrated framework for people, instruments, and tools to address complex problems and conduct multidisciplinary research.

The fiscal 2012 budget request for CIF21 is $117 million.

It will enable four major components:

  • Data-enabled science and engineering;

  • New computational infrastructure;

  • Community research networks; and

  • Access and connections to cyberinfrastructure facilities.


In addition, the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) is coordinated with 25 departments and agencies across the federal government.

In fiscal 2012, NSF increases investments in nanomanufacturing, nanoscale devices & systems, and environmental health and safety, and funds the three Nano Signature Initiatives:

  • Nanoelectronics for 2020 and Beyond;

  • Sustainable Nanomanufacturing; and

  • Nanotechnology for Solar Energy Collection and Conversion.

The fiscal 2012 budget request proposes a 10.6 percent increase for NNI to $456 million.


Clean Energy investments are seen throughout the NSF portfolio, in all our activities, in core research programs and activities such as SEES.

The budget request for clean energy research in fiscal 2012 is $576 million.


The National Robotics Initiative, or NRI, is a new cross-agency program in which NSF will work with NASA, the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide U.S. leadership in science and engineering research and education aimed at the development of next-generation robotics.

NRI envisions the creation of robots that work alongside--or even cooperatively--with people, in areas such as manufacturing, space and undersea exploration, healthcare and rehabilitation, military and homeland security, education and training, and safe driving.

NSF's budget request focuses on fundamental research in robotics science and engineering. NRI will be supported by NSF's Engineering as well as the Computer & Information Science & Engineering (CISE) directorates.

The NRI budget request for fiscal 2012 is $30 million.


A number of programs in the 2012 budget also are designed to promote innovations that benefit the national economy and economic processes.

Advanced Manufacturing holds great potential for significant short-term and long-term economic impact by promising entirely new classes and families of products that were previously unattainable.

In fiscal 2012, NSF's increased investment emphasizes several emerging opportunities including cyber–physical systems, advanced robotics research, scalable nanomanufacturing, and sensor and model-based smart manufacturing, educational activities to support training the next generation of product designers and engineers, and industry-university cooperation.

The Wireless Innovation Fund--WIN for short--is a centerpiece of the Administration's new Wireless Innovation and Infrastructure Initiative (WI3).

WI3 aims to free 500 MHz of spectrum currently devoted to government and commercial uses. This freed-up spectrum would be re-auctioned, raising a projected $28 billion over 10 years.

NSF's portion of WIN is to be funded at a level of $1 billion over five years, as a separate item in parallel with the fiscal 2012 budget, by receipts generated through electromagnetic spectrum auctions.


EARS, or Enhancing Access to the Radio Spectrum, is a new initiative in the fiscal 2012 budget request that will fund research into new and innovative ways to use the radio spectrum more efficiently so that more applications and services used by individuals and businesses can occupy the limited amount of available spectrum.

NSF-funded research has improved or enabled a large number of ubiquitous applications that use radio waves: Cell phones, Wi-Fi, and GPS, to name just a few.

Wireless industry sources estimate that the radio spectrum contributes directly or indirectly to as much as 10 percent of the U.S. economy, amounting to about $1 trillion in annual economic impact.

Both Congress and the President have identified broadband access using the radio spectrum as a top national priority.

Wireless is a key resource for fostering economic growth, enhancing scientific exploration, and improving education, health, and defense capabilities.

EARS research is expected to spur novel applications that will affect the vast sector of the U.S. economy driven by wireless technology, and will also have broad applicability to everyday living.

The fiscal 2012 request for EARS is $15 million.


The budget request also incorporates a number of programs that will help to spur productive entrepreneurship. The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs are proposed to receive a total of $147 million in the fiscal 2012 budget request.

This will support innovation research and build partnerships between the academic and industry sectors.

SBIR and STTR bolster the innovation economy by funding translational research at U.S. small businesses on topics that span the breadth of NSF's scientific and engineering research and that reflect national and societal priorities. Small businesses, with typically fewer than 500 employees, contribute to more than half of all the jobs in the United States in both private and public sectors combined.

In addition, nearly 30 percent of these awards contribute to efforts in advanced manufacturing that promise to create entirely new paradigms for translating fundamental raw materials into finished products.


This request also focuses squarely on another pillar of the innovation strategy: Investing in the building blocks of innovation.

A new initiative this year, INSPIRE, or Integrated NSF Support Promoting Interdisciplinary Research and Education, is aimed squarely at changing the way NSF does business--quite literally--to encourage cross-disciplinary science. This does not mean we are abandoning disciplinary rigor and depth. Rather we are adapting to recognize the evolving character of science as it is conducted in the new century.


INSPIRE proposes to integrate existing efforts with a suite of activities that will help NSF address some of the most complicated and pressing problems, that lie at the intersections of traditional disciplines.

INSPIRE is aimed at encouraging researchers to submit proposals that involve investigations in multiple disciplines or that integrate disciplines or create new disciplines.

This new approach will have effects on both NSF and the research community.

By encouraging the submission and, obviously, the evaluation of interdisciplinary research proposals, through a coordinated process across different directorates and offices within NSF, INSPIRE will help to break down any disciplinary barriers that may exist within NSF and encourage its program managers to use new tools, collaboration modes and techniques in the merit-review process to widen the pool of prospective discoveries that may be hidden from or circumvented by traditional means.

In doing so, it will allow NSF to develop new metrics and carefully designed studies to gather information and analyze the effectiveness of new modalities for seeking, selecting and nurturing truly multidisciplinary and transformative research that aims to address complex challenges and issues.

In the 2012 fiscal year, NSF will develop a new INSPIRE award-solicitation program to highlight the Foundation's commitment to supporting pioneering multidisciplinary research.

The budget request for INSPIRE in fiscal 2012 is $12 million, with significant additional resources expected through cost-sharing from all offices and directorates at NSF.


Similarly, BioMaPS, or Research at the Interface of the Biological, Mathematical and Physical Sciences and Engineering, seeks to integrate research from those disparate fields to lead to new theoretical and experimental techniques.

The novelty of the BioMAPS approach is the strategic investigation of living systems across scales from atoms and molecules to organisms to environment, and the application of that knowledge to develop new fundamental understanding and new technologies.

While the topics are not new, recent advances in genomics, synthetic biology, nanotechnology, analytical instrumentation, and computational and data-intensive science and engineering enable us to make significant progress in ways that were not possible even a few years ago.

The BioMaPS portfolio will include new research to support Administration initiatives in clean energy and advanced manufacturing.

In fiscal 2012, BioMaPS will build on the collaborative effort begun in fiscal 2011 between NSF's Biological Sciences and Mathematical and Physical Sciences directorates. In addition, the Engineering Directorate will participate as a full BioMaPS partner in fiscal 2012.

The budget request for BioMaPS in fiscal 2012 is $76 million.


Education at all levels and settings has been, and will continue to be, a vital part of NSF's portfolio in cultivating "homegrown talent" in the globally competitive innovation marketplace. Bolstering education at all levels--from elementary school to community college and the post-graduate level--is the only way for the U.S. to maintain its edge in scientific and engineering innovation.

New initiatives based in the Directorate for Education and Human Resources will address development of the science and engineering workforce, and catalyze innovation in undergraduate education.


New initiatives in our portfolio will specifically address Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education reforms.

Teacher Learning for the Future (TLF), a new program for fiscal 2012, will provide the research and development base to support the President's goal of preparing 100,000 STEM teachers over 10 years. Teacher Learning for the Future will invest in discovering, studying, and promoting pathways for STEM teacher learning, both in pre-service preparation and in practice.

Complementing the support of new tools for cyberlearning, TLF will focus the needs of the next generation of teachers as the structure of formal education changes, as technologies enable teaching practices not yet envisioned, and as the boundaries between in-school and out-of-school learning blur.

Widening Implementation and Demonstration of Evidence-based Reform (WIDER) is another activity designed to scale up evidence-based undergraduate STEM education practices into more ubiquitous use.

Transforming Broadening Participation through STEM (TBPS) will build collaborations between scientific research resources and facilities and institutions committed to broadening the participation of students from groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM. TBPS will focus on building a diverse workforce by attracting and retaining students through creative approaches to engagement with science.

NSF will also strengthen its commitment to improving STEM education and the nation's STEM workforce in a number of ways.

The vision of OneNSF encompasses our commitment to insure that advanced STEM education benefits from every office and directorate at NSF, and that advanced research modalities from all corners of NSF are embedded in the STEM learning activities.

In fiscal 2012, NSF will continue construction of five projects in its Major Research Equipment Facilities and Construction, or MREFC, account. These include:


  • Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (AdvLIGO);

  • Advanced Technology Solar Telescope (ATST);

  • Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA);

  • National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON); and

  • • Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI).


The MREFC fiscal 2012 budget request is $225 million.


In summary, the potential for NSF-supported basic research and education to fuel American innovation is greater now than at any time in our history and the need to do so is even greater in a rapidly changing and highly competitive international environment.

NSF can contribute significantly to the national innovation strategy by redoubling its commitment to basic research, by strengthening its focus on generating an innovative, scientifically pre-eminent workforce through enhanced STEM and broadening participation programs, and by accelerating the transformation of leading-edge research into practical application.

It was inspiring to all of us when the President said that our nation has arrived at a new Sputnik moment. Sputnik itself may have stayed in orbit for just a few months, but the challenge it inspired defined our nation for more than a generation.

That combination of the immediate and the long-term applies today as well. It speaks directly to the larger challenge posed by the President: to "out educate, out innovate and out compete" the rest of the world.


Doing this requires:

  • supporting fundamental research in all disciplines:

  • drawing from the best and most diverse scientific and technological workforce

  • addressing multidisciplinary challenges;

  • sparking ingenuity and innovation;

  • creating new tools and techniques;

  • improving our reach within the scientific community; and

  • catalyzing new scientific discoveries for the betterment of humankind.

All of this is what it means to be OneNSF.

Thank you.

I welcome your questions.



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