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Science and Technology Centers ProgramCrosscutting Programs NSF Wide Flag


Remarks Made at the Orientation Meeting for the
Class of 2005 Science and Technology Centers

By Dr. Arden Bement, NSF Director

Room 1235
November 15, 2005


First, I would like to congratulate you and your colleagues for becoming new National Science Foundation Science and Technology Centers! This is not an easy thing to accomplish. You went through a very long and thorough merit review process and came out winners.

As Science and Technology Centers, we have great expectations of you, your research and education products, and your contributions of new knowledge to national and international issues.

NSF Mission

The NSF Mission is to promote the progress of science; to advance national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense; and for other purposes.

Your Science and Technology Centers help us to fulfill our mission. You have not only promised to focus your research and education energies on frontier science and engineering issues, but your proposed work is of importance to the Nation, even from a security perspective. So, we thank you in advance for your future contributions.

NSF Strategic Plan

The NSF Strategic Plan has always had at its very core the concept of pushing the frontiers of science and engineering. This core value comes to us from our original sponsor and NSF blueprint maker, Vannevar Bush, in his book, "Science: The Endless Frontier." We see it as our responsibility to make our investments at the very frontier of science and engineering.

As strategic planning sessions proceed, eventually you have to come up with means and strategies to achieve your goals. Currently, the NSF's overarching goals focus on investments in People, Ideas and Tools. The NSF uses promoting partnerships, integration of research and education, and the development of human capital as ways to accomplish our larger goals.

Since you know the requirements for Science and Technology Centers, you can tell they fit very well within our strategic plan and our funding portfolio and offer us a mechanism to invest in complex research issues, the type that cannot be handled by individual investigators through normal grants.

As an aside, you should be aware that our current strategic plan is going through revision, as required by law, and is currently on the web and available for comment. We would welcome your comments.

NSF and the NSB

Of course, we are always in discussion with the research and education communities, our National Science Board, and Congress about the balance between individual investigator awards and center-type awards. But it remains clear that the NSF needs the Center mode of support for advancing certain research and education frontiers.

Each time there is such a conversation with our National Science Board—and we have them routinely—the consensus is that Centers must demonstrate and document their value-added contributions.

Having said that, it remains your responsibility to live up to your end of the cooperative agreement with the NSF by living out your center vision, and ensuring that the value-added nature of your center stays at the forefront of your center activities.

After looking briefly at the outline of your two new centers, TRUST and CReSIS, the value-added nature of the proposed centers is apparent and should be achievable, if you manage to your objectives.

Merit Review and Frontier Research

Earlier, I mentioned the long merit review process you went through for a reason. Merit Review is at the core of NSF's success in identifying projects that advance the frontiers of research and education. NSF Merit Review is considered to be the "Gold Standard" by which research is reviewed by the global scientific and engineering communities.

We continue to be vigilant in ensuring that NSF's Merit Review process advances the highest quality research that expands the frontiers of science and engineering. We believe the selection of your Science and Technology Center is proof of how the NSF Merit Review Process identifies innovative, risky, cutting-edge research and education. We are thrilled that you were identified and awarded through this process.

Our expectations of your centers

Not many NSF investigators or research groups receive a 5-year award for $19 million dollars, with the opportunity to continue for another 5 years, for a total of $39 million dollars, so naturally we follow your activities and progress a great deal closer than we would a research grant. But quite honestly, we hope you will take every opportunity to experiment with new approaches, involve different talents, and take the types of calculated risks you might not otherwise take if this were just a regular research grant.

So for the sake of the greater science and engineering community, we need you to attempt the unusual experiments, to take unusual risks, to educate the unusual students, and to join and communicate with non-traditional partners.

We charge you to do this for the good of the Nation.

Yes, we have great expectations for your centers! We expect unusual research accomplishments, the types that would not occur under normal grant conditions.

We expect you to be innovative in your approaches to research, just as we expect you to be innovative in your approaches to graduate education on your partnership campuses.

We expect you to demonstrate leadership by taking risks in your research agendas, just as we expect you to demonstrate leadership by including all types of Americans in your center activities. In this vein, we expect diversity and broadening participation to be valued in each center.

And finally, we expect you to integrate your activities with, not only members of the academic community, but also and especially, members of the non-academic community, industries or government enterprises that are in need of the new knowledge, and the student products you will be producing.

Indeed, these are great expectations, but we think you are up to the task.

In closing, we hope to hear from you regularly in the future about the progress of your center in all the areas of your responsibility, research, education, and knowledge transfer.