The National Science Foundation requests
$3.4 billion to invest in more than 19,000 research and education
projects in science and engineering. These investments in people,
ideas, and exploring the unknown will guide our future course
as a nation and bring new sources of prosperity and opportunity
to all Americans.
If one were to take a snapshot of the
U.S. economy today, it would show a number of key areas driving
growth and opportunity. They come under headings like biotechnology,
multimedia, medical imaging, environmental technologies, polymers,
decision theory, educational technologies, sensors, and opto-electronics,
not to mention high-speed computational and communications technologies
like the Internet and World Wide Web.
While these areas are key to productivity
in a wide array of industries and sectors, from manufacturing
to health care to financial services, they share one important
trait. All have deep roots in the support for fundamental research
and education provided by the National Science Foundation and
other Federal agencies. For example:
"Dell Computer Corp. has designed its
newest factory without room for inventory storage. Chrysler Corp.
can increase vehicle production without building new factories.
And General Electric expects to save millions of dollars by purchasing
spare parts over the Internet.
On the surface, these are manufacturing
stories. At heart they are among the thousands of new business
practices made possible by technology."
Moreover, the technologies that made
possible these new business practices were in turn made possible
by steady and stable Federal support for the instruments and insights
needed to extend the frontiers of physics, cosmology, supercomputing,
manufacturing research, and other areas of science and engineering
that demand the most of new technologies.
Similar success stories abound in today's
world, such as bacteria that munch on oil spills, classroom computers
that adapt automatically to students' strengths and weaknesses,
and new chemical techniques that slash the cost of drug design
and development. All can be traced back to investments in people
and ideas through research and education in science and engineering.
In this same way, it is also clear that
recent breakthroughs in fundamental research hold the key to future
economic success. For example, the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
was awarded for research on the carbon structures known as buckyballs
that NSF has supported for over a decade. Today, these NSF-supported
researchers are synthesizing "nanotubes" in a manner
similar to that used for buckyballs. It appears that these nanotubes
may be more than 10 (and possibly up to 100) times stronger than
steel-but only one-sixth the weight. In the words of The Washington
Post, this could make them the "drop-dead super-fiber
of the future."
These and other examples bring to life
what top economists have been saying for years: investments in
science and engineering yield immense dividends to our economy
and society. Over the past 50 years, advances in science and technology
are estimated to account for half of all real economic growth
in the U.S.
Furthermore, NSF's unique role - that
of supporting university-based research and education across all
fields and disciplines - has been found to be among the most productive
of all public investments. One seminal study has estimated that
the rate of return on investments in academic research exceeds
20 percent on an annual basis, outpacing even the stock market
over the long haul. Other studies have found an increasingly vital
link between our university research base and the competitive
position of U.S. industry. Newly awarded patents, for example,
draw upon current findings from academic research at a rate never
before seen in history.
While these examples provide ample testimony
to the success of NSF's past investments, all signs are that they
are only the beginning of what is possible - provided we uphold
our nation's position of leadership across the spectrum of science
and engineering research and education.
As we approach the 21st Century, it
is especially noteworthy that other nations are demonstrating
a growing awareness of the link between a strong science and technology
base and a nation's overall economic vitality. Japan and Germany,
for example, already invest a larger proportion of their economies
in non-defense R&D than the U.S. In addition, Japan has adopted
plans to double government support for R&D by the year 2000,
and Korea, China, and other nations have set in motion aggressive
plans for public investment in science and technology. This makes
clear that strong public support for research and education is
essential if the U.S. is to remain a world leading economy in
the 21st Century.
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