NSF & Congress
Dr. Rita Colwell
National Science Foundation
Before the Before the Senate Appropriations Committee
Subcommittee on VA/HUD and Independent Agencies
May 4, 2000
Mr. Chairman, Senator Mikulski, members of the subcommittee,
thank you for allowing me the opportunity to testify
on NSF's budget request for Fiscal Year 2001. I want
to begin by thanking you and the subcommittee for
your consistent, bipartisan support for NSF's science
and engineering activities.
The FY 2001 budget request for the National Science
Foundation if enacted, would provide the largest dollar
increase the Foundation has ever received. This investment
will help set the stage for a new century of progress
through learning and discovery.
For the coming fiscal year, the NSF requests $4.57
billion dollars. This represents a much needed increase
- 17.3% overall -- over $675 million above the current
level. This investment is part of the President's
21st Century Research Fund for America,
and it is all about keeping the United States at the
leading edge of learning and discovery.
The headliners in NSF's 2001 request are four focused,
multidisciplinary initiatives. In fact, they are really
national priorities: Information Technology Research,
Biocomplexity, 21st Century Workforce and
the emergent National Nanoscale Science and Engineering
Each initiative integrates research across the disciplines
of science, engineering and mathematics. Solving many
of the challenges facing our society will require
more than individual discoveries. It will require
the integration of knowledge from all disciplines.
Biocomplexity - for example - seeks no less than a
more complete understanding of our complex world and
its interactions - physical, biological and social.
In describing these interactions, I am reminded of
the words of the naturalist John Muir. He wrote:
"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we
find it hitched to everything else in the universe."
Up to now, we have sought understanding by taking things
apart into their components. Now, at last, we begin
to map out the interplay between the parts of complex
One especially promising area in Biocomplexity is the
study of the Earth's crust as a habitat for micro-organisms.
To illustrate this I would like take us on a very brief
journey by video to the depths of the sea floor.
The footage we will see was taken with an IMAX camera
from inside the submersible Alvin. NSF has long supported
Alvin, and we also helped to support this filming.
Not yet seen by the public, this footage is part of
a proposed film about deep-sea hydrothermal vents
being produced by Stephen Low Productions in collaboration
with the Rutgers Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences
and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
It was shot at a deep-sea vent called "9 Degrees North"
in the Pacific Ocean south of Mexico. The film will
bring the astonishing life of the vents to millions
of people who will never be able to descend in a submarine.
We will see features called "black smokers"-the mineralized
chimneys that tower above the communities of life
at hydrothermal vents.
The mouths of the vents spew forth boiling water full
of chemicals. Such conditions are obviously toxic
to humans and to most other life-forms.
We first discovered these communities some two decades
ago but we are only beginning to unlock their secrets.
The list of described species inhabiting vents now
tops 300. All living in the depths without photosynthesis.
Instead of using the sun's energy, they employ chemosynthesis
to oxidize the hydrogen sulfide emerging from the
[black smoker footage]
To me the black smokers we have just seen are not only
metaphorical but literal wellsprings of discovery.
There are even suggestions that these springs could
have been the birthplace of all life on Earth.
Back at the Earth's surface, I'd like to move to another
origin, the beginning of NSF. Fifty years ago this
month - May 10th, 1950 to be exact - President
Truman signed S. 247 - the act that established the
Our nation's commitment to science, engineering and
education did not begin in 1950. This commitment can
be seen from the very beginning of the nation. The
motto on America's first coin for example - minted
in 1792 - read: Liberty: Parent of Science and Industry.
That motto has just as much meaning today - in the
21st century - as it did in 1792, in an
era before the advent of the steam engine. Individual
scientists and engineers - supported by NSF and other
federal agencies - are using their talent and their
freedom to create, discover, and innovate.
Increasingly these scientists and engineers, and perhaps
even more important their students - are also
making the jump to the private sector.
This transfer to the private sector of people
- first supported by NSF at universities - should
be viewed as the ultimate success of technology transfer.
These talented scientists and engineers are part of
the new wave of entrepreneurs creating enormous wealth
in areas like information technology, biotechnology,
and now in nanotechnology.
Nanotechnology - Mr. Chairman - is a new, emerging
field where scientists and engineers are beginning
to manipulate matter at the atomic level. Taking a
cue from biology, researchers across disciplines are
beginning to create nanostructures smaller than human
This "Lilliputian" technology has the potential to
revolutionize nearly every facet of our economy and
our lives. For example:
- Researchers envision building electronic circuits
from the bottom-up, starting at the molecular
level. In the future researchers may be building
molecular computers the size of a tear drop with
the power of today's fastest supercomputers.
- Combining microelectronics and neural research
holds great promise for developing prosthetic
devices for artificial limbs. Researchers are
creating nanochips where nerve axons can regrow
through the tiny grate in the center a silicon
membrane. These chips then modify and distribute
the nerve impulses, simulating the electrical
activity of a normal nerve synapse.
- Researchers are already developing micromachined
needles with sharp tips of less than a micrometer
across. Such tiny needle tips can pierce the skin
easily and without pain-a novel new method of
There are many more innovations - most occurring in
the past year or so. We are also already seeing a
substantial amount of industry-university partnerships
in nanoscale science and engineering. Industry, as
well as other federal agencies like NASA, DoE and
DoD will be looking to our universities for the scientists
and engineers skilled in nanotechnology. That is why
I cannot overstate the importance of NSF's investment
in the education of future nanoscale scientists and
The transfer of scientists and engineers to the private
sector can probably best be seen in the Information
Technology sector. Everyday we read a news story touting
the latest Internet whiz kid or biotechnology IPO.
David Ignatius - in a recent column in the Washington
Post - wrote about a 27-year old Stanford graduate
student with a smart business plan and a hot Internet
search engine with the strange name of Google.
The offbeat name is actually a reference to the complex
math - actually a series of mathematical algorithms
- that makes the search engine work. It involves over
half a billion variables in its complex calculations.
The mathematical term googol represents 10
to the 100th power.
Google the company is an excellent example of knowledge
transfer from NSF investments in people. Both of the
company's two founders were computer science grad
students at Stanford who studied under an NSF-funded
faculty member. One of the founders received an NSF
Graduate Research Fellowship. Google's Vice President
of Engineering is a computer science professor at
the University of California at Santa Barbara and
recipient of a prestigious NSF CAREER award.
Google is a great example of how fundamental research
in an area like mathematics acts as the lifeblood
of the IT revolution. It also shows how the unparalleled
innovation system in the U.S. can quickly exploit
new ideas developed in university labs and bring them
This example is really just the latest in a string
of NSF successes. The underlying technology for nearly
all major search engines found on the web today -
including Lycos, Excite, Infoseek, Inktomi and specialized
search engines like Congress's own THOMAS - all were
begun created through NSF-funded research at universities.
This trend hasn't gone unnoticed by industry. Now leaders
like Alfred Berkeley, the President of the NASDAQ
Stock Market and CEO's like Norm Augustine of Lockheed
talk about the importance of the NSF's investments
in basic research. I've included as an attachment
statements they made earlier this year on the importance
of NSF's investments to industry. I've also attached
the recent statement by the Council on Competitiveness,
which was co-signed by CEO's and other industry executives.
Mr. Chairman, NSF has recently developed a strategic
plan that reflect our role in the innovation process.
The investments proposed in our FY 2001 budget were
crafted to address three strategic goals for the Foundation.
Ideas - This includes research at and across
the frontier of science and engineering, and connections
to its use in service of society.
People -- We've always said that every NSF dollar
is an investment in people. We cover kindergarten
to career development to continuous learning.
Tools -- These are the databases, the platforms,
and the facilities that keep us at the leading edge.
There are some new starts in here that I will highlight
in a moment.
I've already mentioned the initiatives within the FY
2001 budget request. I would also like to note that
nearly half our requested increase - $320 million
-will support what we call the core activities. It
will help us with our biggest challenge: to strengthen
the core disciplines of science and engineering while
moving forward in interdisciplinary areas.
NSF's investments in cutting-edge mathematics and statistics
are a perfect example of how investing in core disciplines
will sustain new fundamental discoveries and make
interdisciplinary activities run on all cylinders.
The story of Google shows how mathematics has become
increasingly important in ITR. We are also seeing
impressive contributions to the new and emerging fields
of bioinformatics and nano-scale manufacturing. The
greatest insights into AIDS have come from mathematical
models of disease.
Mr. Chairman, within our core activities, NSF support
for plant genome research will increase by $22.5 million
to total $102 million in FY 2001. This investment
- long championed by you Mr. Chairman and this subcommittee
- will help continue US world leadership in plant
Our investment in the EPSCoR program will increase
slightly to $73 million in FY 2001. This includes
funding from both the EHR and RRA accounts. NSF has
long sought to enable EPSCoR researchers to participate
more fully in NSF research activities. Consequently,
up to $25 million will be made available from the
NSF research account for co-funding.
Mr. Chairman, all of our advances in science and engineering
depend upon a workforce that is literate in science
and technology. When we talk about the equation for
science and society, this is a critical part.
Our request for programs specifically addressing NSF's
strategic goal of investing in People - spanning both
the EHR and Research Accounts - will increase by 10.8%
over FY 2000. Within this broader investment, our
request for Education and Human Resources represents
a 5.5% increase over the FY 2000 level.
Funding for the Graduate Teaching Fellows in K-12
Education (GK-12) program more than double to
$28 million. The GK-12 program supports graduate
and advanced undergraduate students in science,
math and engineering to be content resources for
The request for the HBCU-Undergraduate Program
(HBCU-UP) in FY 2001 is $11 million, an increase
of $1.60 million or 17%. This reflects a contribution
from NSF's research account of $3 million. The
FY 2001 request for HBCU-UP will provide continuing
support for 14 existing projects and support for
up to 4 new awards in FY 2001.
The request for Advanced Technological Education
Program (ATE) - NSF's flagship program for 2-year
institutions and championed by the subcommittee
- is $39 million, an increase of $10 million or
over 33%. The ATE program seeks to strengthen
the science and math preparation of students in
technical fields. This will enable them to better
compete in the high-performance workplace in areas
such as Information Technology and Manufacturing.
Our nation is in the midst of one of the greatest eras
of technological change in human history. In an economy
driven by knowledge and ideas, how we prepare our
workforce is paramount. NSF is committed to providing
leadership in this critical area.
Finally, I mentioned earlier that we have two new starts
in our investments in Tools.
One is NEON - the National Ecological Observatory Network:
a pole-to-pole network - Arctic to Antarctic - with
a state-of-the-art infrastructure of platforms and
equipment to enable 21st Century science
and engineering-based ecological and biocomplexity
research. The MRE request for NEON is $12 million
in FY 2001.
The other new start is EarthScope, which is an array
of instruments that will allow scientists to observe
earthquake and other earth processes like volcanic
eruptions at much higher resolution. $17 million is
requested for EarthScope in FY 2001.
Mr. Chairman, since its founding fifty years ago the
National Science Foundation has been an important
and vital catalyst for discovery and innovation. From
the information technology revolution to the genomic
revolution and everything in between - MRIs, lasers,
the Internet, Doppler radar, and countless other innovations
- NSF-supported fundamental research has advanced
NSF's FY 2001 budget reflects the lessons of history.
It focuses on national priorities, as it should. But
it also recognizes that one of our highest national
priorities must always be to stay at the leading-edge
of science and engineering research and education
across the board. Over half of the increased funding
is just for that.
The entire NSF investment portfolio sets the stage
for a 21st Century research and education
enterprise that is focused on national priorities.
Guiding all of these activities is the Foundation's
longstanding commitment to merit-based investments
in learning and discovery that adhere to the highest
standards of excellence.
This request marks a significant step forward for U.S.
science and engineering. The requested increase of
over 17 percent provides a level of investment that
is clearly in keeping with the wealth of opportunity
that science and engineering provide society. It positions
America to remain a world leader in the knowledge-based
economy of the 21st Century.