Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Chief Operating Officer
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
Remarks at the Inauguration of the
NSF Center for Manufacturing Education in Nanofabrication
Annual Conference of the Pennsylvania
Nanofabrication Manufacturing Technology Partnership
October 18, 2001
Thank you, Eva [Eva Pell], for your warm welcome, and
good morning to all of you. I'm always delighted to
return to Pennsylvania's university community - my
heart and heritage remain here. Today, I'm especially
pleased to join with you in celebrating the launch
of an innovative and challenging enterprise, the new
Center for Manufacturing Education in Nanofabrication.
Let me begin by congratulating all of you in the Nanofabrication
Manufacturing Technology Partnership for a job already
well done. The new Center builds on a commendable
record of achievement, and NSF looks forward to following
your progress as it unfolds in the years to come.
All signs point to progress. You've had the foresight
to build on the intellectual assets that thrive in
Pennsylvania to foster economic development. The partnerships
you've formed reach from secondary schools to community
colleges to vocational technical schools to universities,
and include industry as an integral player. Educational
opportunities of this scope and inclusiveness are
hard to come by in any field. In nanofabrication
manufacturing they are rare indeed. Work at the nanoscale,
one of the core capabilities of the 21st
century, is at the very frontier of knowledge. By
anyone's definition, the new Center is a bold and
Our times require nothing less. There's no question
that we have entered a new age of learning, discovery,
and innovation. Dominated by knowledge, this new age
revives some of the best features that characterized
Renaissance [Renī-uh-sawnce] thought: renewed confidence
in the capabilities of human beings and reliance on
their mutual aspirations. We have come a long way
since the days when Charlie Chaplin's clumsy antics
on an assembly line became the icon of a workplace
designed to expect only the lowest level of human
We shouldn't be surprised that this new age also shares
with the Renaissance an emphasis on creativity and
innovation. Creativity is like the proverbial eye
of toad in a witch's brew. Without it, the potion
never catches fire, and the magical transformations
it was meant to bring about do not occur. With Halloween
just around the corner, that analogy is appropriate
A few years ago, The Economist magazine did a study
of innovation throughout the world. In a sidebar to
one segment there was a caption that read, "Innovators
break all the rules. Trust them." They might have
added one of my favorite quotes from Robert Pirsig's
[Purrī-sig] Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
One thing about pioneers that you don't hear mentioned
is that they are invariably, by their nature,
Breaking rules and making messes are part and parcel
of our new age of exploration. The pace of change
- so stunning and relentless in recent years - is
unlikely to slow anytime soon. In fact, acceleration
is far more likely.
A recent piece in the Economist estimates that long
waves in industrial activity, first noted by the Austrian
economist Joseph Schumpeter, are becoming dramatically
shorter. The first three waves, beginning with the
Industrial Revolution in the 18th Century,
lasted 50 to 60 years. The fourth wave, launched in
the early 1950's lasted only about 35 years. The Economist
reckons that the fifth and current long wave - powered
by advances in networking and computer communications
- will last no more than 25 years, ending around 2010
or 2015 when the next wave of new technologies will
sweep it aside in turn.
The current crisis in tech stocks is simply "the crunch
of gears" as the present cycle comes to the end of
its easy upswing phase and shifts into its "plodding"
Schumpeter described this process as "creative destruction"
- or the constant disruption of the economic status
quo by technological innovation. He viewed it as a
healthy and necessary force for economies.
But we also know that something new usually renders
something else obsolete. The advent of the automobile
drove the livery stable into the history books. For
those who owned livery stables the auto was not a
welcome change. But on the whole, this disruption
is a positive process. This creates the dynamism of
None of us wants to be on the obsolescent side of creative
destruction; we want to be on the innovation side
with some new and startling conception, and realizing
it in some thing new and different. So, disruption
is an important characteristic of innovation. And,
it must cause losses in its path of making gains.
Nonetheless, as all of you know, these healthy economic
adventures can bring down a leading manufacturer or
even a whole industry in their wake. Transistor technology
disrupted the vacuum-tube industry, HMOs shook the
foundation of the health insurance industry, and the
CD killed the needle in the groove.
Responding to change is never easy. Finding ways to
adapt to changes that are as rapid, as broad, and
deep as those we live with today is a monumental challenge.
I don't have to tell this audience that the task you've
undertaken together is a vital one. Developing highly
skilled, world-class talent is the linchpin of our
nation's continued prosperity and well being in the
21st Century. The National Science Foundation
is also a partner with you in this venture. Preparing
a sophisticated science, engineering, and technology
workforce is our highest priority.
The reasons for a renewed focus on the workforce now
constitute a familiar story, but let me tell it once
again to reinforce our common ground.
We have come to understand that the capacity to create
and use new knowledge is a powerful force for progress.
Among our many assets as a nation, this one promises
some of the highest returns to our economy and to
social well being; especially since our workforce
is so diverse. New knowledge is now the principal
source of wealth creation and new jobs in the U.S.
and globally. When we contemplate problems that we
have not yet solved, we increasingly turn to science,
engineering and technology to guide us through and
beyond them, whether in medicine, agriculture, environment,
energy, public safety or national security...or whatever.
Public investments in fundamental research and education,
native intellectual talent, and the resourcefulness
of the private sector have all contributed to the
recent outpouring of new knowledge. These revolutionary
advances have stimulated one of the most productive
periods of innovation in U.S. history. Taken together,
they have made the U.S. science, engineering and technology
enterprise the strongest in the world.
This new, knowledge-based economy has brought challenges
as well as opportunities. The changes sweeping our
economy are also at work worldwide. Global communications
and rapid technological change have raised the bar
on competition. Knowledge is rapidly becoming the
most sought after prize in the world. Securing U.S.
world leadership in science, engineering and technology
has never been more important to the future of the
But warning signs are beginning to appear on the horizon.
There is increasing evidence, that we are not doing
enough to develop the talent that will keep the U.S.
at the forefront of discovery and innovation well
into the future.
While the number of degrees in science and engineering
is declining in many fields, and is of concern, the
more important issues are both curriculum strategy
and its quality. The performance of our youngsters
on International science and math tests is not all
that we would hope. And while we do a good job in
enabling our baccalaureate graduates to be superbly
analytic, the emphasis on integration in our curriculum
is wanting, as is the conscious connection between
the two. These red flags contribute to a growing sense
of unease, and concern that the U.S. will not be able
to keep pace with expanding opportunities.
This story is an accurate portrayal of what we have
come to understand, over the past several decades,
about the requirements for a vibrant knowledge-based
economy. But we are already moving beyond its simple
We have a habit of speaking about the knowledge that
underpins our economy and society as if it were disembodied.
Here is how Thomas Jefferson described it over 200
"If nature has made any one thing less susceptible
than all others of exclusive property, it is the
action of the thinking power called an idea, which
an individual may exclusively possess as long
as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is
divulged, it forces itself into the possession
of everyone, ...and the receiver cannot dispossess
himself of it."
Anyone familiar with the copyright and patent laws
knows what Jefferson means. But there is another truth
that is equally valid. Fundamental knowledge takes
shape and becomes embedded in the commerce of our
every-day lives only through the creative energies
NSF has adopted three strategic goals that reflect
this reality: people, ideas, and tools. The fact that
underlying this triad is the enormously complex science,
engineering, and technology enterprise of learning,
discovery, and innovation makes them no less intuitive.
You'll notice that People are at the top of
the list. That's intentional. That's no accident.
Learning, discovery and innovation are all human
aptitudes and activities. They can be fostered and
encouraged - taught and learned, if you will.
Of course, Ideas in Jefferson's sense, the new knowledge
that is powering innovation and productivity in our
economy today, will always be central to everything
NSF does. And we need sophisticated Tools to advance
the frontiers in nearly every field.
I've taken this brief jaunt through NSF planning territory
to arrive at my next point.
Enter now five priority capabilities - territories
that hold the most promising potential for our future.
They encompass the concepts and expertise that our
present and future science, engineering, and technology
workforce will require to succeed and help the nation
They are nanoscale, terascale, cognition, complexity,
and holism. I'll address each of them in the remainder
of my remarks.
Let me begin with nanoscale. I'll be brief, because
this is what you are about.
By the term nano you know I mean nanoscale science
and engineering with its focus at the molecular and
atomic level of things, both natural and human-made.
It was a brief twenty years ago, with the invention
of the scanning/tunneling microscope, that we could
first observe molecules on a surface.
In 1996 at NSF, we began to sense the wave of interest
in the science and engineering community to expand
research activities at the nanoscale. Responding to
those imagining at that frontier, we have consistently
increased our investment in this promising research
Nanostructures are at the confluence of the smallest
human-made devices and the large molecules of living
systems. We are now at the point of being able to
connect machines to individual living cells.
Turning our understanding at the atomic and molecular
scale into realized structures, materials, and devices
has been fundamental to the new nanoscale capability
from the start. So has the vision of constructing
novel materials and products atom by atom and molecule
We all know that scientific research not only drives
technological innovation, but that it can also happen
the other way around. In the larger sense, innovation
depends upon a mutual, synergistic set of interactions
that includes not only science, engineering and technology,
but social, political and economic interactions as
well. These are all systems that interact and influence
each other. The links are particularly close in nanoscale
Of course, I'm preaching to the choir. This group knows
all about the potential of nanoscale science, engineering,
and technology. The expansion of our nanocapability
will depend on insightful researchers envisioning
its possibilities and well-trained implementers to
realize its products - talented people with good ideas
throughout academe and industry. That's you.
Terascale computing is shorthand for computing technology
that takes us three orders of magnitude beyond prevailing
computing capabilities. In the past, our system architectures
could only handle hundreds of processors.
Now we work with systems of thousands of processors.
Shortly, we'll connect millions of systems and billions
of 'information appliances' to the Internet. Crossing
that boundary of 10 to the 12th - one trillion
operations per second - launches us to new frontiers.
Take for example protein synthesis within a cell. It
can take just 20 milliseconds for a nascent protein
to fold into its functional conformation. Until recently,
it took 40 months of processor time to simulate
that folding. With a terascale system, we reduce that
time to one day -- one thousand times faster. Think
what that means for the task of functional genomics,
that is, putting our DNA sequence knowledge to work.
When we dramatically advance the speed of our capability
in any area we give researchers and industrialists
the mechanism to get to a frontier much faster or,
better yet in terms of NSF's mission, to reach a frontier
that had been, heretofore, unreachable, as well as
Progress in 21st century science, engineering
and technology depends upon access to world-class
tools, and a robust "cyber-infrastructure" ranks at
the top of the list. Our research and applications
on the nanoscale will benefit hugely from this powerful
This brings me to the third capability, cognition.
The dictionary defines cognition as the mental process
by which knowledge is acquired. Most of us would simply
say, this is learning. Learning is the foundation
territory of all other capabilities, human and institutional.
Today, we now know more about how people learn than
every before, but not nearly enough. As we
advance our research in the cognitive and behavioral
science, we will become increasingly adroit at designing
learning environments that foster human talent. Our
understanding of the learning process holds the key
to tapping the potential of every child, empowering
a 21st century workforce, and, in fact,
maintaining our democracy.
The educator and philosopher John Dewey, writing in
the first half of the 20th Century, said
"The belief that all genuine education comes about
through experience does not mean that all experiences
are genuinely or equally educative."
With the pace of discovery moving at breakneck speed,
we need to take Dewey's words to heart. In academic
settings, that means integrating research and education.
In industry it means training programs that knit learning
and working into a seamless web.
In a larger sense, integrating research and education,
and learning and working, allow us to develop the
skills needed for the 21st century: flexibility
and agility in adapting to change, the capacity for
risk taking and for imagination, and a tolerance for
unfamiliar and uncertain territory. These are all
characteristic of discovery and innovation, and there
is no better way to teach them than to engage in those
And it means sifting through the possible experiences
we could offer and only settling for those that jostle
the boundaries of knowledge. Anything less is like
riding a bicycle with training wheels. Until you get
on the bike without them, you won't begin to exercise
the skills you need to ride.
Now to the 4th and 5th capabilities,
complexity and holism. They act as two sides of a
coin to guide us in the best way to use our accumulated
knowledge of science and technology to discover new
knowledge and better understand how to use it.
Mitch Waldrop, in his book Complexity, writes
about a point we often refer to as "the edge of chaos."
That is, "where the components of a system never quite
lock into place, and yet never quite dissolve into
turbulence either...The edge of chaos is where new
ideas and innovative genotypes are forever nibbling
away at the edges of the status quo..."
This territory of complexity is 'a space of opportunity,'
a place to make a marriage of unlike partners or disparate
ideas. High-paid consultants sometimes refer to people
who understand this territory and feel comfortable
there as 'out of the box thinkers.' The consultants
may use their vernacular but Einstein pegged it a
long time ago as "imagination."
The awareness of 'complexity' makes us nimble and opportunistic
seekers not only in our science and engineering knowledge
but in our industrial institutions. If we operate
with this awareness we will be able to identify and
capitalize on those fringe territories which have
potential for optimum arrangement.
Holism is the "flip side" of the complexity coin. Holism
and complexity have a symbiotic relationship.
Complexity teaches us to look at places of dissonance
or disorder in a field as windows of possibility.
Holism teaches us that combinations of things have
a power and capability greater than the sum of their
separate parts. Holism is far from a new idea. We
have seen it work in social structures since the beginning
of civilization. We see its power today in areas as
diverse as our communities, science and engineering
partnerships, and teams in any field of sports.
Something new happens in the integration process. A
singular or separate dynamic emerges from the interaction.
That's probably why when economists are analyzing
productivity inputs they refer to the residual, what's
left after you factor in capital, labor, land, etc.
as the "black box." They can't explain the dynamism
or interaction of the leftovers such as R&D, education,
workplace interaction, and the like. They can only
recognize that something better or more enhanced comes
out on the other side.
This integration and interaction works at many levels
- the sociology of a team of workers can be a stimulant,
with ideas firing-off in many directions. Holism creates
supportive space where taking risks and challenging
the unquestionable is acceptable. Holism engenders
elucidation, the discovery of your own knowledge transformed
by other perspectives.
Although holism is an ancient dynamic, what is new
is that it can be applied to the vast accumulated
knowledge of science and engineering and the new knowledge
that is burgeoning as we speak.
So when we train ourselves to think about complexity
and holism as two sides of a coin, we develop a pattern
or attitude to search for the disordered fringes of
a field and to pick out fragments of possibility.
With these pieces of potential, different 'wholes'
can be created in new integration. The possibilities
are endless when you think about the flexible building
power that nanotechnology will provide, the enormous
insight from research in cognition, and the ratcheting
up of speed that terascale computing offers.
That brings me to the end of my comments, but I'd like
to leave you with one final thought. Here's another
piece of wisdom from Thomas Jefferson, whose capacity
for wonder and curiosity about the world never diminished
over a lifetime. He said:
"Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and
oppressions of body and mind will vanish like
spirits at the dawn of day."
Today, "general' enlightenment includes a good dose
of science and mathematics. And enlightenment happens
not once and for all, but is a continual process from
the infant's first exploration of her environment
to a lifelong quest for knowledge and skills.
In these troubled times, it's worth remembering that
science, engineering, and technology at their finest
are often our best bulwark against chaos.