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Dr. Bordogna's Remarks


Welcoming Remarks

Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Acting Deputy Director
Workshop on Macromolecular Science and Engineering

May 14, 1997

Good morning. I am very pleased to have this chance to welcome you to the National Science Foundation. My thanks go out to Samuel Stupp and the organizing committee, and to Andrew Lovinger and the staff-level working group, for providing all the time, energy, and vision needed to bring all of us together today.

Thanks also to the Department of Energy for its co-sponsorship of this workshop. Let me also extend a special welcome to our international visitors. Your presence here truly sets this gathering apart from most, and we are very pleased to have you here as our guests.

When I read about the goals and purposes of this workshop, I was reminded of a story from my days in the Navy. I took a course in celestial navigation. This was a valuable skill in the days before Global Positioning Systems. After completing the course, my classmates and I were eager to show off our new knowledge to some friends who were visiting the base.

We'd tell our friends: "That's Regulus, and there's Polaris, the North Star." One of our buddies then pointed to a bright light on the horizon and asked what it was. "That's Venus," we replied. "Note the steady light typical of planets."

Their awe quickly turned to amusement, however, when "Venus" slowly drew nearer, turned, and began to lower its wheels for landing.

In recent years, many of us have seen our most confident pronouncements undone by unexpected turns of reality. The end of the cold war caught even the most astute experts by surprise. Even the best of people didn't see it coming. And, many in our society have been thrown off-stride by the emergence of what is often called the information age.

These types of unexpected turns also figure directly into the motivation for this workshop.

Many of my friends in civil engineering aren't quite sure what to make of the fact that we can now build a bridge out of polymers.

I often hear similar thoughts from engineers in the manufacturing industry. They tell me that for regulatory and other reasons they need to find more environmentally-friendly materials and processes.

These examples represent just a few of the unexpected turns that shape the landscape for science and engineering today. This morning, I want to emphasize that these unexpected turns present us with an unprecedented set of opportunities to advance learning and discovery.

I get very excited when I read and hear about the opportunities emerging in macromolecular science and engineering.

In medicine, polymer-based hip replacement implants and drug delivery systems are now used extensively. There is even talk of polymers attracting and containing viruses in the body and polymer-based drugs acting as scavengers that would remove cholesterol from the blood stream. In electronics, polymer films are helping us to design and manufacture ever smaller, faster, and cheaper devices for communications and information technologies. We know how big that market is today. We're also beginning to see - thanks to Samuel Stupp and others - that by letting polymers organize themselves, we may end up with better coatings for industrial and biomedical uses. We might even one day soon be able to fashion nano-scale machines that replicate and organize themselves.

You already know about this, but to me these are very exciting opportunities to learn about.

This is also directly connected to many of our larger goals as an agency. Some of you may have heard that we're currently wrestling with something known as the Government Performance and Results Act. The Congress is very interested in this. They call it "The Results Act."

It requires that we take a new look at virtually every aspect of our work - from how we process grant applications to how our programs benefit the nation. The Act itself can be thought of as an unexpected turn, but it too presents us with some unprecedented opportunities. We may be able to make our case and show that we're worth the investment.

Today, I'd like to highlight just one part of our planning process - the vision statement we are developing for the Foundation. The words are not set in stone yet, but the basic ideas are close to final. Here's one excerpt from the latest iteration:

"NSF sparks progress through catalytic, integrative investments in the work of a dynamic, diverse community of researchers and educators. At the same time, NSF leads the way toward future progress, always at the edge, peering into the unknown - and preparing future generations to do likewise."

In closing, I would like to encourage you to keep a few of the key words from this statement in mind as you proceed with the workshop.

First - think of how best to be "calalytic and integrative". This is not easy, and macromolecular S&E is no different than most fields that work at the boundaries. We need to reach across different disciplines, different departments, different institutions, and even different cultures - that is perhaps the most difficult of all. We need you to help determine the most effective ways to do this.

Second - never lose sight of the second part of the quote I just read: "NSF leads the way toward future progress, always at the edge, peering into the unknown - and preparing future generations to do likewise." This is really what NSF is all about - working at the cutting edge, taking informed risks, and, most of all, educating the next generation.

When we pull all of this together, we gain the ability to recognize and respond to the unexpected turns we encounter - and to capitalize on all of the unprecedented opportunities that they bring.

I appreciate what you are doing here today, and thank you for joining us here at NSF.



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