Dr. Neal F. Lane
National Science Foundation
International Conference on Education in Manufacturing, Society of Manufacturing Engineers
Town and Country Hotel
San Diego, California
March 14, 1996
It's a great pleasure for me to be here in San Diego to join all of you for what is truly an international conference on education in manufacturing. Let me begin by thanking Dr. Merchant and the Society for their generous invitation. It has enabled me to join you this evening and share a few ideas on education in manufacturing and more generally on the future role of science and engineering in America.
My talk tonight is entitled Expectations and Realities in a Time of Change. I want to focus on how the expectations we bring to our work as scientists and engineers are often at cross purposes with the realities that surround and shape the context for our work. This causes no small amount of confusion. All too often, following our instincts will leads us in the wrong direction.
My message to you tonight is that we need to reshape and recast the role of scientists and engineers in society. This is a message that I am carrying to many forums. I gave an address on a similar topic in Houston yesterday at a conference celebrating the 10th anniversary of the discovery of high-temperature superconductivity, and tomorrow afternoon I will speak at the Scripps Institute just a few miles up the coast from here.
This message nevertheless holds extra significance for manufacturing engineers and for institutions that train manufacturing engineers. You hold a central place in the nation's science and technology enterprise and perhaps you are in the best position to begin the process of matching our expectations with reality.
When we speak of science and engineering generally, nowhere are our expectations and realities more diametrically opposed than they are when we weigh opportunities for cutting-edge research against the available resources. Next week, the Administration will release its proposed budget for fiscal year 1997, even though we have yet to learn what our 1996 funding will be.
You can imagine how this has wrecked havoc on any sense of rationality and long-range thinking. I often tell people that Washington is confusing and frustrating--and that's on the good days. I won't share my adjectives for other days.
Furthermore, the longer term outlook goes from the confusing to the confounding. The American Association for the Advancement of Science has projected that in the seven year balanced budget scenario, non-defense R&D will decrease by approximately 33 percent in real terms by the year 2002. Also of great concern are the projected cuts for education. These funding decisions suggest an interesting logic, rather like a person who decides the best way to shed a few pounds is to undergo a lobotomy.
In essence, we in this nation are getting ready to run an experiment we have never done before--to see if we can reduce the federal investment in non-defense R&D by one-third and still be a world leader in the 21st century. Nobody knows with certainty what the outcome will be. But it seems like a pretty risky experiment.
This all comes at a time when the Japanese government has adopted the goal of doubling its R&D investment over a period of 10 years. Regardless of whether Japan achieves this goal, it is noteworthy that the Japanese seem to have a different approach to government budget constraints and economic pressures on the industrial sector. There, the government is trying to compensate for a decrease in private R&D spending by increasing its own support for R&D. Here, the opposite seems to be the case. I'll leave it to you to decide for yourself which nation is embarking on a wiser course.
All of this uncertainty about the budget could not have come at a less opportune time for science and engineering in America, and in my view, for U.S. leadership in an increasingly technological world in the 21st century.
All signs are that we are on the brink, or perhaps in the midst of a new golden age of discovery. New breakthroughs come to light almost daily. Planets beyond our solar system, new galaxies, comets, dark matter, Dazzling advances in high performance computing and communication, New states of matter like Bose-Einstein Condensation, New elementary particles, like the top quark, and hints of structure within a quark whatever the theorists may think, And much, much more!
If fact, if you were to take a short drive north on Interstate 5 to the resort town of La Jolla, home of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, you could witness one of the most exciting breakthroughs in plant genetics in a generation. Researchers there have isolated the genetic switch that triggers flowering in plants. They have developed seedlings of an Aspen tree that flower in a matter of months as opposed to several decades.
These are just a few examples of the extraordinary period in which we find ourselves. Major breakthroughs seem to be occurring at frequent intervals all across the frontiers of science, engineering, and technology.
This makes clear that we cannot, at least must not, lower our sights as a nation when it comes to science and technology. Never again should America be caught off guard as it was with the launch of Sputnik or when we saw our competitiveness erode in the 1970's and 80's. World leadership in science is like a muscle--you use it or lose it--as a community and as a nation!
We often hear that America can no longer afford to be the world leader in science--that maybe we ought to go for second best. I want to challenge that notion. We cannot afford the alternative. We in this country don't have much of a track record on striving for "second best." I don't think we know how to do that, and I think it's a bad idea.
In this extraordinary era of scientific discovery, we are also witnessing an unprecedented potential for science and engineering to bring valuable benefits to our society--from life-saving medical advances to energy-saving and environmentally friendly appliances. But, here too we witness a clash between expectations and realities. All too often, the benefits from new technologies fall well short of their potential.
When my wife and I were thinking about buying a new car some months back, we read that we could save on our auto insurance if we bought a car equipped with an anti-lock braking system, or ABS. Auto insurance companies were early boosters of ABS technologies, which are unquestionably a marvel of modern engineering. By keeping wheels from locking and preventing skids, cars with ABS should have reduced accident rates and fewer claims. Or so the insurance companies predicted.
But now, the insurance companies tell us that anti-lock brakes don't make a difference. Their studies show no substantive difference in accident claims for vehicles equipped with ABS and those without. Those discounts we kept reading about have all but disappeared.
The consensus opinion seems to be that drivers negate the advantages of ABS. They pump the brakes, or they mentally prepare for a skid and oversteer when they in fact still have traction. It's more complicated than the raw technology, impressive as that is.
NSF is sponsoring a number of projects that span these interfaces of engineering and the social and behavioral sciences. One project that is sponsored jointly by NSF and General Motors has found that we get too comfortable with safety features like ABS. Before too long we're driving faster than ever before. In other words, we overcompensate in a negative sense for the added safety features.
This story is really no different from other symbols of our times, such as the voice mail that goes un-retrieved or the VCR's that flash 12:00. I'm tempted to ask for a show of hands on that one. PC makers once instructed users to "press any key." Now they say press enter, even though any key will do, because so many customers called technical support in search of the "any" key.
In all of these examples, the expected benefits brought by advances in engineering and technology have run head-first into a brickwall of reality--a brickwall that includes the human dimension and that prevents society from benefiting in full from new products and processes. Once again, we find in this time of change that expectations and reality lie on different planes, just as they do for the budgetary issues I mentioned earlier.
So let me now turn to ways that we can bring our expectations into better alignment with reality. For both sets of issues I've raised, the new directions I believe we must pursue are strikingly similar. They involve reaching out across fields, across sectors of society, adopting more global perspectives, and generally exercising greater leadership in our increasingly technology-driven society.
We do ourselves a national disservice when we educate and train our scientists and engineers only in science and technology. The world in which their work bears fruit is a world of integration and overlapping consequences. It is a world in which the nonscientific social and ethical questions may be more difficult to grapple with than the scientific ones.
Today, more than any other time in the history of humankind, our values and principles are needed to undergird and guide the increasingly sophisticated and powerful knowledge that flows from science and technology.
Norman Augustine, an engineer and current Chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin stressed this in a 1993 speech at the University of Colorado. He said, "In this modern era engineers must become as adept in dealing with societal and political forces as they are with gravitational and electromagnetic forces." He goes on to say, "and candidly, up to this point I would not give us a passing grade."
Joe Bordogna, NSF's Assistant Director for Engineering, sounded similar themes in a recent speech, "To be successful in today's world, engineers need more than first-rate technical and scientific skills. In an increasingly competitive world, engineers need to make the right decisions about how enormous amounts of time, money, and people are tasked toward a common end. I like to think of the engineer as someone who not only knows how to do things right but also knows the right thing to do. This requires engineers to have a broad, holistic background." Frankly, I believe this wisdom applies to scientists as well.
Fortunately for all of us here this evening, we need look no further than this conference for activities that can point us in the right direction. As I thumbed through the program, I noted sessions with titles such as The Holistic Manufacturing Professional, the Development of International Manufacturing Programs, and The Role of Manufacturing in Other Disciplines.
This broader focus for manufacturing education parallels many efforts underway across the country that are supported by NSF. Some of you may know that NSF was the lead Federal agency for manufacturing education and training under the Technology Reinvestment Program. If you prefer acronyms, that's the MET portion of the TRP. While TRP funding for 1996 and beyond has been eliminated by the Congress, over 57 three-year awards for MET were initiated in 1994 and 1995, and the work supported through this effort is full of promise.
Arizona State University, for example, has launched a project called Manufacturing Across the Curriculum. The introductory level manufacturing engineering course is now taught at the local Intel semiconductor production facility.
The senior-level capstone course is entitled, The Virtual Corporation, where students are required to design and manage a realistic corporation that develops a robotic vehicle. It is much more than just an academic exercise. The external reviewers include engineers from Motorola, Allied Signal, and Fairchild Data Systems. This is an example that compels us to go so far as to rewrite George Bernard Shaw. In this case: those who can, teach.
In addition to these approaches, the international dimension of engineering has taken on increased importance. It's no secret that manufacturing has become a truly global enterprise. Ford has R&D operations in China; Motorola and Toshiba have built a semiconductor plant in Japan, while Toyota and Nissan are employing designers and engineers at their centers in Michigan.
Just across town, NSF's MET program has helped to start a masters program in World Class Manufacturing Engineering at the University of California at San Diego. One way this program aims to break new ground is by placing students in internships with manufacturers located overseas.
One student spent six months in Singapore with the hard drive manufacturer Maxtor. Next year, Maxtor will hire two interns from the UCSD program, and the school is lining up other overseas companies as well. These may sound like small numbers, but they are clearly only the beginning of what promises to be an important direction in engineering education.
Let me conclude this evening by looking at something I see as another important, if not dominant direction not just for engineering education, but for science and engineering generally. Earlier I mentioned the confusing and confounding fiscal environment in which we find ourselves. We've suffered through shutdowns and furloughs, and seen investments in the future like the TRP eliminated.
In this new environment, leadership from the science and engineering community requires a much more public and civic persona--that of citizen engineer or scientist. We are needed more than ever to be visible and vocal in our communities. This requires our presence outside the gates of our universities, the walls of our laboratories, and the routine of our offices.
Speaking last month at the AAAS meeting, Vice President Gore said: "...this democracy needs the sound of your voices and the dedication of your hearts. ...But if you view your own pursuit of knowledge as divorced from the nation's pursuit of progress, both endeavors will fall short of their goals."
Engineers and scientists need to carry the message of value, application, contribution, and investment to the people who in the long run pick up the bill. I am not suggesting that this be a technical lecture but rather a timely, down to earth dialogue, one carried out in schools, community organizations, guest editorials, TV interviews. We should not suppose that just because this might be an awkward or unsolicited task on our part that the public will not be interested. They will, I think, be especially interested if we engage in a dialogue in which we aim to learn from the public about their perceptions and their needs and then provide information they want in language they can understand. c Some of us may do better than others, but we must all begin. And, most importantly, we must support those in our communities who make the extra effort to do this. We need to move our knowledge and understandings beyond our own community if we want public recognition of its value for continued support.
Why, you may ask, do we need to do this? Because nobody else but members of the science and engineering community really understands science and technology, what research is all about, how education--learning--is enriched in a research environment, the complex interdependence and cross fertilization that characterize the U.S. science and technology enterprise, and the true value--the tangible benefits of science, engineering, and technology to people's lives. I'm afraid that if we who understand these things don't speak up, nobody will. And the American people will be the losers!
We are witnessing great changes in the training of engineers--changes that reflect the interconnectedness and holism of our society. This should also include teaching students by our own example the importance of being engineers and scientists in the community life of the nation.
Let me leave you therefore with a simple but powerful idea that was once expressed by Jonas Salk, founder of the Salk Institute in La Jolla that I mentioned earlier. Salk once wrote that: "our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."
Our work as scientists and engineers fulfills part of this awesome responsibility by enabling a healthier and wealthier future for our society. These times of change, however, call upon all of us to assume additional responsibilities, and they require that we exercise greater leadership through outreach to the general populace. Fortunately, this is one area where I am convinced that reality will greatly exceed our expectations.
Thank you and thanks again to the Society for inviting me to join you this evening. I'll be happy to take any questions you might have.