Dr. Anne Petersen
National Science Foundation
International Conference on Global Tropical Forest Conservation
University of Puerto Rico
Tropical Forest LTER Site
May 30, 1996
Shared Questions -- Linking Our People, Our Environment
Gracias, President Maldonado for your kind introduction, and thank
you for your invitation to visit Puerto Rico.
Dr. Neal Lane, Director of the National Science Foundation, has
told me numerous times about the warm hospitality he received
from you and all the faculty during his visit here last March.
I am grateful to finally get the chance to experience it for
I am equally grateful, President Maldonado, to be able to see
for myself all the outstanding science here in Puerto Rico. I
had previously sampled the wonderful scenery of Puerto Rico on
family vacations. The combination of science and scenery makes
the Luquillo Tropical Forest LTER Site such an important asset
not just for NSF scientists, and not just for the people of Puerto
Rico, but for the entire world.
It is wonderful to have representatives from many nations here
with us today. I thank each of you representing different nations
for joining us here on the lovely island of Puerto Rico. We have
many issues to discuss today--but none more important than overall
question of how we can foster science and scientific collaboration
among the nations of the Americas to help improve the lives and
environment of the citizens in each of our respective countries.
That is why I believe that this weekend's workshop on International
Long-Term Ecological Research is quite timely. Our unique regional
ecosystems--represented in the sites of the LTER network, from
the ice of Antarctica, to the deserts of New Mexico, to the rain
forests of South America--are critical resources for our future.
Yet as diverse as these resources are, these complex ecosystems--when
taken in the aggregate--pose common global scientific questions
for researchers regardless of region or nation.
There is no question that science has always been an international
exercise among individual scientists. In the eternal quest for
new knowledge, researchers for centuries have been able to transcend
languages, borders, and cultures.
That process has been increasingly facilitated in contemporary
society by advanced transportation and information technologies,
with everything from jet travel to simultaneous translation to
the Internet. We scientists have always collaborated and shared
to work on common questions. The LTER network is an excellent
That is why I have titled my remarks, Shared Questions: Linking
Our People, Our Environment.
In my talk this afternoon, I want to discuss three key questions:
- Question #1. What is the organization and mission of NSF?
- I know many of you are looking for ways to strengthen the
science and technology infrastructure in your own countries so
that it is responsive to your people's needs and aspirations.
We at NSF know we do not have all the answers, and we work hard
to keep improving. But we thought it might be useful to give
you some idea of our organization at NSF and our approach to supporting
long term research that is embodied in our strategic plan.
- Question #2. Promoting Partnerships. How can we encourage
greater cooperation, both domestically and internationally?
- Puerto Rico's Luquillo Tropical Forest is a prime example
of a partnership between NSF and another federal agency--the U.S.
Forest Service--which allows different, but complementary research
to occur at the same site. As part of the LTER network linking
the other LTER sites across the globe, the Luquillo site is also
a partner with sites from Alaska to Antarctica. By extending
this concept world-wide NSF can help foster even more collaboration
and cooperation to answer shared questions.
- Question # 3. Integrating Research and Education. How
can countries build the human resource base needed for maintaining
a program of long-term research?
- Critical to this question is the integration of research performed
by scientists both at LTER sites and other laboratories with the
education of future generations of researchers. The National
Science Foundation is committed to strengthening the natural connections
between research and education. This linkage is especially important
for developing countries to help stop the so-called "brain
drain" of the best and brightest students.
Let me begin with a broad overview of NSF's organization and philosophy.
NSF was founded in 1950 from an idea generated by the Second World
War. Many of those who helped form the NSF were academicians
and thus recognized the benefits of conducting the search for
new knowledge in an environment of learning. This explicit link
between research and education, of discovery and learning, remains
a defining part of the NSF mission, just as it does for all institutes
of higher learning.
To this day, the parallels and the partnership between NSF and
the academic enterprise remain very strong. The next two overheads
show a few of the strongest resemblances:
-- Organization Chart
This is how we look as an organization.
First, the most senior position on the chart is not the Director,
but the National Science Board, a 24 member body that has many
of the responsibilities of a corporate board of directors.
The second point I want to make about this chart is that we are
organized much like a university.
- There are directorates for biological sciences, mathematical
and physical sciences, education and human resources, and so on.
- There are also staff offices that support the Director--this
includes the General Counsel and the Office of Legislative and
As I mentioned, NSF is structured similar to a university--let
-- NSF/University Similarities
- Disciplinary Structure--NSF's directorates, divisions, and
programs follow roughly the same lines as academic departments,
such as physics, chemistry, economics, and the like.
- Cross-Disciplinary Mechanisms--Like most academic institutions,
NSF is also experimenting with mechanisms to build links across
disciplinary lines. (This is one of the areas for which I have
responsibility at NSF.) We do this in a variety of ways-- such
as through interdisciplinary areas that include most of NSF's
directorates, like global change and environment, manufacturing,
and high performance computing and communications. These interdisciplinary
areas cut across the disciplinary structure of NSF, and they provide
a framework for engaging in partnerships like the International
- People--The people at NSF have very strong ties to the academic
-- Most of our program officers come to NSF from academia. In
fact, over one-third of our scientists and engineers are what
we refer to as rotators--researchers, educators, and administrators
on leave for a year or two from academic institutions.
-- We also call upon roughly 60,000 researchers and educators each
year to serve as reviewers of proposals--a fact some of you probably
know all too well.
- Research and Education--As I mentioned a moment ago,
the other very strong similarity between NSF and academic institutions
is the presence of both research and education in our programming.
This is a point I'll return to.
Of course another similarity between NSF and a university is the
constant search for consistent funding. I'm sure President Maldonado
can relate to this similarity.
We can't rely on cash strapped governments to provide ever increasing
budgets for science and technology. Especially during this time
of constrained budgets--and I don't think I've known any other
time!--any effective organization must have a reliable direction.
NSF is no exception.
Our directions and plans can be found in our Strategic Plan, which is available on our Web site. It is entitled
NSF in a Changing World, and the title seems to become
more appropriate with each passing day.
The essence of the plan resides in the goals and strategies it
-- Strategic Plan: Goals
- First, we will work to maintain and improve the conditions
that have consistently led to U.S. world leadership in science
- Second, we will promote the use of knowledge in service to
- Our third goal is to promote excellence in education at all
We will work toward these goals by pursuing four key strategies.
-- Strategic Plan: Strategies
- First is to develop intellectual capital, which means seeking
out and supporting the best ideas and most creative people.
- Our second strategy is to invest in the physical infrastructure
needed for research and education--telescopes, particle accelerators,
supercomputers, and the like.
- Third, we will continue to promote partnerships. This is
a key strategy for all institutions, today.
- Our fourth strategy is the integration of research and education.
We believe it is key to positioning NSF and universities for
society's future needs.
I want to concentrate on the third and fourth strategies in the
remainder of my talk.
We realize that NSF does not sit in isolation. We cannot promote
the advancement of scientific knowledge without working closely
with all organizations and individuals who share this goal. This
is why NSF puts such emphasis on promoting partnerships both within
the United States--the private sector and other government agencies--and
internationally. This morning showed clearly that those of you
from Puerto Rico are highly skilled with partnerships!
The LTER program serves as an excellent model for demonstrating
how NSF works to promote partnerships. There are 18 sites from
Alaska to Antarctica that constitute a unique network. NSF supports
the LTER network to address long-term ecological questions and
However, more immediate questions concerning the effective use
of natural resources are not neglected. Most of these sites are
also sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service, an agency that concentrates
on shorter-term research goals that include forest management
and sustainable development of forest resources. This makes these
LTER sites-- including the Luquillo Tropical Forest--an important
example of how more fundamental research can be combined with
research on sustainable development.
-- Map of North American LTER Sites
Here is a map showing the location of the 16 NSF-supported LTER
sites in North America. As you can see, the sites are scattered
all over the country covering a diverse number of distinct ecosystems.
The LTER network extends across the globe from the tundra of
Alaska to two sites in Antarctica as well, for 18 total.
One of the most unique aspects of the LTER program is that it
is a network, allowing scientists to share common research goals
among the 18 sites located in ecosystems ranging from deserts
to oceans and from sea level to mountain peaks. The commitment
to shared research allows the LTER network to formulate basic
ecological principles that apply in many systems around the world,
while developing network-wide experiments to address specific
LTER sites are an important opportunity not only for the sharing
of research on natural resources, but also providing a key opportunity
for the training and development of the next generation of scientists
and engineers. These students represent the vital human resources
that any country needs to maintain a research and development
Linking Research with Education
There is little doubt that if the nations of the Americas are
going to build their capability in research and development, we
must start with the education of the youngest generation. And
we at NSF believe that the most effective education for science
and technology is that linked to inquiry or research.
Let me read one of the goals in the Cartagena Declaration and
Plan of Action recently agreed to in March by the Ministers
of Science and Technology of the nations of the Summit of the
Americas. It reads:
Cartagena Declaration and Plan of Action
"Formulation and implementation of national policies for
the development of science and technology is of the utmost importance.
Such policies should address the education and ongoing training
of human resources..." 1
No issue is as vital to the future of research as the balance
between research and education. One of the great strengths of
the U.S. system of research has been the ability of universities
to link the creation of new knowledge with the transfer of that
knowledge to students.
All signs make clear that the integration of research and education
deserves greater emphasis both in the U.S. and internationally.
Today's students will spend their careers in a 21st Century global
workplace that presents complex and open-ended challenges. The
students who will thrive in this environment are those who have
been educated in a discovery-rich environment and who have learned
how to learn.
Learning and discovery are truly inseparable processes, and both
lie at the heart of NSF's mission in research and education.
We also know that the 21st Century workforce will require talents
and skills--such as solving complex problems, dealing with uncertainty,
and probing the unknown--that are best acquired through research-based
Linking research and education is also--I believe--critical to
building the human resource base in the Americas. As the Cartagena
Declaration shows, all nations in the Hemisphere are searching
to answer a common problem: How do we build a 21st Century workforce
that will enable our nations to thrive and prosper? The answer
is for the nations of the Americas to adopt policies that will
encourage the training and retention of future generations of
scientists and engineers. This can only be accomplished with
a blending and linking of our research--research on issues critical
to the Hemisphere such as the environment and global change--with
the education of the youngest minds.
And so, let me return to my title, Shared Questions: Linking
Our People, Our Environment. By, shared questions
I mean recognizing the importance of defining those unsolved
problems common to all peoples that international scientific cooperation
can and should address. And, by Linking Our People, Our Environment
I acknowledge that we must take advantage of the unique cultural
qualities of all parts of the globe in order to answer these questions.
By means of this delicate balancing we can, define a global agenda
for scientific research with clear overarching direction in which
all of us have a role and responsibility.
Ever since humans left the confines of this planet to venture
into space more than three and one-half decades ago, the limited
circle of our globe and the even tighter circle of our dependency
on each other have emerged in a clearer light. The first photographs
of Earth taken from space spoke not only of our shape and size
in the vast universe, but of our singularity and our unity.
Although we all have national allegiances, and regional alliances,
we are linked together more and more. The International LTER
program serves as a prime example.
The major problems facing the whole global society are, for the
most part, human problems. They emerge out of complex patterns
of overlapping consequences. We do not have choices between protecting
the environment, providing food and energy, addressing overpopulation,
and the like. They are all needs on a common tableau and operate
in fluctuating balances over time.
In conclusion, our task in the research community is to thoroughly
investigate our individual and shared scientific endeavors, with
an eye and an ear poised toward other disciplines and their queries.
And simultaneously, all of us must help define and address the
mutual issues and problems that determine our survival and success
on the planet.
We represent a wonderfully diverse conglomerate of nations, and
a group of several unique ecosystems and continents. Ultimately,
however, we are in the end, a single human community with common
questions to answer and one environment: there is no escaping
the fact that we reside on a planet of modest size and fragile
I want to thank you again for inviting me to this opening of the
International LTER workshop, and I look forward to meeting more
of you today. And I hope those of you wanting to learn more about
NSF will visit us. We always welcome visitors, including those
from other nations.
Return to list of Dr. Petersen's speeches.