The National Science Foundation requests $3.4 billion to invest in more than 19,000 research and education projects in science and engineering. These investments in people, ideas, and exploring the unknown will guide our future course as a nation and bring new sources of prosperity and opportunity to all Americans.

If one were to take a snapshot of the U.S. economy today, it would show a number of key areas driving growth and opportunity. They come under headings like biotechnology, multimedia, medical imaging, environmental technologies, polymers, decision theory, educational technologies, sensors, and opto-electronics, not to mention high-speed computational and communications technologies like the Internet and World Wide Web.

While these areas are key to productivity in a wide array of industries and sectors, from manufacturing to health care to financial services, they share one important trait. All have deep roots in the support for fundamental research and education provided by the National Science Foundation and other Federal agencies. For example:

Moreover, the technologies that made possible these new business practices were in turn made possible by steady and stable Federal support for the instruments and insights needed to extend the frontiers of physics, cosmology, supercomputing, manufacturing research, and other areas of science and engineering that demand the most of new technologies.

Similar success stories abound in today's world, such as bacteria that munch on oil spills, classroom computers that adapt automatically to students' strengths and weaknesses, and new chemical techniques that slash the cost of drug design and development. All can be traced back to investments in people and ideas through research and education in science and engineering.

In this same way, it is also clear that recent breakthroughs in fundamental research hold the key to future economic success. For example, the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded for research on the carbon structures known as buckyballs that NSF has supported for over a decade. Today, these NSF-supported researchers are synthesizing "nanotubes" in a manner similar to that used for buckyballs. It appears that these nanotubes may be more than 10 (and possibly up to 100) times stronger than steel-but only one-sixth the weight. In the words of The Washington Post, this could make them the "drop-dead super-fiber of the future."

These and other examples bring to life what top economists have been saying for years: investments in science and engineering yield immense dividends to our economy and society. Over the past 50 years, advances in science and technology are estimated to account for half of all real economic growth in the U.S.

Furthermore, NSF's unique role - that of supporting university-based research and education across all fields and disciplines - has been found to be among the most productive of all public investments. One seminal study has estimated that the rate of return on investments in academic research exceeds 20 percent on an annual basis, outpacing even the stock market over the long haul. Other studies have found an increasingly vital link between our university research base and the competitive position of U.S. industry. Newly awarded patents, for example, draw upon current findings from academic research at a rate never before seen in history.

While these examples provide ample testimony to the success of NSF's past investments, all signs are that they are only the beginning of what is possible - provided we uphold our nation's position of leadership across the spectrum of science and engineering research and education.

As we approach the 21st Century, it is especially noteworthy that other nations are demonstrating a growing awareness of the link between a strong science and technology base and a nation's overall economic vitality. Japan and Germany, for example, already invest a larger proportion of their economies in non-defense R&D than the U.S. In addition, Japan has adopted plans to double government support for R&D by the year 2000, and Korea, China, and other nations have set in motion aggressive plans for public investment in science and technology. This makes clear that strong public support for research and education is essential if the U.S. is to remain a world leading economy in the 21st Century.

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