Skip To Content Skip To Left Navigation
NSF Logo Search GraphicGuide To Programs GraphicImage Library GraphicSite Map GraphicHelp GraphicPrivacy Policy Graphic
OLPA Header Graphic

Dr. Bordogna's Remarks


Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Deputy Director
Chief Operating Officer
Rochester Institute of Technology
Board of Trustees Meeting
Washington, D.C.

July 13, 2001

Thank you for the kind introduction. Good afternoon to everyone. I am extremely pleased to be here with all of you.

I must confess to taking more than a bit of pride in NSF's relationship with the Rochester Institute of Technology. Your institution has much to admire in terms of direction, performance, and building partnerships.

When I was preparing my remarks for your visit to Washington in the middle of July, I couldn't help but think of the heat and humidity!

It reminded me of a joke about just that-with a plug for engineers to boot.

The story starts with an engineer dying and reporting to the pearly gates. St. Peter checks his dossier and says, "Ah, you're an engineer. You're in the wrong place."

The engineer then reports to down under, and is let in.

The engineer quickly becomes dissatisfied with the level of comfort, and starts designing and building improvements. Soon, there was air conditioning, running water, and escalators.

One day shortly after, God calls up Satan on the telephone. He asks, "How is it down there? Does it still feel like DC in the middle of the summer?"

Satan replies, "No, things are great! We have air-conditioning, plumbing, and escalators. There's no telling what this engineer will come up with next."

God is shocked, and says, "What? You've got an engineer. That's a mistake. He should be up here. All we have are architects. Everything looks beautiful, but nothing works."

That joke is one way to describe the ongoing dynamic between the theoretical and the practical. That is something we're working to synergize at NSF.

Use back to return to speech.

I like the way Robert Noyce --one of the cofounders of Intel-- captured the thought. He said, "Innovation is everything. When you're on the forefront, you can see what the next innovation needs to be."

[Vision statement]
Use back to return to speech.

Both science and engineering are cornerstones of innovation. They are always changing the present to become the future. Innovation lies side- by-side with discovery and learning in NSF's vision statement. It's direct and crisp: enabling the nation's future through discovery, learning, and innovation.

The National Science Foundation aims at nothing less than U.S. world leadership in science, engineering, and technology. That's what we're about, and our budget priorities reflect that mission - in both research and education, and their integration.

[People, Tools, Ideas]
Use back to return to speech.

With the community's peer advice, we invest in the most capable people with the most insightful ideas. With them, we provide the opportunity to advance a field in a new direction, accelerate its pace and, increasingly, help it build a bridge to another field.

Of course, none of this can be done without state-of-the-art tools. In this case, tools mean not only instruments, equipment, and laboratory facilities but also overarching infrastructures such as networks and centers.

I want to spend the next several minutes looking at the equation of people, ideas, and tools. They are inseparable, and they brings us to five priority capabilities for NSF and for the nation.

[Five capabilities]
Use back to return to speech.

These five capabilities--nanoscale, terascale, cognition, complexity, and holism-- comprise a cluster of five key areas that help to connect and expand the core science and engineering disciplines. In many ways they will redesign our society and form the basis for a new kind of education in both science and engineering.

[Nanoscale visual]
Use back to return to speech.

Let's start with the Lilliputian world of the nanoscale. We use the term nano to express nanoscale science and engineering. It refers to a billionth of a meter, which is the width of five carbon atoms.

Nanoscale is three orders of magnitude smaller than most of today's human-made devices. Its focus is at the molecular and atomic level of things-both natural and human-made.

Nanotechnology gives us the ability to manipulate matter one atom or molecule at a time. At the bottom of this chart, we see NSF written in atoms. Each atom measures about 1.5 nanometers.

Nanostructures are at the confluence of the smallest human-made devices and the large molecules of living systems.

To put that is perspective, a drop of blood contains about 5 million red blood cells. Each of these cells has diameters from two to five micrometers. Within those are strands of DNA molecules that are from 2 to 3 nanometers wide.

Microelectromechanical systems are now approaching this same scale. Here, we see some human-made examples. We now enjoy the prospect of building a "wish list" of properties into structures large and small.

Let's look at a couple of industries to see what nano might hold for their futures.

In the electronics and communications industries, recording in all media will be able to be accomplished in nanolayers and dots. This includes flat panel displays and wireless technology. An entire range of new devices and processes with startling ratios of improvement await us across communication and information technologies. It will be possible to vastly increase data storage capacity and processing speeds.

[Rosetta Project]
Use back to return to speech.

Just last month, an article in the Wall Street Journal updated the progress of the ongoing Rosetta Project, coordinated by the Long Now Foundation. You know the Rosetta Stone from history. It gives the root of all written languages, Egyptian hieroglyphics. This project is a true 21st Century version of that principle. It's archiving 1,000 languages on 3-inch nickel disks. Each will hold up to 30,000 pages. To date, the project has archived about 1,200 languages or roughly 10,000 pages of text. That fills one-third of the memory space on this 3" diskette that is predicted to last at least 1,000 years.

[blood vessel submarines]
Use back to return to speech.

In the burgeoning areas of pharmaceuticals, health care and life sciences we will see new nanostructured drugs and drug delivery systems targeted to specific sites in the body. Researchers anticipate biocompatible replacements for body parts and fluids, and material for bone and tissue regeneration. Here we see an artist's rendition of a microscopic submarine with a theoretical schematic. The race is on to develop a nanobot that will travel our bloodstream to clean arteries and repair cells.

The new nano capability brings together many disciplines of science and engineering to work in collaboration. Its scope and scale create an overarching, enabling field, not unlike the role of information technologies today.

The expansion of our nanocapability will depend on insightful researchers envisioning and imagining its possibilities-talented people with good ideas throughout academe and industry.

[Clarke quote]
Use back to return to speech.

The second of Arthur C. Clarke's three laws of technology captures that premise quite nicely. It says, "The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible."

We've done just that with terascale computing. Terascale is shorthand for computing technology that takes us three orders of magnitude beyond prevailing computing capabilities.

Use back to return to speech.

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 10^12th - one trillion operations per second - launches us to new frontiers.

Use back to return to speech.

Take for example protein synthesis within a cell. It requires 20 milliseconds for a nascent protein to fold into its functional conformation. However, it takes 40 months of processor time on current systems 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 unknowable.

Use back to return to speech.

The revolution in information technologies connected and integrated researchers and research fields in a way never before possible. The nation's IT capability has acted like 'adrenaline' to all of science and engineering.

A next step was to build the most advanced computing infrastructure for researchers to use, while simultaneously broadening its accessibility. Our vision here is to reach terascale competency and catapult capability into a whole new era of science and engineering. In essence, we want to create a "tera universe or era" for science and engineering ... and a freshly robust national "cyberinfrastructure."

But, who will put all these nanosecond components and millisecond reactions into a coherent picture? Even the best tools are useless without well-trained people who have the capacity to pose challenging questions, conceptualize critical issues, identify opportunities, and employ their skills to derive answers.

Many of the new educational technologies have features consistent with basic principles of learning. The interactive feature helps students learn by doing, receiving feedback, and refining their understanding of specific topics.

Technologies help people visualize concepts that are difficult to grasp. And the most obvious-technologies provide access to a universe of information that includes digital libraries, real-world data, and a panoply of people for both information and feedback.

[Science of learning]
Use back to return to speech.

But technology should be integrated into a new kind of educational system. That thought brings me to the third capability we intend to expand, 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. 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.

Use back to return to speech.

From the last 30 years of research, we know that people, both young and old, absorb and assimilate knowledge in different ways, and in more than one way. So the "science of learning" is a critical inquiry into how people learn.

More than any other species, humans are configured to be the most flexible learners. Much of what we learn is outside of any formal instruction. People are intentional learners. We're proactive in acquiring knowledge and skills.

Because of new tools and interdisciplinary research investments, our understanding of the learning process has changed dramatically in the past two decades. A rich knowledge base in cognitive science has been developed jointly by linguists, psychologists, philosophers, computer scientists, engineers, and neuroscientists. This has prompted us this past year to envision Science of Learning Centers to complement and synergize our Engineering Research Centers and Science and Technology Centers.

By focusing on cognition, we will advance our capability in everything from teaching children how to read to building human-like computers and robots. Industry can capitalize on this knowledge in training initiatives, in the manufacturing process, and in the development of new products in a field that is blossoming. Fundamentally, we will help empower people and, thus, empower the nation. All of which can lead to wealth creation and social progress currently unimaginable.

[Mitch Waldrop quote]
Use back to return to speech.

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. We often find the most fertile opportunities in these "foggy crossings" where the knowledge in one field answers questions in another.

[Twinkle Twinkle Little Star]
Use back to return to speech.

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 both Albert Einstein and the author Ralph Barton pegged it a long time ago as "imagination." This slide shows us a little of both.

Today, researchers are trying to put polymers together with silicon. It's a marriage of opposites. Plastics are chaotic chains while silicon is composed of orderly crystals. The result can give us electronic devices with marvelous flexibility that are also much less expensive.

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. We'll figure out new combinations, and new outlets for the imagination.

[Biocomplexity graphic]
Use back to return to speech.

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 imaginately-integrated 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.

[Conventional vs. Emerging Education]
Use back to return to speech.

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. We see its principles emerging in new approaches to engineering and science education.

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 computer-communications offers.

If you take each of these 5 capabilities and you ask, what is the 'constant' or fundamental ingredient, it's the simple formula of talented people and the power of their new ideas. Innovators are never confined by what they know, never restricted by existing rules, and never afraid to propose what no one else had seen or imagined. They swing with no net but never lose sight of the ground. They created everything from Velcro to America's democracy. Any team of individuals, any corporation or any industry can do the same.

[engineering quote]
Use back to return to speech.

As always, throughout civilization, the human resource has been the most important resource. Engineering educators must create fresh programs that incorporate the thinking and skills of the 'big five capabilities." In turn, the new engineer will employ them to create the "intelligent renewal" of our existing infrastructure, develop a continuously adaptable cyberinfrastructure, and bring us into a sustainable future.

[Where Discoveries Begin]
Use back to return to speech.

I'll close with that thought, but not before thanking you for traveling to "inside the beltway." Your commitment for fundamental research and education has a huge impact. You speak with a knowledgeable and credible voice about the nation's research and education needs.



National Science Foundation
Office of Legislative and Public Affairs
4201 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, Virginia 22230, USA
Tel: 703-292-8070
FIRS: 800-877-8339 | TDD: 703-292-5090

NSF Logo Graphic