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Dr. Bordogna's Remarks


Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Deputy Director
Chief Operating Officer
Remarks at the Inauguration of the
NSF Center for Manufacturing Education in Nanofabrication
Annual Conference of the Pennsylvania
Nanofabrication Manufacturing Technology Partnership

October 18, 2001

Thank you, Eva [Eva Pell], for your warm welcome, and good morning to all of you. I'm always delighted to return to Pennsylvania's university community - my heart and heritage remain here. Today, I'm especially pleased to join with you in celebrating the launch of an innovative and challenging enterprise, the new Center for Manufacturing Education in Nanofabrication.

Let me begin by congratulating all of you in the Nanofabrication Manufacturing Technology Partnership for a job already well done. The new Center builds on a commendable record of achievement, and NSF looks forward to following your progress as it unfolds in the years to come.

All signs point to progress. You've had the foresight to build on the intellectual assets that thrive in Pennsylvania to foster economic development. The partnerships you've formed reach from secondary schools to community colleges to vocational technical schools to universities, and include industry as an integral player. Educational opportunities of this scope and inclusiveness are hard to come by in any field. In nanofabrication manufacturing they are rare indeed. Work at the nanoscale, one of the core capabilities of the 21st century, is at the very frontier of knowledge. By anyone's definition, the new Center is a bold and promising venture.

Our times require nothing less. There's no question that we have entered a new age of learning, discovery, and innovation. Dominated by knowledge, this new age revives some of the best features that characterized Renaissance [Renī-uh-sawnce] thought: renewed confidence in the capabilities of human beings and reliance on their mutual aspirations. We have come a long way since the days when Charlie Chaplin's clumsy antics on an assembly line became the icon of a workplace designed to expect only the lowest level of human skill.

We shouldn't be surprised that this new age also shares with the Renaissance an emphasis on creativity and innovation. Creativity is like the proverbial eye of toad in a witch's brew. Without it, the potion never catches fire, and the magical transformations it was meant to bring about do not occur. With Halloween just around the corner, that analogy is appropriate to recollect!

A few years ago, The Economist magazine did a study of innovation throughout the world. In a sidebar to one segment there was a caption that read, "Innovators break all the rules. Trust them." They might have added one of my favorite quotes from Robert Pirsig's [Purrī-sig] Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. He noted:

One thing about pioneers that you don't hear mentioned is that they are invariably, by their nature, mess-makers.

Breaking rules and making messes are part and parcel of our new age of exploration. The pace of change - so stunning and relentless in recent years - is unlikely to slow anytime soon. In fact, acceleration is far more likely.

A recent piece in the Economist estimates that long waves in industrial activity, first noted by the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter, are becoming dramatically shorter. The first three waves, beginning with the Industrial Revolution in the 18th Century, lasted 50 to 60 years. The fourth wave, launched in the early 1950's lasted only about 35 years. The Economist reckons that the fifth and current long wave - powered by advances in networking and computer communications - will last no more than 25 years, ending around 2010 or 2015 when the next wave of new technologies will sweep it aside in turn.

The current crisis in tech stocks is simply "the crunch of gears" as the present cycle comes to the end of its easy upswing phase and shifts into its "plodding" second phase.

Schumpeter described this process as "creative destruction" - or the constant disruption of the economic status quo by technological innovation. He viewed it as a healthy and necessary force for economies.

But we also know that something new usually renders something else obsolete. The advent of the automobile drove the livery stable into the history books. For those who owned livery stables the auto was not a welcome change. But on the whole, this disruption is a positive process. This creates the dynamism of healthy economies.

None of us wants to be on the obsolescent side of creative destruction; we want to be on the innovation side with some new and startling conception, and realizing it in some thing new and different. So, disruption is an important characteristic of innovation. And, it must cause losses in its path of making gains. Nonetheless, as all of you know, these healthy economic adventures can bring down a leading manufacturer or even a whole industry in their wake. Transistor technology disrupted the vacuum-tube industry, HMOs shook the foundation of the health insurance industry, and the CD killed the needle in the groove.

Responding to change is never easy. Finding ways to adapt to changes that are as rapid, as broad, and deep as those we live with today is a monumental challenge.

I don't have to tell this audience that the task you've undertaken together is a vital one. Developing highly skilled, world-class talent is the linchpin of our nation's continued prosperity and well being in the 21st Century. The National Science Foundation is also a partner with you in this venture. Preparing a sophisticated science, engineering, and technology workforce is our highest priority.

The reasons for a renewed focus on the workforce now constitute a familiar story, but let me tell it once again to reinforce our common ground.

We have come to understand that the capacity to create and use new knowledge is a powerful force for progress. Among our many assets as a nation, this one promises some of the highest returns to our economy and to social well being; especially since our workforce is so diverse. New knowledge is now the principal source of wealth creation and new jobs in the U.S. and globally. When we contemplate problems that we have not yet solved, we increasingly turn to science, engineering and technology to guide us through and beyond them, whether in medicine, agriculture, environment, energy, public safety or national security...or whatever.

Public investments in fundamental research and education, native intellectual talent, and the resourcefulness of the private sector have all contributed to the recent outpouring of new knowledge. These revolutionary advances have stimulated one of the most productive periods of innovation in U.S. history. Taken together, they have made the U.S. science, engineering and technology enterprise the strongest in the world.

This new, knowledge-based economy has brought challenges as well as opportunities. The changes sweeping our economy are also at work worldwide. Global communications and rapid technological change have raised the bar on competition. Knowledge is rapidly becoming the most sought after prize in the world. Securing U.S. world leadership in science, engineering and technology has never been more important to the future of the nation.

But warning signs are beginning to appear on the horizon. There is increasing evidence, that we are not doing enough to develop the talent that will keep the U.S. at the forefront of discovery and innovation well into the future.

While the number of degrees in science and engineering is declining in many fields, and is of concern, the more important issues are both curriculum strategy and its quality. The performance of our youngsters on International science and math tests is not all that we would hope. And while we do a good job in enabling our baccalaureate graduates to be superbly analytic, the emphasis on integration in our curriculum is wanting, as is the conscious connection between the two. These red flags contribute to a growing sense of unease, and concern that the U.S. will not be able to keep pace with expanding opportunities.

This story is an accurate portrayal of what we have come to understand, over the past several decades, about the requirements for a vibrant knowledge-based economy. But we are already moving beyond its simple plot.

We have a habit of speaking about the knowledge that underpins our economy and society as if it were disembodied. Here is how Thomas Jefferson described it over 200 years ago.

"If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of everyone, ...and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it."

Anyone familiar with the copyright and patent laws knows what Jefferson means. But there is another truth that is equally valid. Fundamental knowledge takes shape and becomes embedded in the commerce of our every-day lives only through the creative energies of people.

NSF has adopted three strategic goals that reflect this reality: people, ideas, and tools. The fact that underlying this triad is the enormously complex science, engineering, and technology enterprise of learning, discovery, and innovation makes them no less intuitive.

You'll notice that People are at the top of the list. That's intentional. That's no accident. Learning, discovery and innovation are all human aptitudes and activities. They can be fostered and encouraged - taught and learned, if you will.

Of course, Ideas in Jefferson's sense, the new knowledge that is powering innovation and productivity in our economy today, will always be central to everything NSF does. And we need sophisticated Tools to advance the frontiers in nearly every field.

I've taken this brief jaunt through NSF planning territory to arrive at my next point.

Enter now five priority capabilities - territories that hold the most promising potential for our future. They encompass the concepts and expertise that our present and future science, engineering, and technology workforce will require to succeed and help the nation prosper.

They are nanoscale, terascale, cognition, complexity, and holism. I'll address each of them in the remainder of my remarks.


Let me begin with nanoscale. I'll be brief, because this is what you are about.

By the term nano you know I mean nanoscale science and engineering with its focus at the molecular and atomic level of things, both natural and human-made. It was a brief twenty years ago, with the invention of the scanning/tunneling microscope, that we could first observe molecules on a surface.

In 1996 at NSF, we began to sense the wave of interest in the science and engineering community to expand research activities at the nanoscale. Responding to those imagining at that frontier, we have consistently increased our investment in this promising research area.

Nanostructures are at the confluence of the smallest human-made devices and the large molecules of living systems. We are now at the point of being able to connect machines to individual living cells.

Turning our understanding at the atomic and molecular scale into realized structures, materials, and devices has been fundamental to the new nanoscale capability from the start. So has the vision of constructing novel materials and products atom by atom and molecule by molecule.

We all know that scientific research not only drives technological innovation, but that it can also happen the other way around. In the larger sense, innovation depends upon a mutual, synergistic set of interactions that includes not only science, engineering and technology, but social, political and economic interactions as well. These are all systems that interact and influence each other. The links are particularly close in nanoscale applications.

Of course, I'm preaching to the choir. This group knows all about the potential of nanoscale science, engineering, and technology. The expansion of our nanocapability will depend on insightful researchers envisioning its possibilities and well-trained implementers to realize its products - talented people with good ideas throughout academe and industry. That's you.


Terascale computing is shorthand for computing technology that takes us three orders of magnitude beyond prevailing computing capabilities. 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 to the 12th - one trillion operations per second - launches us to new frontiers.

Take for example protein synthesis within a cell. It can take just 20 milliseconds for a nascent protein to fold into its functional conformation. Until recently, it took 40 months of processor time 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.

Progress in 21st century science, engineering and technology depends upon access to world-class tools, and a robust "cyber-infrastructure" ranks at the top of the list. Our research and applications on the nanoscale will benefit hugely from this powerful enabling technology.


This brings me to the third capability, 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.

Today, we now know more about how people learn than every before, but not nearly enough. As we advance our research in the cognitive and behavioral science, we will become increasingly adroit at designing learning environments that foster human talent. 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.

The educator and philosopher John Dewey, writing in the first half of the 20th Century, said it well.

"The belief that all genuine education comes about through experience does not mean that all experiences are genuinely or equally educative."

With the pace of discovery moving at breakneck speed, we need to take Dewey's words to heart. In academic settings, that means integrating research and education. In industry it means training programs that knit learning and working into a seamless web.

In a larger sense, integrating research and education, and learning and working, allow us to develop the skills needed for the 21st century: flexibility and agility in adapting to change, the capacity for risk taking and for imagination, and a tolerance for unfamiliar and uncertain territory. These are all characteristic of discovery and innovation, and there is no better way to teach them than to engage in those creative processes.

And it means sifting through the possible experiences we could offer and only settling for those that jostle the boundaries of knowledge. Anything less is like riding a bicycle with training wheels. Until you get on the bike without them, you won't begin to exercise the skills you need to ride.

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. 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 Einstein pegged it a long time ago as "imagination."

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 which have potential for optimum arrangement.


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 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.

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.

So 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 computing offers.

That brings me to the end of my comments, but I'd like to leave you with one final thought. Here's another piece of wisdom from Thomas Jefferson, whose capacity for wonder and curiosity about the world never diminished over a lifetime. He said:

"Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day."

Today, "general' enlightenment includes a good dose of science and mathematics. And enlightenment happens not once and for all, but is a continual process from the infant's first exploration of her environment to a lifelong quest for knowledge and skills.

In these troubled times, it's worth remembering that science, engineering, and technology at their finest are often our best bulwark against chaos.



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