Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Acting Deputy Director
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
Workshop on Macromolecular Science and Engineering
May 14, 1997
Good morning. I am very pleased to have this chance
to welcome you to the National Science Foundation.
My thanks go out to Samuel Stupp and the organizing
committee, and to Andrew Lovinger and the staff-level
working group, for providing all the time, energy,
and vision needed to bring all of us together today.
Thanks also to the Department of Energy for its co-sponsorship
of this workshop. Let me also extend a special welcome
to our international visitors. Your presence here
truly sets this gathering apart from most, and we
are very pleased to have you here as our guests.
When I read about the goals and purposes of this workshop,
I was reminded of a story from my days in the Navy.
I took a course in celestial navigation. This was
a valuable skill in the days before Global Positioning
Systems. After completing the course, my classmates
and I were eager to show off our new knowledge to
some friends who were visiting the base.
We'd tell our friends: "That's Regulus, and there's
Polaris, the North Star." One of our buddies then
pointed to a bright light on the horizon and asked
what it was. "That's Venus," we replied. "Note the
steady light typical of planets."
Their awe quickly turned to amusement, however, when
"Venus" slowly drew nearer, turned, and began to lower
its wheels for landing.
In recent years, many of us have seen our most confident
pronouncements undone by unexpected turns of reality.
The end of the cold war caught even the most astute
experts by surprise. Even the best of people didn't
see it coming. And, many in our society have been
thrown off-stride by the emergence of what is often
called the information age.
These types of unexpected turns also figure directly
into the motivation for this workshop.
Many of my friends in civil engineering aren't quite
sure what to make of the fact that we can now build
a bridge out of polymers.
I often hear similar thoughts from engineers in the
manufacturing industry. They tell me that for regulatory
and other reasons they need to find more environmentally-friendly
materials and processes.
These examples represent just a few of the unexpected
turns that shape the landscape for science and engineering
today. This morning, I want to emphasize that these
unexpected turns present us with an unprecedented
set of opportunities to advance learning and discovery.
I get very excited when I read and hear about the
opportunities emerging in macromolecular science and
In medicine, polymer-based hip replacement implants
and drug delivery systems are now used extensively.
There is even talk of polymers attracting and containing
viruses in the body and polymer-based drugs acting
as scavengers that would remove cholesterol from the
blood stream. In electronics, polymer films are helping
us to design and manufacture ever smaller, faster,
and cheaper devices for communications and information
technologies. We know how big that market is today.
We're also beginning to see - thanks to Samuel Stupp
and others - that by letting polymers organize themselves,
we may end up with better coatings for industrial
and biomedical uses. We might even one day soon be
able to fashion nano-scale machines that replicate
and organize themselves.
You already know about this, but to me these are very
exciting opportunities to learn about.
This is also directly connected to many of our larger
goals as an agency. Some of you may have heard that
we're currently wrestling with something known as
the Government Performance and Results Act. The Congress
is very interested in this. They call it "The Results
It requires that we take a new look at virtually every
aspect of our work - from how we process grant applications
to how our programs benefit the nation. The Act itself
can be thought of as an unexpected turn, but it too
presents us with some unprecedented opportunities.
We may be able to make our case and show that we're
worth the investment.
Today, I'd like to highlight just one part of our
planning process - the vision statement we are developing
for the Foundation. The words are not set in stone
yet, but the basic ideas are close to final. Here's
one excerpt from the latest iteration:
"NSF sparks progress through catalytic, integrative
investments in the work of a dynamic, diverse community
of researchers and educators. At the same time, NSF
leads the way toward future progress, always at the
edge, peering into the unknown - and preparing future
generations to do likewise."
In closing, I would like to encourage you to keep
a few of the key words from this statement in mind
as you proceed with the workshop.
First - think of how best to be "calalytic and integrative".
This is not easy, and macromolecular S&E is no different
than most fields that work at the boundaries. We need
to reach across different disciplines, different departments,
different institutions, and even different cultures
- that is perhaps the most difficult of all. We need
you to help determine the most effective ways to do
Second - never lose sight of the second part of the
quote I just read: "NSF leads the way toward future
progress, always at the edge, peering into the unknown
- and preparing future generations to do likewise."
This is really what NSF is all about - working at
the cutting edge, taking informed risks, and, most
of all, educating the next generation.
When we pull all of this together, we gain the ability
to recognize and respond to the unexpected turns we
encounter - and to capitalize on all of the unprecedented
opportunities that they bring.
I appreciate what you are doing here today, and thank
you for joining us here at NSF.