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Photo of Arden Bement

Dr. Rita Colwell
National Science Foundation

"EPSCoR: Strengthening the Nation's Convergent Connections"
Address at the National Conference
Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research
Las Vegas, Nevada

September 8, 2003

See also slide presentation.

If you're interested in reproducing any of the slides, please contact the Office of Legislative and Public Affairs: (703) 292-8070.

Good morning, everyone. And thank you, Dick1, for the kind introduction, and for hosting all of EPSCoR in your "Silver State."2

I also thank the Nevada state legislators for their hospitality -- and the state legislators here today -- for their crucial support.

And NSF's sister federal agencies - Commerce, DoD, DOE, EPA, NASA, NIH, and USDA -- for their valuable contributions.

As I'm sure all of you know, I am a fierce and long-standing fan of EPSCoR. So it gives me great pleasure to be able to attend this year's National Conference.

There is always a special kind of electricity that is created -- when hundreds of future-driven, bright minds come together. That is why I have titled my remarks: "EPSCoR: Strengthening the Nation's Convergent Connections."

[Title Slide: "EPSCoR: Strengthening..."]
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Today, educators, researchers, innovators and policymakers have converged from every direction -- at least 24! -- to focus on expanding the strength of our nation's academic and research infrastructure. Clearly, the enthusiasm and commitment that unite us are tangible.

That energy is magnified by this location. I want to thank the entire Nevada EPSCoR program, for the opportunity to meet in a city and state -- that represent the excitement, illumination, and drama of 21st century science and innovation.

The amount of neon and pure mathematics in this town of Las Vegas is really something! You've got atmospheric levels of statistics and probability -- in a state you can't beat for growing. Last year, for the 16th consecutive year, Nevada led the U.S. in state population growth, -- up in 2002 by 3.6 percent, the largest percentage increase of any state, according to the Census Bureau.

[Slide #2: Tweezers holding computer chip]
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As our host-state, Nevada provides a dramatic stage for the unfolding epic of 21st century S&T, -- and a compelling amount of evidence in both the real and virtual worlds.

Las Vegas provides the backdrop for this year's most popular U.S. television series -- "C.S.I." For those of us who are "TV-challenged," that stands for "Crime Scene Investigation." It's a program about a multi-and cross-disciplinary team (the emphasis is intended) of investigators who collect evidence from multiple field-sites, and conduct ingenious experiments to reconstruct events at their high-tech lab.

[Slide #3: EPSCoR: people, tools, ideas]
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The starring roles in C.S.I. are given -- as in EPSCoR -- to the triumphant trio of "people, tools, and ideas." The characters' academic credentials are actually listed on the show's website. (One of the researchers is listed as having earned a BS in Chemistry right here from UNLV.)

Their tools include: the comparative microscope, forward-looking infrared, gas chromatograph, and mass spectrometer. Their ideas span molecular chemistry, fluid mechanics, electrodynamics, DNA analysis, and entomology -- to name a few of the fields. For CBS, interdisciplinary research -- not crime -- really does pay!

[Slide #4: Nevada Genomics Center photo]
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Of course, Nevada's "genuine article," state-of-the-art science is taking place at facilities such as The Nevada Genomics Center,3 based at UNR4, under the very real guidance of Dr. Craig Beattie, its director.

The NGC, established in 2000 with NSF EPSCoR funding, is the facility that actually provides sequencing and fragment analysis services for the state of Nevada.

Other EPSCoR-funded initiatives in Nevada include: a Center for Conservation Genetics, supporting Advanced Computing in Environmental Sciences, and developing nanostructured materials and devices.

[Slide #5: Lightning and ice/DRI]
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Here, also, are scientists at the Desert Research Institute who are using digital imaging to analyze glacial ice cores, and to expand our knowledge of climate change and capability for weather prediction.

In a very exciting project, active collaboration -- between scientists at the Desert Research Institute, UNR's Physics Department, and the University of Oklahoma's School of Meteorology -- is focused on designing and constructing a system to simulate and study lightning in the laboratory.

This research has implications for industrial processes, and the technology of protection from lightning-strikes to spacecraft launch vehicles and electrical transmission systems.

[Slide #6: EPSCoR states highlighted on national map/radiant background]
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When we extrapolate from what is happening here in Nevada to the sum of all efforts across each of the EPSCoR states, we can report and affirm: We all win with EPSCoR.

The last time I had the chance to talk to a large number of "EPSCoR-ites" - was in the last century - four years ago in Washington, D.C. The occasion was the Tenth Anniversary of the Coalition of EPSCOR States, in March of 1999.

[Slide #7: EPSCoR map - Full-Spectrum Advances/IT grid]
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There was a lot to celebrate then. -- Like the excellent rate of return that EPSCoR investments were generating to their states and regions. And the tremendous boost that PACI5 had given every EPSCoR cohort - with its connection to the National Technology Grid of supercomputers. EPSCoR was "wired" and "up and running" for full-spectrum advances.

We talked then - about the founding principles that had established and continue to focus EPSCoR's activities.

[Slide #8: EPSCoR - "bulleted" principles]
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Those principles are at the core of all forward-looking decisions about R&D investments: priority setting, inclusion, peer review, and competition for funds.

We also talked about the visionary nature of EPSCoR's mission, and the evolving aspect of the program's initiatives and goals. We were then in Washington, a city bound by history and the early ideals of one of the greatest, evolving experiments of all time - American democracy.

In America, the Federal government's support of efforts to advance the "common good" has marked every era. At the center of those efforts is the understanding that capacity-building programs must be as broad and diverse as the geography of our nation.

Based upon that understanding, EPSCoR was and is rooted in two essential points.

First: that the Federal government's investments in science and technology make critical contributions to the economy, security, and well-being of our country.

[Slide #9: Radiant background w/ "The health of..." quote]
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And, second: that the health of the nation's future scientific and technical capacity is directly linked to the capability of each state's research and education infrastructure.

Four years later, and five-cohorts larger, EPSCoR and the whole S&T enterprise have made enormous strides and extraordinary advances. Today, no one can help but feel closer to the future than to the past.

The principles that continue to direct EPSCoR's successful experiments - cutting-edge discovery, competitive excellence, and long-term sustainability -- remain as strong as ever.

But today, I focus my remarks on the practices that have built and are building EPSCoR states.

[Slide #10: "EPSCoR: Active synergy..." quote with cortex image]
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It is the active synergy between principles and practices -- that powers EPSCoR, provides the proof of its present success, and fosters all of your contributions to the future health of the nation's knowledge and innovation community.

Among these practices are:

First) increasing the outreach and collaboration between research, education, industry, and government partners;

Second) expanding the interactions and contributions of multi- and cross-disciplinary teams within the S&T universe;

Third) increasing the use of advanced computing systems and computational science to establish broader, more-responsive networks, and generate new discovery;

and Fourth) deepening the integration of research and education activities at all levels for the benefit of the entire learning continuum.

In a word, these practices come down to "connections" and "communication." They yield a critical mass of a scale, richness, and pace no earlier century could have imagined.

[Slide #11: Golden man with world and equations/science of learning collage]
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Today, these practices are transforming not only your own communities, but our notion of science itself, by bringing every participant and every discipline into an increasingly focused and dynamic future.

Future historians may well describe the 21st century as "the age of convergence."

The convergent nature of science itself has profoundly changed the nature and impact of knowledge in our age. Where research meets and explores the unknown, the ideas and technologies of information science, life science, and physical science are converging.

At those fields of intersection and exchange, interdisciplinary research is accelerating and deepening our knowledge. We can now see connectedness in what were once considered discrete elements and systems.

Much of the excitement of discovery today is catalyzed at the interfaces between disciplines.

[Slide #12: Oceanic convergence zones]
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As an oceanographer and microbial biologist, I draw a favorite metaphor for this phenomenon from my own research.

In the sea, water-masses of different temperatures converge: gyres form, polynyas appear, upwelling occurs, and nutrients collect at the interfaces.

Convergence zones in the ocean may shift, appear and disappear, but they are often where the nutrients mass and where the fish and seabirds up the food chain concentrate to feast.

[Slide #13: Swirling blue/black/NSF priority areas]
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Just so are the interfaces between mathematics, physical science, engineering and biology, and now the social sciences: discovery foments in these "hyphenated" zones.

Equally so -- EPSCoR and the entire S&T enterprise continually bring fresh evidence - that the scientific mind stimulates the entrepreneurial spirit.

[Slide #14: Red flattened carbon nanotube]
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Enter technology transfer. As many commonly observe, technology transfer is "a contact sport." The quality of its connections and communication determines the quality of the resulting innovation. Technology transfer is the dynamic that creates economic opportunity and contributes societal benefits for our nation in every state.

[Slide #15: Woman holding DNA spiral/plant collage -- Human Genome/Arabidopsis thaliana]
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When I look back to where we were only four years ago, in 1999 - the world had yet to reach what has been called "the Everest of modern biology" - the history-making accomplishment of the international Human Genome Project.

NSF-supported researchers and their colleagues were still a year away from completing the first genetic sequencing of a flowering plant - the wild mustard Arabidopsis thaliana; work which holds much promise to improve agriculture, nutrition and health worldwide.

[Slide #16: Green Bank telescope]
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In EPSCoR states--: We were a year away from dedicating the world's largest fully steerable radio telescope at the Green Bank site in West Virginia.6

[Slide #17: Gemini North telescope w/ infrared image]
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We had just dedicated the Gemini North Observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, in the summer of 1999.7

At the Gemini North ceremony, astronomers revealed some of the clearest, sharpest infrared images ever obtained by a ground-based telescope. Those first high-resolution images minimized distortions that had blurred our view since Galileo first pointed a telescope toward the sky almost 400 years before.8

[Slide #18: Tyrannosaurus rex]
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Back in 1999, it would be another year before Jack Horner and his team in Bozeman, Montana, would discover parts of five T. rexes in a single summer.9

T. rexes go back 85-65 million years. (So, it's amazing - that dinosaurs remain some of the greatest agents for recruiting scientific talent at an early age!)

[Slide #19: Nanotechnology/4 images in one]
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In 1999, the National Nanotechnology Initiative, for which NSF serves as the lead coordinating agency, had not been established. Next year, it's projected that nanoscale science and engineering research will receive $1 billion in funding.

The ability to manipulate and control matter at the atomic and molecular levels is opening unprecedented potential for medicine, materials and manufacturing, the environment, energy, and national security.

Nanotech's vast horizon and interdisciplinary research teams also open important opportunities and challenges for science education and training at all levels.

Just two weeks ago, NSF announced its new program solicitation for Nanoscale Science and Education to further serve the National initiative's goals.

Hundreds of EPSCoR-supported researchers are currently working and teaching - in close partnership with small business, large industry, and other education partners -- to help propel the nano-revolution.

That revolution promises to be as far-reaching as the one we're witnessing in information and communications technologies.

[Slide #20: Blue planet on yellow background/ world-wide connections]
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Four years ago, scientists were taking significant steps toward quantum computing. Today, IT has its sights on the advent of terascale and GRID computing - with data moving at around 40 gigabytes per second.

Earlier this year, NSF announced the first steps we are taking to develop a state-of-the-art cyberinfrastructure that will position EPSCoR and all levels of S&E education and research in our country to take full advantage of large-scale networking and advanced computing.

[Slide #21: Cover of Cyberinfrastructure report]
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As the NSF Advisory Committee on Cyberinfrastructure noted in its report, titled Revolutionizing Science and Engineering through Cyberinfrastructure, and released this past February - NSF now has a "once-in-a generation" opportunity to "radically empower" the modern scientific research enterprise.

Each of these accomplishments marks a significant milestone -- and the new edges of a convergent work-in-progress.

[Slide #22: Man working at computer with visualization screen/future shapes glowing]
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I read recently that "There is a saying in Las Vegas: If you do not find what you are looking for, please wait a minute, it is probably already under construction."10

That observation - implicit with fast-paced building, concerted energy, and present investment in future capacity - speaks directly to EPSCoR, the entire portfolio of NSF programs, and our present and future challenges.

We know that the creation of new knowledge is now the principal source of wealth creation and new jobs worldwide.

This new economy brings lasting changes with profound implications for each state, and for our nation as a whole, -- as we experience serious challenges from within and beyond.

[Slide #23: Collage of world challenges]
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Those challenges run the gamut of our concerns -: From the vigor of our economy to the vitality of our educational system and workforce strength.

From questions of transportation, energy and conservation, water quality and supply, to the threats of infectious disease, crime in our local communities, and global terrorism.

The ability to confront and manage the array of these challenges relies in large measure on the continuing and expanding contributions that a research and education community of the first order provides.

Norm(an) Augustine, former Chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation, has recently provided a succinct reminder of those contributions.

In his August 8 editorial in the Washington Post, "Supporting Science and Security," he wrote:

"Numerous studies have shown that taxpayer investment in fundamental research yields double-digit returns; indeed, most suggest a pay off of at least 20 percent-not a bad deal in a time when your money-market fund is lucky to pull in 1 percent."

Augustine cautions however: "It is easily forgotten that technology does not spring up magically, on demand. Behind it is always a generation or more of fundamental science, painstakingly learned...."

[Slide #24: Franklin Delano Roosevelt quote]
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To which, I would add, -- and a generation or more of education, expertly and fervently taught.

As FDR said in an earlier and no less challenging era: "We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build the youth for our future."

Learning and leadership are inextricably linked in a knowledge-based economy. Accelerating knowledge and technological change, as well as shifting demographics, intensify the value of education and training.

[Slide #25: Yellow background/earth/connections]
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Most states' economies are experiencing severe budgetary constraints, as they work to re-orient and align their economies with the global knowledge-based economy. In these challenging and mobile times, everyone is needed to fulfill local and national missions.

Collaboration and communication strengthen links between stakeholders - research and education with industry and state leadership and agencies.

One can never underestimate the power of sharing information - which is now shared capital and resources. Leveraging that power -- through the systemic partnerships EPSCoR is promoting - means that:

We can confront the complexity of the tough choices we face; we can open wider connections to greater creativity in communities; and we can achieve better efficiencies to sustain investments in those activities that keep us advancing.

EPSCOR is all about building capacity, opportunity, momentum, and benefit. The program is grounded in principles and practices of independent and cooperative excellence.

In science, the best thinking and best efforts converge around two points - the reality of today and the possibilities of the future. We can't say for certain when or where the next greatest insight or invention will happen - but we can build our communities to work toward those goals.

We tend to forget that when the 13 original colonies first considered forming a nation - our democracy was an experiment. One of the reasons for the continuing vitality of our country is that the experiment continues.

[Slide #26: Liberty Bell]
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One of the enduring symbols of that early part of our nation's history is the Liberty Bell, which literally holds an EPSCoR connection! The 250-year old national treasure, weighing 2,080 pounds has the famous hairline crack.

[Slide #27: Liberty Bell - attaching sensors; read-out display]
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Recently, thanks to the measurements of micro-sensors developed by MicroStrain, Inc., it was determined that the Liberty Bell can be safely moved. MicroStrain is a Vermont small business -- supported in its early days by EPSCoR.

MicroStrain tracked movements of the metal along the crack using tiny, wireless sensors that its president, Steve Arms, first developed as part of the NSF Small Business Innovation Research [SBIR] program. By last report, MicroStrain had leveraged about $40,000 in EPSCoR grants into more than $2.7 million in federal and private funding.11

Be sure to mark October 9th on your calendars to watch the news! October 9th is the day the Liberty Bell will be moved -- off the supports on which it's been resting for 25 years, and - into its new home, -- closer to Independence Hall, its original home.

NSF will be there! - filming the event, and the sensors' read-out as the bell is moved.

[Slide #28: Collage of Liberty Bell images with sensors]
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In these images of today's Liberty Bell, we can clearly see where our history meets, and is sustained by, 21st century science and innovation.

Any enterprise and experiment ultimately rests on the character and will of those who create, implement, and build it.

[Title slide: "EPSCoR: Strengthening..."]
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I know that all of you bring diverse insights and a combined strength to build your states and assist the nation in realizing the full potential of EPSCoR and convergent science.

Thank you.

1 Richard Curry, Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs, University and Community College System of Nevada
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2 State nickname. Other nicknames are: Sagebrush State, Battle-Born State.
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3 Established in 2000 with NSF EPSCoR funding.
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4 University of Nevada-Reno.
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5 PACI = Partnerships for Advanced Computational Infrastructure.
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6 August 25, 2000 - date of dedication.
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7 June 25, 1999 - date of dedication.
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8 (At the time, the clarity of those images was compared to resolving the separation between a set of automobile headlights at a distance of 2,000 miles.)
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9 Jack Horner, head of paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies in Montana. "On average, a T. rex is discovered once every 10 years," he told BBC News Online. "To find five in one summer in one area is very surprising." Only 20 [now approx. 30] confirmed T. rex skeletons had been uncovered as of October 2000.
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10 [www.insidervlv.com/info]
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11 VT EPSCoR has stimulated small VT businesses to apply for federal SBIR funds through its Phase 0 SBIR program and sponsorship of grant writing workshops. MicroStrain manufactures micro-miniature sensors and associated electronics and microminiature electronics for remote powering and communication, and has applied this expertise to smart materials and composites. Exact figures: $40,500 and $2,740,000.
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