Charles Wessner asked panelists to discuss what their agencies need from policymakers to better fulfill their missions. Making an analogy with the Semiconductor Industry Association’s technology roadmap, which identifies technology “show stoppers,” Dr. Wessner asked panelists to point out any “show stoppers” in their fields. Dr. Coffey said that in terms of facilities, the DoD is in reasonably good shape. Computer technology must advance, he added, to enable the sorts of things he discussed with respect to micro-air vehicles. The Defense Department will go to any source, public or private, to find the necessary computing capability. In terms of DoD’s technical contributions, Dr. Coffey said that the Department could probably be most helpful in the interface between the physical sciences and biology.
Dr. Romig said that the DOE labs are resource-constrained at present. The Defense program budget, which is a funding source for the labs, is always under close scrutiny. The labs themselves have adopted a dual production and laboratory role, and production requirements have placed great strain on research budgets. While noting that most laboratories will always make a case for more money, Dr. Romig said that the best way, in his experience, to stimulate collaboration across disciplines is through research money. If the goal is to encourage collaboration between biology and the physical sciences, there must be some targeted funding toward this end, regardless of which agency funds it.
In closing, Mr. Borrus said that at the frontiers of science and technology, whether it is in biosciences or nanotechnology, scientific inquiry is a highly social enterprise increasingly enabled by cross-disciplinary fertilization and applications that permit technology to flow in many directions. Cross-institutional collaborations—among government, industry, and universities—are necessary. For the broader project on Government-Industry Partnerships for the Development of New Technologies, it is important to understand which partnerships work, which do not, and why. This should be of help to the entire process of discovery and breakthrough, one that is always surprisingly fragile. From a policy perspective, this means support for fundamental science, and development of the enabling technologies, tools, methods, and partnerships that create products and processes that impact our economy and society. If past generations had been more timid in support for computing and biotechnology, Dr. Borrus said he doubted very much that the United States would be enjoying the economic boom it does today. Dr. Borrus said that we should be no less timid moving ahead.