Scientific endeavor continues to accelerate rapidly on many fronts. Such a conclusion can be reasonably drawn from consideration of a series of symposia underwritten by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). The symposia yearly bring together 100 of the nation’s outstanding young scientists and engineers, ages 30 to 45, from industry, academia, and government to discuss pioneering research in various scientific, technological, and engineering fields and in industry sectors. Meetings are held not only in the United States, but also in China, Germany, and Japan, underscoring the now-ordinary nature of international scientific collaboration.
Following a competitive nomination and selection process, participation in the Frontiers of Science (FOS) and Frontiers of Engineering (FOE) symposia is by invitation. Attendees are selected from a pool of researchers at or under age 45 who have made significant contributions to science; they include recipients of the Sloan, Packard, and MacArthur fellowships; winners of the Waterman award; Beckman Young Investigators; and NSF Presidential Faculty Fellows. The symposia make public the thinking and work of some of the country’s best and brightest, those now rising to positions of leadership within their institutions and industries.
Symposia presenters generally credit interdisciplinary approaches to fields of study as a means of providing new insights and techniques while significantly advancing specific disciplines. A survey of the symposia presentations indicates this cross-fertilization appears likely to intensify. For example, the use and integration of computation within all fields of research is now routine. The application of next-generation computation—from embedded microsensors and actuators within semi-intelligent machines and structures to the reverse engineering of biological systems (known as biomimetics) to enhanced modeling of cosmological, geological, and climatological phenomena—appears likely to facilitate additional advances, accelerating both basic understanding of fundamental processes and the efficacy of targeting applications and commercial spinoffs.
Given the availability of published papers and the timeliness of the research, the purview of this report is of necessity constrained to a span of not more than 4 years (although none of the year 2000 FOS papers had become available as of this writing, and neither are some 1999 FOS studies available.) The discussion herein is thus limited to a discussion of FOS presentations that occurred in 1997, 1998, and 1999 and of FOE presentations that occurred from 1997 through 2000. Presenters often limit themselves to the minutiae of their respective fields—an inclination to be expected, but not conducive to an aggregate synthesis of progress across multiple disciplines.