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Future R&D Environments: A Report for the National Institute of Standards and Technology
who would have predicted the invention of the World Wide Web and its impact on the development of the Internet? (Who before September 2001 would have predicted the impact of terrorism on the homeland of the United States and on the substantial increase in support for antiterrorism research and technology?) Accordingly, the committee was not asked to predict specific future outcomes or recommend what NIST should do. The report, therefore, presents a range of possible trends and factors in S&T, industry, the economy, and society that NIST should keep in mind in its future planning.
The committee proceeded by holding a 3-day workshop, commissioning review papers on relevant topics, and meeting several times to develop this report. Appendixes B, C, and D contain the workshop agenda, the list of participants, and a summary of the proceedings. The commissioned papers are in Appendixes E through I. The 3-day workshop, which took place from July 20 to July 22, 2001, was attended by S&T leaders from a variety of fields (especially from biological, materials, and computer and information science and engineering) and sectors (industry, universities and other nonprofits, and government).
The workshop and this report were organized around three sets of factors expected to shape future trends in science and technology: “push,” “pull,” and “contextual” factors.
Push factors are advances occurring or likely to occur in S&T itself. The workshop and the committee focused on three areas in particular—biological science and engineering, materials science and technology, and computer and information science and technology—because it seems likely that many of the important developments in the next 10 years will come from within or at the intersection of these fields. Each is characterized by an extremely rapid rate of change of knowledge; has obvious and wide utility; and will benefit from advances in the others, so that the potential for synergy among them is particularly great. Within the biological sciences and engineering, the successful characterization of the human genome, combined with new techniques for creating, labeling, and analyzing gene microarrays, is likely to lead to rapid advances in the understanding, diagnosis, and treatment of many genetically related diseases. Importantly, research is likely to extend beyond an investigation of DNA sequences to the physical structure of macromolecules, which will advance our understanding of the dynamics of cellular development control pathways and their abnormalities. Much of this understanding and these new technologies will lead to new approaches to drug design. We can also expect that gene sequencing will continue to extend well beyond the human genome and become a tool for studying and modifying other animal and plant species.
Improved understanding of biomolecule structure, combined with new materials development, is likely to lead to greatly increased activity in various aspects