With the increasing globalization of research, metrics of the United States’ competitive edge will inevitably change. But such changes raise the question, said Suresh, of “what kind of metrics do we put in place so that we can position ourselves most appropriately for the future?”
At the National Science Foundation, this question should be considered within the context of five broad themes that are guiding the agency. First, science has entered what Suresh called a “new era of observation.” Digital technologies make it possible to generate data at an unprecedented pace. These data, along with new computational tools, are creating both tremendous excitement and new problems. NSF is devoting considerable effort to the development of cyberinfrastructure that can take advantage of these opportunities and solve the problems. In particular, cyberinfrastructure provides new capabilities for assessment of research. For example, the agency is asking what kinds of capabilities it can put in place in situations where the research community uploads data and information automatically. Researchers already have many responsibilities, and NSF has to be careful not to impose unfunded mandates on the community, said Suresh. But cyberinfrastructure makes it possible to store, integrate, sort, extract, and permanently archive information. How can this information best be used while protecting the integrity and confidentiality of the scientific process, Suresh asked. How can NSF work with other federal agencies and with its counterparts around the world to use this information to move science and education forward?
A second important opportunity, according to Suresh, is to integrate data and ideas from the social sciences and from the natural sciences. As an example, Suresh described NSF-sponsored research that identified the potential economic benefits of auctioning off portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. The 2012 federal budget projected that such auctions are expected to yield approximately $28 billion over the next decade, with $10 billion of that being set aside budget deficit reduction. “That’s a tangible contribution to policy of social sciences research sponsored by NSF some 20 years ago,” Suresh said. The social sciences research being sponsored by NSF offers many similar opportunities to leverage natural sciences research. In the context of clean energy, for example, Suresh has been talking with officials at the Department of Energy on how social, behavioral, and economic research sponsored by NSF can contribute to research supported by the department.
A third opportunity is to expand research partnerships both within the United States and internationally and through people exchanges as