do to maintain its strength in this promising but internationally competitive area? Can we ensure that our citizens will benefit from developments over the long term as well as in the immediate future? More specific questions that need to be addressed include the following:
Will government policy encourage a state of health in the polymer industry?
What level of research and development spending is necessary for the long term to enable effective competition with other nations?
How can funding for university, industry, and government laboratories facilitate the development of new technologies and products that will benefit society?
How can state-of-the-art industrial infrastructure be maintained for processing and production equipment?
How should production, distribution, use, and disposal of polymeric materials be managed to ensure protection of the environment and the health of the public?
Federal support for polymer research has always been modest in comparison with all funding for advanced materials and processing. The federal materials research and development budget request for 1993 was $1,821 million (FCCSET, 1992). The polymer science and engineering portion was only $93 million (5%), although some fraction of the budgets for other categories includes support for polymer research. The basic research segment for polymers from the National Science Foundation amounted to only $23 million in 1993.
Industrial support for polymer science and engineering research has been very strong over the decades, but that support appears to be ebbing quickly as corporations retreat from long-range research to research aimed at near-term product introduction or modification. The principal U.S. competitors, Germany and Japan, will contest U.S. leadership in research (NSF, 1992) and thus challenge one of the few remaining areas of U.S. trade that posts a positive balance. Meeting this challenge will depend on maintaining a solid research effort.
Among the worldwide trends in the polymer industry is a shift in R&D focus from commodity plastics, produced in massive quantities, to engineering plastics that have superior properties but are produced in lower volumes. In recent years, the emphasis has been on specialty polymers that are expensive yet have specific properties that confer high value, for example, medical prostheses such as replacement tendons and hip cups, or flexible light-emitting diodes. Although the specialty market is still emerging, it is clear that it will be research intensive and highly competitive. Failure to support this area now could limit U.S. participation in the benefits of applications. Beyond funding, there is a