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INTERNATIONAL BENCHMARKING OF US MATERIALS SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING RESEARCH 7 SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS The report summary and conclusions are provided below. Overall, the analysis was limited by a paucity of field-specific and international data. Nonetheless, the members of the Panel have confidence in the conclusions provided below. 7.1. The United States is among the world's leaders in all subfields, and it is the leader in some. The United States is currently among world leaders in all of the subfields of materials science and engineering, and currently it enjoys a clear lead in biomaterials. The United States is expected to maintain its lead in metals and electronic–photonic materials because of their large US industrial base. However, the lead in electronic –photonic materials is endangered because of cutbacks in exploratory research. Our earlier preeminence in magnetic materials is now shared with Europe and Japan. This will require particular attention in the future. Erosion of US leadership is expected in the subfields of composites, catalysts, polymers, and biomaterials because of the high priority being given to these subfields by other countries. Current US weakness in materials synthesis and processing relative to Europe and Japan is especially highlighted in the panel's assessment. In the subfield of catalysts especially, university multidisciplinary research centers with close industry collaborations are needed to conduct cutting-edge research and to reduce the development cycle time for commercialization. Finally, sustaining current federal research support in functional ceramics and superconducting materials is considered important to maintain US leadership in these subfields. 7.2. The flexibility of the enterprise is as much a key indicator of leadership as is the amount of funding. Funding is important in supporting leadership in materials science and engineering, but a balance among all determinants is required to sustain leadership. Several factors provide opportunities to do this. These include the availability of many options for funding research and entrepreneurial developments through our national innovation processes, a robust infrastructure of research instrumentation and computational facilities, growing opportunities for diversifying the US talent base, and continuing improvements in research quality and productivity through greater unification of the field and growth in multidisciplinary collaborations. Of these opportunities, talent diversity needs much greater effort if it is to be realized.
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INTERNATIONAL BENCHMARKING OF US MATERIALS SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING RESEARCH 7.3. The innovation system is a major determinant of US leadership. The keys to US leadership in the subfields of materials science and engineering have been the entrepreneurial ability of its researchers and the influence of its diverse economy. The rapid exploitation of new developments is facilitated by the extensive networks and collaborations among leading US researchers that extend to all sectors of our economy and throughout the world. The mobility of graduate and postdoctoral entrepreneurs from the academic world to the private sector is stimulated by the availability of venture capital for small start-up companies. Federal programs that encourage research consortia and partnerships in the private sector and that fund precompetitive research at small and medium-size companies provide additional impetus to the development of innovative materials technology. Flexibility confers agility among US researchers who have been competitive in emerging materials topics—some of which have become “hot” only in recent years. Thorough research can take time, however, and bringing a new material into the marketplace can take more time. The short-term focus of the US innovation system presents the danger of blocking the development of important materials concepts. 7.4. The United States enjoys strength through intellectual and human diversity. Because materials science and engineering draws from the research infrastructure of most of the physical science and engineering disciplines, it has a high level of intellectual diversity. Intellectual and human diversity are intertwined. As with many science and engineering fields, diversity in educating women and underrepresented minorities in materials science and engineering is now considered inadequate in the United States. However, the disciplines should be especially attractive for diverse representation because of the scope of preparation and technological applications. It is particularly important to attract more domestic students into graduate study even as we continue to recruit the best and brightest from abroad. The ratio of foreign to domestic students at most research universities continues to be high. 7.5. Shifting federal and industry funding priorities, a potential reduction in access to foreign talent, and deteriorating materials research facilities could curtail US ability to capitalize on leadership opportunities. US leadership in the various subfields of materials science and engineering is not assured for the future. In contrast to opportunities of leadership, there are current developments that could curtail the ability of the US to capitalize on these opportunities. These include shifting materials research and development priorities in the Department of Defense, which have created research gaps in some materials subfields (e.g., ceramics and composite materials, electronic and optical materials), potential decreases in the supply of foreign graduate students, elimination of central research laboratories by major high-tech companies, and lack of attention to research into methods for shortening the implementation cycle for advanced materials. The US education system—undergraduate and graduate—has achieved excellence that is
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INTERNATIONAL BENCHMARKING OF US MATERIALS SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING RESEARCH acknowledged throughout the world, and we continue to attract top talent from other countries, especially those that lack adequate graduate research systems for training research leaders. There is a concern that improvements in graduate education programs in developing countries will not only meet their own needs for building stronger indigenous research, but will attract home the top researchers and students who currently reside in the United States. One area of special concern is the lack of adequate funding to modernize major research facilities in the United States. Some US facilities are a generation older than are those in other countries, and there are fewer improvements or new facilities being planned for sources of neutrons, synchrotron radiation, and high-energy particle beams (electrons and protons). Also important to top US researchers is the need to modernize smaller scale research equipment at universities for materials synthesis, processing, and characterization. The concern is that in some subfields such equipment at foreign universities now outclasses what is available at most US universities.
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