SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING RESEARCH IN A CHANGING WORLD

Given the growing importance of science and engineering research in meeting national goals, US research needs to remain at world frontiers if the United States is to boost economic productivity and competitiveness, strengthen national security, improve human health, and achieve other national objectives in the next century.

Introduction

Research is defined by Webster’s New World Dictionary as “the careful, systematic, patient study and investigation in some field of knowledge, undertaken to discover or establish facts or principles.” Science and engineering research conducted in academic institutions, industry, federal laboratories, and elsewhere plays a critical role in raising our standard of living, creating jobs, improving health, and providing for national security. As international economic competition intensifies in the years ahead, this research will be even more important in meeting national objectives.

Several key objectives set forth in Academy complex reports can help guide the development and implementation of public policies in science and engineering research. Among these objectives are the following:

  • Ensure that the United States performs at a world-class level in all major fields of research and achieves preeminence among nations in selected fields.

  • Convene panels of researchers and other experts to compare US performance in particular fields of research with other countries’ performance.

  • In funding decisions, take advantage of the links between research and the education and training found in academic institutions.

  • Establish a new budget category known as federal science and technology (FS&T) to enable the science and technology budget to be properly considered.

  • Preferentially fund research projects and individual scientists and engineers on the basis of scientific excellence and importance, rather than institutions, in order to make the research system more responsive to changing opportunities and national needs.

  • Emphasize independent review, preferably involving external reviewers, in making awards in science and engineering.

  • Adopt a common definition of misconduct in research that avoids ambiguous categories, while at the same time discouraging such misconduct through a broad range of formal and informal means.

  • Move toward the use of education and training grants

The Age of Materials

In 1985, an international team of researchers surprised many scientists and engineers by creating a form of pure carbon that had never before been observed. “Buckyballs,” which have a structure similar to the geodesic-dome design pioneered by Buckminster Fuller, are molecules in which 60 or more carbon atoms combine in a hollow shape reminiscent of a soccer ball. Since the discovery of buckyballs, researchers have been intensively investigating possible applications, from catalysis to lubrication to use as superconductors.

From the Stone Age to the Silicon Age, human progress has been measured by the materials that are commonly used in society. Our knowledge now gives us unprecedented control over the structure and properties of materials. Mixed organic and inorganic materials can replace defective parts of the body. “Smart” materials can change their shape or properties in response to the environment. New ways of producing materials are cutting costs and pollution.

So far, we know about only a modest fraction of all the forms and combinations of materials that are possible. The years ahead will bring many new surprises.

For more information:

  • Materials Science and Engineering for the 1990s, Committee on Materials Science and Engineering, 1989

  • Critical Technologies: The Role of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Committee on Critical Technologies, 1992



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Science and Engineering Research in a Changing World SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING RESEARCH IN A CHANGING WORLD Given the growing importance of science and engineering research in meeting national goals, US research needs to remain at world frontiers if the United States is to boost economic productivity and competitiveness, strengthen national security, improve human health, and achieve other national objectives in the next century. Introduction Research is defined by Webster’s New World Dictionary as “the careful, systematic, patient study and investigation in some field of knowledge, undertaken to discover or establish facts or principles.” Science and engineering research conducted in academic institutions, industry, federal laboratories, and elsewhere plays a critical role in raising our standard of living, creating jobs, improving health, and providing for national security. As international economic competition intensifies in the years ahead, this research will be even more important in meeting national objectives. Several key objectives set forth in Academy complex reports can help guide the development and implementation of public policies in science and engineering research. Among these objectives are the following: Ensure that the United States performs at a world-class level in all major fields of research and achieves preeminence among nations in selected fields. Convene panels of researchers and other experts to compare US performance in particular fields of research with other countries’ performance. In funding decisions, take advantage of the links between research and the education and training found in academic institutions. Establish a new budget category known as federal science and technology (FS&T) to enable the science and technology budget to be properly considered. Preferentially fund research projects and individual scientists and engineers on the basis of scientific excellence and importance, rather than institutions, in order to make the research system more responsive to changing opportunities and national needs. Emphasize independent review, preferably involving external reviewers, in making awards in science and engineering. Adopt a common definition of misconduct in research that avoids ambiguous categories, while at the same time discouraging such misconduct through a broad range of formal and informal means. Move toward the use of education and training grants The Age of Materials In 1985, an international team of researchers surprised many scientists and engineers by creating a form of pure carbon that had never before been observed. “Buckyballs,” which have a structure similar to the geodesic-dome design pioneered by Buckminster Fuller, are molecules in which 60 or more carbon atoms combine in a hollow shape reminiscent of a soccer ball. Since the discovery of buckyballs, researchers have been intensively investigating possible applications, from catalysis to lubrication to use as superconductors. From the Stone Age to the Silicon Age, human progress has been measured by the materials that are commonly used in society. Our knowledge now gives us unprecedented control over the structure and properties of materials. Mixed organic and inorganic materials can replace defective parts of the body. “Smart” materials can change their shape or properties in response to the environment. New ways of producing materials are cutting costs and pollution. So far, we know about only a modest fraction of all the forms and combinations of materials that are possible. The years ahead will bring many new surprises. For more information: Materials Science and Engineering for the 1990s, Committee on Materials Science and Engineering, 1989 Critical Technologies: The Role of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Committee on Critical Technologies, 1992

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Science and Engineering Research in a Changing World to provide support to graduate students. Establish a national database on employment options and trends for scientists and engineers. Provide the flexibility to redress pay inequities and reward superior performance in compensating federal employees, including scientists and engineers. Recruit highly qualified scientists and engineers into key policy positions in government. Science and Engineering Research Generates New Technologies Cellular telephones, computers, medical lasers, diseaseresistant crops, satellites, biotechnology, optical fiber networks—all these 20th-century technologies and many others can trace their origins at least in part to science and engineering research. New knowledge alone is not enough to achieve major economic, military, or social objectives. But through the combined efforts of business, government, and academic and other nonprofit organizations, new knowledge has been converted into new technologies, new means of production, and new industries. In the process, science and engineering research has enhanced national security, improved human health, produced a stronger economy, and led to a cleaner environment. Science and engineering research will be even more influential in the 21st century than it has been in the 20th century. No one can predict which technologies will define the next century. But we know that the increasing interconnection of computers into a global network will transform work, communications, entertainment, and education. Greater understanding of biological processes will help to meet the needs of an expanding global population while reducing the adverse effects of humans on the environment. And new treatments and preventive measures for diseases and injuries will improve the quality of life and lengthen the human life span. The United States has risen to a position of global leadership in part through its strength in science and engineering research. With wise policies for resource allocation and governance, that strength can continue to catalyze US leadership in the next century. The United States Should Remain at the Frontier in All Research Areas The call for the United States to stay at the frontier in all areas of science and engineering research reflects the synergistic nature of the enterprise. Many scientific and technological advances have had their origins in research that could not have been predicted to have those outcomes. For example, modern communications is founded on research into the fundamental properties of electromagnetism and electron flow in semiconductors, which resulted in the transistor. Recombinant-DNA technology arose from studies of unusual processes in bacteria. Mathematics, a contributor to engineering and technical arts for more than a century, continues to be at the core of applications as diverse as aircraft design, computing, and predictions of climate change. Research not only produces new knowledge, it deepens and broadens the experience of scientists and engineers who will go on to apply that experience in many productive ways. The research universities educate the young scientists and engineers who will take jobs in industry, government, and academe. The movement of scientists and engineers among these three sectors diffuses ideas widely and cross-fertilizes different fields of endeavor—often in unexpected ways. The direct interaction of scientists and engineers with each other and with others in society is a particularly effective way of transferring and enlarging new knowledge and technologies. Scientific information now moves quickly around the world, both through information technologies and through the movement of students and researchers across borders. Because the US maintains a ferment of cutting-edge research across the entire frontier of knowledge relevant to science and engineering, US industry and academia have in place or can readily find the trained personnel they need to take advantage quickly of new opportunities and findings whenever and wherever in the world they occur. This flexibility will become ever more important in the next century, as the complexity of new technologies increases the importance of interdisciplinary knowledge transfers and the pace of change intensifies worldwide. World-Class Research Is Crucial Given the growing role of research in meeting national goals, an appropriate objective for US policy is as follows: The United States should be among the world leaders in all major fields of research and should achieve preeminence among nations in selected fields. (A-1, A-2) “Among the world leaders” means that the United States should have capabilities (including research excellence and the ability to recognize, extend, and use important research results that occur elsewhere) and infrastructure (including education and