A New Vision for Center-Based
Committee on a Vision for the Future of Center-Based Multidisciplinary Engineering Research
National Materials and Manufacturing Board
Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences
National Academy of Engineering
A Consensus Study Report of
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This activity was supported by Contract No. 10002530 and Award No. EFMA-1539798 with the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for the project.
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Suggested citation: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. A New Vision for Center-Based Engineering Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: https://doi.org/10.17226/24767.
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COMMITTEE ON A VISION FOR THE FUTURE OF CENTER-BASED MULTIDISCIPLINARY ENGINEERING RESEARCH
MAXINE L. SAVITZ, NAE,1 Honeywell, Inc. (retired), Co-Chair
DAVID R. WALT, NAE/NAM2, Tufts University, Co-Chair
NADINE AUBRY, NAE, Northeastern University
CHERYL R. BLANCHARD, NAE, Microchips Biotech, Inc.
ROBERT D. BRAUN, NAE, University of Colorado
CURTIS R. CARLSON, Practice of Innovation
JIM C.I. CHANG, North Carolina State University
MARTHA N. CYR, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
MIKE GREGORY, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom
WILLIAM C. HARRIS, Science Foundation Arizona
FRED C. LEE, NAE, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
PHILIP M. NECHES, NAE, Teradata Corporation
MONICA OLVERA DE LA CRUZ, NAS,3 Northwestern University
DARRYLL J. PINES, University of Maryland
RICHARD RASHID, NAE, Microsoft Research, Emeritus
S. SHANKAR SASTRY, NAE, University of California, Berkeley
EDWIN L. THOMAS, NAE, Rice University
KARAN L. WATSON, Texas A&M University
YANNIS YORTSOS, NAE, University of Southern California
GREG EYRING, Senior Program Officer, National Materials and Manufacturing Board (NMMB)
NEERAJ P. GORKHALY, Associate Program Officer, NMMB
HENRY KO, Research Assistant, NMMB
JAMES LANCASTER, Acting Director, NMMB
JOSEPH PALMER, Senior Project Assistant, NMMB
MARIBETH KEITZ, Senior Program Associate, National Academy of Engineering
GREG PEARSON, Senior Program Officer, National Academy of Engineering
PROCTOR REID, Director, National Academy of Engineering Program Office
RICHARD ROWBERG, Deputy Executive Director, Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences
1 National Academy of Engineering.
2 National Academy of Medicine.
3 National Academy of Sciences.
NATIONAL MATERIALS AND MANUFACTURING BOARD
CELIA MERZBACHER, ARPA-E, Chair
BEN WANG, Georgia Institute of Technology, Vice Chair
RODNEY C. ADKINS, NAE, International Business Machines Corporation (retired)
JIM C.I. CHANG, North Carolina State University
LEO CHRISTODOULOU, Boeing, Inc.
THOMAS M. DONNELLAN, Pennsylvania State University
STEPHEN FORREST, NAS/NAE, University of Michigan
ERICA FUCHS, Carnegie Mellon University
JACK HU, NAE, University of Michigan
THERESA KOTANCHEK, Evolved Analytics, LLC
DAVID LARBALESTIER, NAE, Florida State University
ROBERT D. MILLER, NAE, IBM Almaden Research Center
EDWARD MORRIS, America Makes—The National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute
NICHOLAS A. PEPPAS, NAE/NAM, University of Texas, Austin
TRESSA M. POLLOCK, NAE, University of California
F. STAN SETTLES, NAE, University of Southern California
HAYDN WADLEY, University of Virginia
STEVE ZINKLE, NAE, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
JAMES LANCASTER, Acting Director
ERIK B. SVEDBERG, Senior Program Officer
NEERAJ P. GORKHALY, Associate Program Officer
HEATHER LOZOWSKI, Financial Manager
JOSEPH PALMER, Senior Project Assistant
HENRY KO, Research Assistant
In July 2015, the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to conduct a study on the future of center-based, multidisciplinary engineering research. At that time, NSF’s Engineering Research Center (ERC) program had been in operation for 30 years, and NSF felt it was an appropriate time to consider fresh ideas for what it should look like in coming decades. The task was not to evaluate the performance of current ERCs but to articulate a vision that NSF might want to pursue in the future for the program. In response, the National Academies established the Committee on a Vision for the Future of Center-Based, Multidisciplinary Engineering Research (Appendix A) to perform the study, which met for the first time in December 2015.
The committee held four data-gathering meetings to hear from outside presenters as well as a number of conference calls with key individuals (Appendix B). In addition, it held a symposium in April 2016 to solicit ideas from the broader engineering community. The proceedings of the symposium are available as a separate publication of the National Academies at https://www.nap.edu. Through its work, the committee learned about the structure and effectiveness of existing ERCs. The recommendations in this report do not call for a wholesale dismantling of the existing ERC program; rather the committee believes it is important to build upon the existing strengths of the ERCs by framing them to address the biggest challenges society faces both today and in the decades to come.
While it is always important to maintain a certain humility when opining on how things will be decades hence, the committee believes that the vision articulated here is consistent with the observed trends toward engineering solutions that require convergence of knowledge from formerly separate engineering disciplines in technology development, the sciences, as well as the emerging best practices in engineering education, team research, and the deliberate nurturing of innovation. In fact, NSF may wish to use this re-imagined ERC program as a vehicle to explore and engage more fully with these trends in the future.
The committee recognizes that while center-based engineering research has much to contribute to solving the big problems we face, centers cannot do everything. For example, the fraction of U.S. engineering graduates who are directly touched by the centers is less than 1 percent. Nevertheless, the centers should be able to serve as exemplars for innovation to the broader engineering community.
We wish to thank all of the committee members for their engagement in the study and their dedication in producing this report in a short period of time. We also want to thank the many individuals who made presentations to the committee or otherwise provided advice and information. The outside reviewers and National Academies monitor provided insightful comments and improved the quality of the report. Sincere thanks are also due to the
terrific National Academies staff: Greg Eyring, Greg Pearson, Jim Lancaster, Proctor Reid, Dick Rowberg, Henry Ko, Joe Palmer, Neeraj Gorkhaly, and Maribeth Keitz. We’d like to give special thanks to Greg Eyring whose tireless efforts helped the committee achieve its goals.
David R. Walt and Maxine L. Savitz, Co-Chairs
Committee on a Vision for the Future of Center-Based, Multidisciplinary Engineering Research
Acknowledgment of Reviewers
This Consensus Study Report was reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in making each published report as sound as possible and to ensure that it meets the institutional standards for quality, objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process.
We thank the following individuals for their review of this report:
Linda M. Abriola, NAE,1 Tufts University,
Cynthia J. Atman, University of Washington,
Jesse H. Ausubel, The Rockefeller University,
Persis S. Drell, NAS,2 Stanford University,
Alastair M. Glass, NAE, Irish Photonics Integration Centre,
Kara Hall, National Institutes of Health,
Anita K. Jones, NAE, University of Virginia,
John E. Kelly, NAE, International Business Machines Corporation,
Mark H. Kryder, NAE, Carnegie Mellon University,
Vilas Mujumdar, Independent Consultant,
Gintaras V. Reklaitis, NAE, Purdue University,
John J. Tracy, NAE, The Boeing Company, and
Jeffrey Wadsworth, NAE, Battelle.
Although the reviewers listed above provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations of this report nor did they see the final draft before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Paul R. Gray, University of California, Berkeley, and Arden L. Bement, Jr., Purdue University, who were responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with the standards of the National Academies and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content rests entirely with the authoring committee and the National Academies.
1 National Academy of Engineering.
2 National Academy of Sciences.
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NSF Director (1984-1990) who initiated the ERCs and STCs
24th recipient of the National Science Board’s Vannevar Bush Award and distinguished member of the NAE who led the development of IBM 360