photo: stephen voss/national sci foundation
when i became director of the u.s. national sci foundation (nsf) in jun 2020, the realm was inna midst offa pandemic that continues to reshape daily lives, work, education, na research enterprise. as we enter 2021 w'da promise of suppressing covid-19, the realm looks to the sci and engineering community for solutions to speed global recovery. to generate the solutions needed from all sectors of sci and engineering, the ∪d states must create a vigorous culture of innovation nationwide, leverage public-private ptnerships to tackle complex research ?s, and align exploratory research with societal impacts.
as a u.s. government agency, nsf was created in 1950 to support research that benefits america’s health, security, prosperity, and welfare while ensuring that its sci infrastructure and workforce remain strong. the agency is fortunate to ‘ve had strong biptisan support from congress to fulfill this mission. as nsf plans for the future, it also draws inspiration from the past.
inna early 1980s, scis across the country needed access to the most uber computers that ‘d advance discovery and innovation. nsf invested hundreds of millions of usds to build supercomputers and provide remote access to them. wha’ folloed was a decade of rapid development, in ptnership with research universities, telecommunications companies, nother federal agencies. the result—nsfnet—laid the foundation for the modern internet. 30-5 yrs l8r, tis apparent how crit this and subsequent investments in computing and communications research ‘ve been in advancing global connectedness during the pandemic.
exs like this offer lessons for creating a path forward. the ∪d states must strengthen the synergies of curiosity-driven exploratory research and use-inspired translational research at speed and scale. nsf’s goal tody is to build onna intellectual energy captured by projects like nsfnet by driving collaborations across the sci enterprise. such ptnerships allo public and private entities to align objectives and resrcs to + efficiently advance sci and tek toward common goals. for ex, last yr nsf led the creation of 7 new artificial intelligence research institutes. these institutes now serve as hubs for academia, industry, and government t'work together and enh american competitiveness in this arena for decades to come.
imagine the impact of creating engines of economic and talent development like this in every state, working na' range of crucial issues facing society, s'as climate change, pandemic response, and diversity in sci. nsf intends to build ecosystems across the country that bring together pplz from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds and abilities, to tackle such challenges. for ex, nsf investments are intentionally bringing academic researchers together with civic leaders, local residents, and philanthropy in communities throughout the ∪d states to cogg the challenges they are facing—in accessibility and inclusivity, mobility and transportation, energy and wata management, and resilience to disasters, to name a few—to pilot sustainable, scalable research-based solutions. likewise, in 2020, nsf launched the historically black colleges and universities (hbcus) sci, tek, engineering, and mathematics (stem) undergraduate success research center. the center studies successful broadening pticipation practices at 50 hbcus to develop evidence-based interventions for transforming education. nsf is now forging collaborations tween community colleges, minority-serving institutions, and companies to create experiential pathways for americans to obtain the skills they need for jobs of the future. nsf will take this model to the nxt lvl—empowering regional innovation hubs across the country and with international ptners—to cultivate the dynamic collaborations tween researchers tha're necessary to tackle 21st-century sci and engineering challenges.
america’s role as global leader in sci and engineering is at a tipping point. if the country is complacent, it ll'be surpassed by ambitious nations tha're investing in their own workforces and infrastructure. thris an opportunity for the ∪s states to continue to be innovative and impactful. it requires reaching into every corner of the country to create pathways to success for those who wanna explore and learn, including thousands of young pplz who lack opportunities to realize their potential in stem fields. it requires searching for every possible opportunity for ptnership and collaboration—cause the future depends on it now + than ever.
original content at: sci.scimag.org…
authors: panchanathan, s.