Subcommittee Chairman John Ensign (R-Nev.) will preside.
Senator John Ensign
Hearing on the Importance of Basic Research to
United States’ Competitiveness
March 29, 2006
Welcome to today’s hearing on the importance of basic research to United States’ competitiveness.
As the world becomes dramatically more interconnected and competitive, the United States must lead the world’s innovation. Innovation fosters new ideas, technologies, and processes that lead to better jobs, higher wages, and a higher standard of living.
While innovation is the key to the future global competitiveness of the United States, basic research is the key to future innovation. Basic research is research that is conducted to understand the basic underpinnings of science, the world around us, and how it all operates. It is very broadly based research. Although basic research is not specifically directed toward solving any one particular problem, it is essential research for society.
Over the past 25 years, basic research supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in chemistry, physics, nanotechnology, semiconductor manufacturing, and other fields has brought about revolutionary technological advances. For example, basic research supported by NSF in the 1980s and early 1990s, on laser crystallization of amorphous silicon enabled today’s popular flat panel displays for computers and TVs. Basic research conducted in the 1980s on hot-electron injection in thin films of insulators facilitated the creation of today’s digital cameras, pocket memory sticks, and iPods. The World Wide Web, magnetic resonance imaging, bar codes, air bags, global positioning devices, and fiber optics technology all emerged through basic research projects that received NSF or other federal agency funding. In every case, research investment by the Federal Government was necessary to proceed to the point at which the private sector recognized a potentially marketable product and invested in its further development.
I believe that increased funding of basic research at the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and other federal agencies should be a national priority. I am a fiscal conservative. But federal investment in basic research remains vital because basic research is very important to the long-term economic vitality of the United States and corporations and other participants in the private sector are not well situated to fund basic research.
Experts vary in their assessment of exact rates of return on basic research. There is broad agreement, however, that basic research in science and engineering makes a critical contribution to the growth of the United States’ economy. Especially given increased competition from nations like China and India, failure to support NSF and basic research creates a serious risk for our nation.
United States’ competitiveness in global markets and the creation of good jobs at home rely increasingly on the cutting edge innovation that stems from high-risk basic research. United States’ technological leadership, innovation, and jobs of tomorrow require a commitment to basic research funding today.
Witness Panel 1
Dr. Arden L. Bement Jr.DirectorNational Science Foundation
Dr. William A. JeffreyDirectorNational Institute of Standards and Technology, Department of Commerce
Witness Panel 2
Dr. Steven KnappProvost and Senior Vice President for Academic AffairsJohns Hopkins University
Dr. Leonard PietrafesaChairmanNOAA's Independent Science Advisory Board
Mr. Philip RitterSenior Vice President and Manager of Public AffairsTexas Instruments, Inc.
Dr. Adam DrobotChief Technology OfficerTelcordia, Inc.