The Subcommittee will hear testimony from the five most recent U.S. Nobel Laureates. The witnesses will provide their observations on the state of the country’s scientific enterprise and the importance of scientific investment, as well as sharing details of their Nobel prize-winning discoveries.
Daniel K. InouyeSenatorScience is the basis of human progress. This field of knowledge allows us to understand the world around us and to continually transform and improve our quality of life. Today’s essential technologies, such as mobile phones and air travel, are based on our understanding and mastering of scientific concepts like the electromagnetic spectrum and aerodynamics.Since the Industrial Revolution, the United States has reaped the benefits of our investment in scientific research. American scientists have been at the forefront of discoveries that have changed the world. Barbara McClintock observed the transposition of genes, breaking new ground in molecular genetics.John Von Neumann’s work in mathematical logic laid the foundation for computers. And Richard Feynman expanded the theory of quantum electrodynamics. These are just a few examples of the American scientific contribution to world knowledge.Our panel today reflects a cross-section of America’s exceptional scientific leadership. This team represents a complete sweep of the 2006 scientific Nobel prizes, for the first time in more than 20 years, an impressive and well deserved accomplishment. Their hard work and persistence are largely responsible for this achievement. At the same time, I am sure our distinguished witnesses would agree that some credit is due to the American scientific enterprise. Our strong educational system and research infrastructure lies at the heart of this enterprise.For decades our nation, which accounts for only 6 percent of the world’s population, has produced more than 20 percent of the world’s doctorates in science and engineering.However, our system is in jeopardy. The National Academies’ Rising Above the Gathering Storm report warns that the nation is at risk of falling behind our international competition. According to the 2006 National Science Board Science and Engineering Indicators, 78 percent of science and engineering doctorates are earned outside of the United States. Almost half of the masters degrees awarded in computer science in this country went to foreign students.We must take corrective action to ensure the United States does not lose ground in science and technology. Just last week the Senate passed S. 761, the America COMPETES Act. The legislation received 88 votes in the Senate.That strong showing reflects how united this body is in recognizing the need to bolster the nation’s competitiveness. The bill calls for reinvestment in our scientific endeavor through increased funding for the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. S. 761 also encourages broader participation in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields, particularly by women and underrepresented minorities.The accomplishments of this panel are impressive, and if we are hoping to replicate their achievement 20 years hence, the United States must seek continuous improvement in our science enterprise. I look forward to incorporating the recommendations of this esteemed panel into our legislative work this Congress.###
Ted StevensSenatorMr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing today. It is quite a privilege to be able to hear from some of the brightest scientific minds in the world.It has been more than 20 years since Americans have won Nobel Prizes for medicine, chemistry, and physics all in the same year. I would like to congratulate all of the witnesses for their remarkable achievements. From the microscopic to the astronomical, the research conducted by these individuals is remarkable and will further advance the knowledge of our world for years to come.Groundbreaking basic research is the cornerstone of technology and societal progress. This type of research helps to improve the health of our people, stimulate our economy, preserve our environment, and strengthen the national defense over the long-term.The continued funding of basic research is critical to maintaining the United States’ competitive edge in the world. By focusing our efforts to support basic research through the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the National Labs, we are investing in more bright minds and new ideas that will help to ensure that future innovations that transform the world will originate here in the United States. By supporting and improving the teaching of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, we are also encouraging the next generation of American students to follow the example of today’s Nobel Laureates.Last Wednesday, with the passage of the bipartisan America COMPETES Act, the Senate sent a clear message that our nation’s competitiveness is a major priority that must be addressed as soon as possible. I was pleased to play a major role in developing this legislation to increase funding for basic research, strengthen science, technology, engineering, and math education, and develop a 21st Century innovation infrastructure. I hope that we will be able to get this bill signed into law as soon as possible.Once again, I look forward to hearing from all of our witnesses today.Thank you.
Witness Panel 1
Dr. Andrew Z. FireProfessor of Pathology and GeneticsStanford University School of MedicineOn the value of scienceAndrew FireDepartments of Pathology and Genetics, Stanford University School of MedicineFor Presentation to the Science, Technology, and Innovation Subcommittee, United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on May 2, 2007.------------Senator Inouye, members of the committee, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for the invitation today to speak on science and its value to our society. This is a certainly a worthy topic for discussion in such a forum and I hope that my comments will be helpful in stirring up debate and discussion.------------Before we consider the value of science, we should first consider the goals of the scientific enterprise in this country.Although each individual scientist brings a unique set of goals to their work, certain themes run throughout the scientific community and elsewhere:Every American and every citizen of the world should have the opportunity to live a full and complete life without the ravages of tragic disease.Every American and every citizen of the world should have access to sufficient resources and energy to fulfill their potential as individuals and as members of society.Every American and every citizen of the world should have the opportunity to live in a world where they are safe from threats of terrorism, war, and other violence.Our children, our grandchildren, and generations to come should have opportunities that are comparable to the best that our current society has to offer.Scientific progress is by no means the only component in pursuing these goals. It is nonetheless a critical part. As our world inevitably changes, we will need to understand how these changes can affect our lives. As we become capable of greater manipulation of our environment, so questions of appropriate behavior, balance and sustainability become critical. We are at a turning point where technology and science will underlie most of the major decisions made by individuals, groups, and societies. There is no turning back from this.Before we can talk about the value of science, we need to talk about limitations.Science can help us to learn how the world works. Science can inform our decisions by allowing us to predict, albeit imperfectly, the concrete consequences of proposed action. Science and technology allow us to manipulate the world within us and around us using an ever-expanding array of tools.Science can't, shouldn't, and doesn't supplant our value systems. The value we place on human life is not a scientific calculation. Likewise, the many issues we debate as a society: our allocation of resources between the young and the old, our definitions of the beginning and end of life, our ways to prioritize the individual and the society, our allocation of effort toward long term maintenance of the human race; all of these rely on fundamental value systems outside of and beyond the scientific enterprise. Although scientific data (from molecular biology to theoretical physics to economics) can in some case inform ongoing debates as to the material consequences of each choice, the eventual decisions must come from our values and value systems.Before we can talk about the value of science, we need to talk about opportunities.From a portfolio too large to summarize, here are a few.A dedicated war on cancer has been a flagship of the American scientific enterprise for the last 36 years. Inroads toward improving treatment of many types of cancer have been made in this interval, often based on a pipeline model that starts from investigation of fundamental biology and continues through careful clinical trials. The pipeline is by no means swift, but the initial results have made a difference between life and death, and between hope and despair, for millions on young and old people. Despite these advances, cancer still takes a devastating toll on individuals and families alike. We know that we can do more.Infectious disease was declared to be a "closed book" in the 1960s, leading to a shift away from the commitment of this country to our public health agencies. This turned out to be tragically misguided. We now understand that new epidemics of infectious diseases are an intrinsic aspect of the dynamically connected society we live in: Flu, AIDS, SARS, Tuberculosis, Malaria and many more that we can only speculate on. Our capabilities for rapidly identifying and tracking infectious disease have never been better. Still, I am scared for the future. We know that we can do more.Clean, safe, and renewable, energy production may become the most pressing economic, scientific, technical, and political challenges of the 21st century. Science has provided an armful of possible contributions in the form of new sources and dramatically improved efficiencies. Despite the recent burgeoning of a new energy industry, an upcoming global crisis in energy availability and in the consequences of our current use patterns seem virtually certain. We know that we can do more.Before we can talk about the value of science, we need to talk about some of the challenges.We do not train enough scientists, engineers, or doctors. We do not train enough teachers. To maintain a technologically driven society and to meet the challenges ahead, we need to vastly increase the number of technically trained individuals ready to work in all areas. Our needs in the area of science education are evident at all levels: in elementary, middle, and high schools, in college, graduate, and professional schools, in continued training of our scientific workforce, and in the sophisticated scientific training that the general public will need to make rational decisions. In none of these areas are we completely lost. Education in this country has a remarkable history. Many of our institutions are unparalleled in their quality anywhere in the world. At the same time, many of our young people never get the chance to make contributions that could uniquely benefit the society because their communities lack the needed educational opportunities. This is not an area that we can afford to ignore. Investment in education is an investment in our future. A neglect of this opportunity at any level would be a colossal mistake.The critical early discovery stages of the developmental "pipeline" for science and technology often take place, by nature and by necessity, in universities and non-profit research centers. Research of value in such open environments has only been possible with public support of federal agencies. This research has driven both innovation and discovery in American science to an extent that the scientific enterprise in the US is truly and uniquely a societal effort. In this realm we face a continuous challenge in maintaining a productive and creative scientific enterprise under the inevitably fluctuating conditions of public support. Science in the US has thrived on a competitive granting system, a sink-or-swim arrangement that does a remarkable job in funding the most important and highest quality research while driving the establishment as a whole toward excellence. But how do we handle the inevitable instability in supply and demand, in the cost of research, in the size of the academic workforce, and in policies and outlook of the institutions of higher learning that are partners with the government in making this work? In times of expansion, there is ample room in the system for all types of ideas, all points within the pipeline, and all levels of venture-risk. In times of contraction, we all fear that the next grant review might end our research careers. Clearly, the solution here cannot be an infinite and exponential growth of the public research enterprise. Private support for science can smooth out some of the rough spots, but as a small fraction of the total there is simply not enough private support for more than a token level of stabilization. To allow some stability, interactions between research institutions and federal funding agencies are crucial: many grantee institutions are finding that their role must now include a clear commitment to bridging support for their faculty, employees, and for ongoing scientific projects, even as they recognize that moving forward will only happen with federal support. More institutions will realize this over the next few years. At the same time, the great value of continuity in our public investment in science and technology needs to be communicated. We are at a crossroads in this area in the biomedical community with many critical research programs that may not survive the next few years, many creative senior investigators shutting their labs, and many potentially brilliant young investigators afraid to choose careers in a field this unstable.Discovery-based investigations in academia make up just one segment of the larger scientific enterprise. Even the most important of basic discoveries make their impact through a development process that involves extensive further research in academic settings combined with research and development in the commercial sector. Translation of basic discoveries toward beneficial results relies on additional groups of dedicated and highly trained scientists, physicians, engineers, and others. Fulfillment of the potential from academic discoveries also requires massive investment in the commercial sector, considerable risk-taking, and a real chance that any given project will fail. In the biomedical area, we simply do not know enough about the individual human body or about the diversity in our species to predict the outcome for a proposed new treatment. Clinical trials must be done, they must be done carefully and safely, they are extremely costly, and a fraction give a disappointing result. Given the costs of clinical trials, the vast majority must be carried out in the private sector. When there is success, we have great advances in medicine. Although we also learn from the failures, this is rarely a consolation to the affected shareholders. For commercial translation of scientific discovery to continue there needs to be a reasonable expectation of possible return on investment. Much of this relies on the US Patent system, itself a gigantic and often cumbersome endeavor that like so many of our institutions is both imperfect and the best we have. The patent system doesn't operate in an economic vacuum. For commercialization to benefit society there also needs to be a mechanism where technologies are available at prices that allow accessibility by all Americans who are in need. One of the lessons we may hope to learn over the next few years is how best to incentivize the risk-taking that is essential in commercial technology development while providing new technologies affordably to all who are in need.As basic and applied scientists in education, academics, government, and industry we can make the greatest positive impact by supporting each others endeavors, training each other in the areas that we know best, and by listening to each other to understand the needs and potential of fields that are unfamiliar.Before we can talk about the value of science, we need perhaps most urgently to talk about our own responsibilities as scientists.It is our responsibility to continue a scientific enterprise directed toward improvements for all Americans and for all people everywhere.It is our responsibility to seek out and pursue areas of inquiry where scientific progress could benefit humanity, whether it benefits a few individuals, a few communities, countries, continents, or the entire human race.It is our responsibility at each stage of scientific inquiry to integrate our work into the larger scientific community both in the US and worldwide.It is our responsibility carry out our research in an ethical, truthful, and open manner and to follow the rules and restrictions set down by our governments and our conscience.It is our responsibility to maintain a pride in the creativity and uniqueness of our own thought and research, while acknowledging and fostering the ideas and contributions of others.It is our responsibility as scientists to be leaders in teaching science at all levels.It is our responsibility to communicate the scope of scientific opportunities and the spectrum of progress to our leadership, to the public, and to our neighbors around the world. At the same time, it is an equal responsibility to communicate the limitations of our work, the challenges that we face in improving the human condition and the risks that come from increased ability to manipulate our bodies and our environment.The 21st century will bring new challenges, new opportunities, new risks, new technologies, and new understanding. It is our responsibility as scientists to make these work to the benefit of our society and of all humankind.We will do our best.Thank you Mr. Chairman.
Dr. Roger KornbergWinzer Professor of Medicine, Department of Structural BiologyStanford University School of MedicineStatement of Dr. Roger KornbergWinzer Professor in Medicine, Stanford Universityto theSubcommittee on Science, Technology and Innovation, Senate Committtee on Commerce, Science and TransportationMay 2, 2007Chairman Kerry, Ranking Member Ensign, and Members of the Subcommittee, I am grateful for this opportunity to describe our research to those who support it. I will give a brief account of the research, its significance, and future prospects. Then I wish to explain some of the challenges we face and how they may be overcome.The control of gene expressionOur research has to do with genes, which direct the formation and the activities of our bodies. Every cell in our bodies contains a complete set of genes. Which subset of genes is used in a particular cell determines whether it becomes nerve, muscle, blood, liver and so forth. The goal of our research and that of many others has been to understand how this controlled use of genetic information is accomplished. The practical implications are enormous. All infectious disease entails genetic control. Cancer results from a breakdown of control. Therapeutic approaches such as stem cells require intervention in genetic control.Genetic information has been likened to a blueprint or a book. In order to use the information, the book must be opened and read. Our work has uncovered principles of both the opening and the reading of genetic information. We are now close to understanding genetic control.The nucleosome, fundamental particle of the chromosomeRNA polymerase, the gene-reader in our cellsOnce DNA is unspooled, the genetic information can be read. The gene reader is a protein machine known as RNA polymerase, which copies the genetic message into a related form called RNA, in a process known as transcription. RNA directs the synthesis of proteins, which perform all bodily functions.In work done over the past 25 years, we have obtained a picture of RNA polymerase in the act of transcription. RNA polymerase is composed of 30,000 carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen atoms. Our picture shows the precise location of every atom. In this picture, we see the DNA double helix entering the polymerase machine and the RNA product as it is formed and released. This picture has revealed the basis for readout of the genetic code, and how occasional mistakes are corrected. It has already been employed for the design of new antibiotic drugs.
Structure of RNA polymerase in the act of gene transcription. Chains of protein building blocks are shown in white and orange. Gene DNA, in the form of a blue and green double helix, enters from the right. RNA, shown in red intertwined with one DNA strand, exits from the top.The future: A molecular computer for the control of gene expressionRNA polymerase does not act alone in the readout of genetic information. An additional 50 protein molecules participate directly in transcription. We discovered, in particular, a giant assembly of 20 proteins called Mediator that serves as a kind of molecular computer. Mediator receives information from inside the cell and from the environment, which it processes and delivers to RNA polymerase. A major objective for the next decade of our work is to determine the atomic structure of Mediator and to understand the control of transcription. We already know that mutations in genes encoding Mediator can cause cancer. Knowledge of Mediator structure will enable us to correct many such problems and to intervene more generally in the control of gene expression.The challenge of funding basic researchOur work has been supported almost entirely by the NIH. The cost was about $20 million over 30 years, mostly for the stipends of the more than 80 graduate and postdoctoral trainees involved. Due to current constraints on the NIH budget, virtually none of our work would be funded today. I can say with certainty that a grant application for the research leading to the discovery of the nucleosome, fundamental particle of the chromosome, would not be approved. The reason is simple: I had no idea at the outset of what I might find, and no good idea of how to go about it. Our RNA polymerase structure work was supported by NIH only after it became clear it would succeed. When we began, the prospects for success were virtually nil – no way of producing the RNA polymerase, no hope of forming the crystals needed for imaging, and no technology for deriving the image.The reason for the disconnect between funding and discovery is clear: funds are awarded for compelling ideas, supported by preliminary evidence, creating a high likelihood of success. But discoveries are by their nature unanticipated, completely unknown. They cannot be sought out in a deliberate manner. They cannot be proposed to granting agencies or evaluated by review groups. So how are discoveries made in the American system? The answer is by risk-taking. Scientists supported to do straightforward research may divert some of their funds for testing new ideas. If they succeed, then the results form the basis for new grant applications. If they fail, they may be in trouble and be unable to continue even with their original research.The risky nature of truly innovative research is both the strength and the Achilles heel of our system. In the past, when NIH funded approximately 20% of new grant applications, most capable investigators could obtain support, some of them would conceive of and try new ideas, and occasionally an important discovery was made. Today, with funding levels at 10% or less, many fine investigators have lost their support, few will take risks, and the pace of discovery will fall dramatically.In the March 23, 2007 issue of Science magazine, Senator Arlen Specter is quoted as asking the reasonable question “What’s going to happen to NIH if the budget is cut by $500 million?” The answer is that the number of publications from NIH-sponsored research will decline accordingly, by about 5%, but innovation will be stifled across the board. The chilling effect of funding cuts ripples through the system, deterring bold action and creativity on the part of established investigators, and discouraging young scientists from entering the system. This has already happened. My European colleagues have noted a reverse brain drain already occurring now.There is another way in which small budget cuts can have a disproportionate effect. Research is highly synergistic. One part depends on others. For example, my own determination of the RNA polymerase structure was critically dependent on the work of hundreds of physicists and engineers, on synchrotrons such as that at the Stanford Linear Accelrator and on cutting edge photon physics.Of all the adverse effects of flat-funding or even cutting the NIH budget, the disillusionment of young people is the worst. The choice of a career in science already represents a great sacrifice. A passion for science must be weighed against a long period of training - 10 or more years of postgraduate study at low wages - and the possibility of no career at the end. The importance of young scientists cannot be overstated. To paraphrase an illustrious politician, it’s the people, stupid! Progress in science, and discovery in particular, is the work of the best young minds. America has taken pride in the Nobel class of 2006, present here today. If we do not take action now to restore enthusiasm for the pursuit of science, there will be no American class of 2026.Discovery as a driving force of progressMuch has been said about the value of basic research, and I am sure the arguments are well known to you. I would like to add some points not so often stated. Scientific medicine is comparatively new, just over a hundred years old. The advances already made have impacted the lives of us all. Every major advance can be traced to a discovery made in the pursuit of basic knowledge, not for a medical or economic purpose. Some examples are X-rays, antibiotics, magnetic resonance imaging, recombinant DNA, and structure-based drug design. Future advances, including the prevention or cure of cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer’s, and other dread afflictions, will come from new discoveries and new information. Efforts currently targeted towards these and other worthy ends are unlikely to succeed. I recall the words of Lyndon Johnson to the effect of “life-saving discoveries locked up in the laboratory.” This serious sentiment was mistaken. Application of existing knowledge is not the limiting factor. The knowledge itself is limiting.It has been remarked that we know 1% of everything about the human body. A small fraction of a percent would probably be more accurate. But consider how enormous have been the benefits to our health and our economy from what little we know now. Imagine how great would be the benefits of knowing the remaining 99%!There is a further overarching purpose to basic research. An urge to explore is a part of our nature. It was a major factor in the evolution of our species. It has motivated us to go to the moon and to outer space. The exploration of inner, human space is no less grand. It is also an expression of the human spirit.
Dr. John MatherJames Webb Space Telescope, Senior Project ScientistNational Aeronautics and Space AdministrationStatement ofDr. John C. MatherChief ScientistScience Mission DirectorateNational Aeronautics and Space Administrationbefore theScience, Technology and Innovation SubcommitteeCommittee on Commerce, Science, and TransportationUnited States SenateMr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear today along with the other recipients of scientific Nobel Prizes, all representing the tremendous scientific achievements that the United States can make to the benefit of the world. I currently serve as the Chief Scientist for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, and am also the Senior Project Scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.My InspirationsI am very proud of the support that our great Nation has given to science over the years, from both private and public sources. Benjamin Franklin was one of the great scientists of his time, and he put his personal credibility on the line to persuade the King of France to support the colonists in their fight for freedom. Thomas Jefferson sent off the Nation’s first scientific expedition to explore the route to the Pacific Ocean. Industrial tycoons and taxpayer support in the 19th and 20th century built libraries and museums and the world’s greatest ground-based telescopes, establishing U.S. leadership in education for the people and in astronomy in particular. When I was eight-years-old, I visited the American Museum of Natural History and the Hayden Planetarium in New York, and I was amazed to imagine that scientists could now hope to find out how the universe began, how volcanoes and earthquakes work, and how life might have come to be possible here on Earth. When the Sputnik was launched, the Nation saw once again that science was essential to our security, and suddenly public schools had science fairs, high school students went off to National Science Foundation-supported college courses over the summer, and NASA was formed to respond to the new challenge. Only a few years later, President Kennedy launched the Apollo program to show that the U.S. as a free nation was also a leader of science and technology. And James Webb, NASA’s second Administrator, persuaded President Kennedy that the Apollo program should include serious scientific work for the good of the U.S., and was not just a foreign policy statement.I was a young graduate student at the University of California in Berkeley when our astronauts reached the moon, and soon after that I was working on measuring the cosmic microwave background radiation for my thesis research. This is the residual heat radiation of the great Big Bang that happened 13.7 billion years ago. I was supported in this work by several Federal agencies, and by a private scholarship from the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation. Only six months after completing my PhD in 1974, I was organizing a proposal for submission to NASA to measure this radiation much better. As it turned out it was an excellent idea, and turned into a successful satellite mission called the Cosmic Background Explorer. 15 years later, in 1989, it was launched, and we immediately found very strong evidence confirming the Big Bang theory. And just 17 years after that, our work won the Nobel Prize in Physics for 2006. I believe that this prize recognizes the unique capability that the U.S. possesses, to put scientists and engineers together to build new tools that have never existed before, to discover what has never been known before.NASA’s Role in Promoting Science, Technology, Engineering, and MathematicsAs a nation, we must encourage our students to pursue opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). NASA is in a unique position to offer groundbreaking opportunities in these areas to engage students and provide long-term career paths. The President’s Vision for Space Exploration calls upon NASA to conduct robotic and human exploration of the Moon, Mars and other destinations, to conduct robotic exploration across the solar system, and to conduct advanced telescope searches for Earth-like planets around other stars. Other Presidential directives and legislative mandates instruct NASA to conduct Earth observation and scientific research and to explore the origin and destiny of the universe.As a critical component of achieving NASA's mission, the Agency's education activities reflect a balanced and diverse portfolio of Elementary and Secondary Education, Higher Education, e-Education, Informal Education, and Minority University Research and Education. Through its unique mission, workforce, and facilities, NASA is leading the way to inspire interest in STEM careers, as few other organizations can. Our efforts have also made significant impacts in engaging underserved and underrepresented communities in STEM.Accordingly, we are preparing the pathway for the next generation with great anticipation. These “explorers and innovators of the new millennium” must fully represent our Nation’s vibrant and rich diversity. Furthermore, we will support our Nation’s universities, colleges and community colleges by providing exciting research and internship opportunities that “light the fire” and “fuel the passion” for a new culture of learning and achievement in STEM.NASA's educational activities are designed to inspire, engage, educate, and employ our Nation's talented youth. As contributors to achieving the Nation's goals, NASA is committed to three primary objectives to help improve the state of STEM education in our country:
- Strengthen NASA and the Nation’s future workforce – NASA will identify and develop the critical skills and capabilities needed to ensure achievement of the Vision for Space Exploration, science, and aeronautics.
- Attract and retain students in STEM disciplines through a progression of educational opportunities for students, teachers, and faculty - NASA will focus on engaging and retaining students in STEM education programs to encourage their pursuit of educational disciplines critical to NASA’s future engineering, scientific, and technical missions.
Within NASA science, a broad spectrum of education activities are sponsored, ranging from kindergarten to postgraduate levels. All NASA’s science missions and programs must have an education and public outreach component. Through a competitive, peer-review selection process, NASA provides funding dedicated to education and public outreach to researchers. NASA also sponsors graduate and post-doctoral fellowship opportunities. In addition, the Agency is looking for new ways to provide increased opportunities for students to gain greater experience developing and launching their own science instruments, either in conjunction with science missions or through its suborbital rocket and balloon programs.NASA is truly a premier Agency in its ability to reach out and inspire students. This is exemplified in part by the fact that NASA alone was responsible for 11 percent of Science News magazine’s top stories--covering all fields of science-- for 2006; this is an all-time record in the 34 years that this metric has been tracked. Important findings resulting from NASA’s science programs ranged from new observations of familiar phenomena like the ozone hole, hurricanes, and rainfall, to the discovery of lakes of organic hydrocarbons on Saturn's planet-sized moon Titan, to the identification of new classes of planetary abodes across our galaxy, to the study of the Sun’s magnetic field, showing it to be more turbulent and dynamic than previously expected.In October 2006, NASA's twin STEREO spacecraft were launched to help researchers construct the first-ever three-dimensional views of the Sun's atmosphere. This new view will improve our abilities in space weather forecasting and greatly advance the ability of scientists to understand solar physics, which, in turn, enables us to better protect humans living and working in space.From across the solar system, NASA’s spacecraft have provided startling new insights into the formation and evolution of the planets. Images from the Mars Global Surveyor have revealed recent deposits in gullies on Mars, evidence that suggests water may have flowed in these locations within the last several years. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which began its primary science phase in November 2006, has not only taken extraordinary high resolution images of Mars at resolutions greater than any other mission to-date, but has taken incredible images of Opportunity and Spirit on the surface, and helped the Phoenix lander find a safe landing area. From its orbit around Saturn, the Cassini spacecraft recently found unexpected evidence of liquid water geysers erupting from near-surface water reservoirs on Saturn's moon Enceladus.Additionally, the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) Explorer mission, which I helped to propose, was able to gather new information about the first second after the universe formed, while the Chandra X-ray Observatory provided new and strong evidence of dark matter, and the Hubble Space Telescope identified 16 candidate planets orbiting other stars near the center of our galaxy.Using instruments flying closer to Earth, NASA investigators flew 29 separate scientific instruments to 60,000 foot altitudes aboard NASA’s WB-57F Canberra aircraft in the Costa Rica Aura Validation Experiment (CAVE). These airborne measurements, coupled with measurements from the orbiting Aura spacecraft, shed light on how ozone-destroying chemicals get into the stratosphere over the tropics and how high-altitude clouds affect the flow of water vapor – a powerful greenhouse gas – in this critical region of the atmosphere. This is fundamental basic work on the physical and chemical processes of the atmosphere.Examples of important successes in our data analysis programs are also diverse. Astronomers combining data from the Hubble Space Telescope with data from ground-based and other space-based telescopes have created the first three-dimensional map of the large-scale distribution of dark matter in the universe. NASA researchers also found organic materials that formed in the most distant regions of the early solar system preserved in a unique meteorite that fell over Canada in 2000. And, using a network of small automated telescopes, astronomers have discovered a planet orbiting in a binary star system, showing that planet formation very likely occurs in most star systems. In our home solar system, scientists predicted that the next solar activity cycle will be 30-50 percent stronger than the previous one and up to a year late. Accurately predicting the sun's cycles will help plan for the effects of solar storms and help protect future astronauts. And a breakthrough "solar climate" forecast was made with a combination of computer simulation and groundbreaking observations of the solar interior from space using the NASA/ESA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO).As these and other results about our world and the universe pour in, NASA also continues to develop and launch our next generation of missions, and to support a vigorous scientific community via research and data analysis funding. In total, NASA currently is developing or flying a total of 93 space and Earth science missions--far more than all of the other space agencies of the world combined. The Agency also supports over 3,000 separate research investigations in its science Research and Analysis programs, spending a total of approximately $600 million annually on scientific data analysis, modeling, and theory across the four disciplines of Earth and space science. Undergraduate and graduate students are active participants in these efforts.ConclusionWe must encourage every segment of our population -- girls and boys alike -- from every walk of life, of every color and creed, to reach out and prepare for the opportunities of the 21st century. Building a pipeline of science and engineering talent to serve in the coming decades as we implement the Vision for Space Exploration to continue America's pre-eminence in space and aeronautics research and development can and must be done. NASA’s mission is one of dreams, vision and exploration – characteristics that are ingrained in the American spirit and the underpinning of innovation and economic competitiveness. We intend to continue turning heads across the world by developing space missions and supporting scientific research that rewrites textbooks in all of our science disciplines, thus inspiring the next generation of students.Again, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I would be pleased to respond to any questions you or the other Members of the Subcommittee may have.
- Engage Americans in NASA’s mission – NASA will build strategic partnerships and linkages between STEM formal and informal education providers. Through hands-on, interactive, educational activities, NASA will engage students, educators, families, and the general public to increase America’s science and technology literacy.
Dr. Craig MelloBlais University Chair in Molecular MedicineUniversity of Massachusetts Medical SchoolTESTIMONY OF CRAIG C. MELLO, PhD2006 NOBEL LAUREATE IN PHYSIOLOGY or MEDICINEfor the DISCOVERY of RNA INTERFERENCEHOWARD HUGHES MEDICAL INSTITUTE INVESTIGATOR andthe BLAIS UNIVERSITY CHAIR in MOLECULAR MEDICINEUNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS MEDICAL SCHOOLBEFORE THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON COMMERCE, SCIENCE AND TRANSPORTATIONONRNA INTERFERENCEMAY 2, 2007Good afternoon. Thank you, Congressman McGovern, for that kind introduction.Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, it is a privilege to have the opportunity to testify before you this afternoon.In a small lab at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and a small lab at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, with support from the NIH and other private sources, Andy Fire and I made a series of observations that have sparked a revolution in our understanding of how the genetic information that makes us human is stored and expressed inside our cells. Today, as we speak, thousands of scientists in labs all over the world are building on these discoveries to understand and to develop treatments for human disease, to shed further light on the basic functioning of cells, and to study and modify plants, animals and microbes important in agriculture, biofuels and other applications essential to meeting the many needs of our civilization.Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, we as a nation, indeed we humans as a species, are dangerously out of equilibrium with our environment. Pressures from over-population and lack of quality medical care in third-world countries (and even here in the US) are leading to millions of unnecessary deaths each year, deaths from diseases we know how to treat, and these medically underserved populations are incubating new, potentially devastating pathogens. Alternative fuels and better crops must be developed to support populations that have already reached sizes that challenge the very productive capacity of the planet. In short, we need a call to arms, a call to fund science broadly in this country so that our nation can face these challenges and can continue to lead the world toward a brighter future.The discovery of gene silencing by double-stranded RNA—“RNA interference,” or “RNAi,” for which Andy and I were awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine—was not something that anyone was looking for. We knew, based on some early and unexpected laboratory observations, that there was something puzzling going on, and we grew more excited over time by what we were seeing as we tried to understand. RNA interference went from being a puzzle, to being understood well enough for us to publish a paper in the prestigious journal Nature in 1998, to being applied as a tool for treating human disease, to being recognized with the Nobel Prize, in just eight years. The research and the discovery were all the more exciting to us because it was all so unexpected.This could happen only because we are in an era unprecedented for the potential for scientific discovery. The investments in science made in the late 1990s and the first years of this century opened vast opportunities for science and scientists: universities built research labs and trained and hired new young scientists—like myself and Andy—who in turn made new contributions that other scientists learned from and expanded upon. The investments in facilities and training and the tools of research were the investments that led to the sequencing of the human genome—the mandatory first step in realizing the dream of interfering with disease at the genetic level. RNAi has tremendous promise for building on the work of the Human Genome Project, but only if further research is funded and allowed to continue. Importantly, information, the universal currency of science, now flows effortlessly and almost instantly around the globe. Consequently, the pace of discovery is picking up worldwide, increasing the opportunities for discovery but also increasing the competition for US laboratories. If we do not increase the US investment to keep pace with these opportunities, then we will see future multibillion dollar technologies like RNAi discovered and developed abroad. If we don’t act now to increase science funding, other countries will capitalize on the investments we, the American people, have made in funding science over the past decades.At the University of Massachusetts, we have established an RNAi Therapeutics Center to further capitalize on this momentum and our own particular expertise in the field of RNAi-based gene silencing. The vision for this Center emphasizes facilitating and promoting clinical and translational research and ultimately developing the next generation of powerful drugs to treat a broad range of diseases including cancers, Alzheimer’s, diabetes heart disease, and many other areas in which my renowned UMass colleagues have already dedicated years of work.At UMass, there is a strong belief that science, and research, do truly matter, for a much larger reason than prizes or prestige: science matters because no one knows from where, or how, or based on what unpredictable series of events, the next breakthrough might come, and there’s never been a moment in human history with more opportunity or greater need for advances in the life sciences than right now. This isn’t science for the sake of science, but science for the sake of medical advances and lives to be saved.This is just the beginning! The confluence of the energetic students and innovative young scientists trained in the last two decades, with the investment in facilities and resources, combined with the discoveries of the past few years, all flow together to create a perfect moment of opportunity. But just at the time when we should be investing in science at an unprecedented level, we are not. Just at the moment when we should be capitalizing on the investments of the past decade, funding for basic research is in decline. If Andy and I had been faced with today’s funding climate 10 years ago when we applied for support for the work that led to the discovery of RNAi, I don’t think we would have received that support. What other discoveries—what work like RNAi, what research that will advance it in ways we can’t even imagine—will be missed, because we stepped back from the opportunity?Thank you. I will be happy to take your questions.
Dr. George SmootAstrophysics GroupLawrence Berkeley National LaboratoryHearing of the Commerce CommitteeSubcommittee on Science, Technology and InnovationUnited States SenateWednesday, May 2, 2007Testimony of Professor George SmootCo-Winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in PhysicsSenior Scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National LaboratoryProfessor of Physics at the University of California BerkeleyChairman Kerry, Ranking Member Ensign, and distinguished Members of the Committee. Thank you for holding this important hearing and for recognizing the importance of science and scientific achievement to America’s health and vitality. It is my honor and pleasure to participate in this inquiry into the critical role that science plays in the life of our nation and the world.My name is George Smoot and I am a Senior Scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a Professor of Physics at the University of California Berkeley. I am perhaps unique in having received roughly comparable and vital support from the Nation’s three primary physical science agencies: DOE, NASA and NSF. As a scientist at Berkeley Lab and a professor at UC Berkeley, I benefit from the great advantages provided by a world-class national laboratory and one of the world’s great research universities. Both play critical roles in promoting America’s and the world’s scientific advancement through internationally recognized research, rigorous education of future scientists, and unique scientific tools and resources. Both have also played critical roles in my career as an astrophysicist, and in my work that led to the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics, which I shared with my distinguished colleague and fellow witness here today, John Mather.I was awarded the Nobel Prize for my role in discovering experimental evidence for the “Big Bang,” the primeval explosion that began the universe. This evidence was a map of the infant universe that revealed a pattern of miniscule temperature variations -- "hot" and "cold" regions with temperature differences of a hundred-thousandth of a degree. These temperature variations, created when the universe was smaller than the smallest dot on a TV screen, are thought to be the primordial “seeds” that grew into the universe of galaxies and galaxy clusters we see today. The “map” of the universe that we created was produced in 1992 from data gathered by NASA's Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite.It was exciting work. It was an exciting time. It was a time that ushered in what some call the Golden Age of Cosmology.Since our COBE results, more amazing discoveries have been made. We continue to make maps of the universe with increasing accuracy, revealing more than we ever imagined. We now know that there is something that makes up roughly three quarters of our universe about which we have no clue as to what it is. We call it Dark Energy for lack of a better name, and it is driving the universe to expand at an accelerating speed, contrary to the expected force of gravity slowing the expansion down and ultimately pulling the universe back in on itself.New maps also reveal the existence of Dark Matter. Although it is estimated to make up a fifth of the universe, we also don’t know what it is. Perhaps this unknown matter will someday be viewed through particle physics experiments, or be revealed through even more accurate maps of the universe. What we are sure of is that there will be new discoveries that continue to surprise us, yet will lead us closer to a fuller understanding of the universe and the properties of matter and energy and space and time.The discoveries that John and I made, as well as those made by others, are not the result of singular endeavors. They rest on the shoulders of many individuals and are made possible by funding from more than one federal agency. It certainly took a large group of committed scientists, theorists, technicians, and engineers to uncover the secrets of the infant universe.. And, it took significant federal funding.America’s innovation stems from the creativity that institutions like Berkeley Lab, UC Berkeley, U Mass, Stanford and Goddard Space Flight Center encourage and nurture in their students, researchers and professors. It stems from the intellectual freedom that only inquiry at the most basic and theoretical level of science provides. It stems from the commitment of federal investment in the education of our children, the research of our investigators, and the development and maintenance of our scientific infrastructure. Science is an organic enterprise and does not exist in a vacuum. Science flows from its environment and is nurtured by steady funding and new young educated minds. If adequately supported these ingredients incubate and grow. They lay the foundation, the seeds, for the next generation of discoveries and innovations.My early work as a post-doctoral physicist at Berkeley Lab was funded through the United States Department of Energy’s Office of Science. I had the very great fortune of working with legendary scientists. Nobelists like Luis Alvarez encouraged me to “think big” and then gave me the space and freedom to do so. It was the funding from DOE that provided the foundation that allowed my work to progress. It enabled me to build my expertise and to organize the necessary team to tackle the hardest questions.One point that I hope to leave with you today is that the U.S. Department of Energy is the major funder of the physical sciences in the United States. What does that mean? It means that DOE is the largest investor in the development and maintenance of our nation’s scientific resources, both human and infrastructure, in the research fields of chemistry, astronomy, all forms of physics, material sciences, and more. From its national scientific user facilities, such as synchrotron light sources, electron microscopes and particle accelerators, to programmatic research funding at its national labs and at research universities, DOE is supporting the underpinnings of American innovation.The Department of Energy has also played a unique and critical role in training America's scientists and engineers for more than 50 years. I am an example of this support, as are many scientists of my generation. These scientists and engineers have made major contributions to the United State’s economic and scientific pre-eminence. The nation’s grand challenges, such as our current and future energy and environmental needs, will only be solved through scientific and technological innovation developed by a highly skilled workforce. The DOE’s Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists program is a catalyst for the training of the next generation of scientists. Through this program DOE national laboratories provide a wide range of educational opportunities for more than 280,000 educators and students on an annual basis. It is particularly important that we continue to extend and expand such opportunities to our students and, critically, to our teachers of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The entire science education infrastructure from K-12 through undergraduate students, and graduate students to postdoctoral scholars is the pipeline of future scientists and technologists. The educators, mentors and role models are the pumps that bring them along, prepare and excite them for their challenging and rewarding work.However, as I intimated earlier, research and scientific training is underwritten by more than just funding from DOE. In my case, I have been honored to receive funding from the National Science Foundation and, of course, from NASA. Each agency played a crucial role in my development as a scientist and in the development of the programs on which I worked.My group has received substantial funding from the NSF over many years that included support for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars, as well as access to NSF sites and facilities, such as the South Pole station. In fact, NSF funds probably exceeded or matched DOE funding of my work over the years.In the mix of federal support for my research, DOE funding served two incredibly important roles: (1) stability and longer-term risk, and (2) development of novel instrumentation later used on NASA platforms (aircraft, balloons, satellites) and at NSF sites. DOE provided steady and reliable program funding that allowed development of new concepts, instrumentation and ultimately fields. NSF and NASA funding was in general for specific projects or relatively short, and well-defined, research objectives (often prototyped with DOE funds). The NSF could be counted on to be interested in funding specific observations or developing new approaches that were linked to their program disciplines. Like DOE, NSF also liked to involve graduate students and undergraduates in research and often provided modest additional funds for that purpose. This activity helped funnel a number of bright young students on into graduate school and PhD programs.A very critical result of NSF funding was the creation of the Center for Particle Astrophysics. This center revolutionized the approach to the field. Now essentially every major first-rate university has a cosmology center modeled after it. The Center brought together a number of groups and institutions to push forward our understanding of Dark Matter and the accelerating universe, leading to the realization that Dark Energy makes up the majority of the Universe. The vibrancy of the combined programs of science and people, in addition to education and outreach programs, had a profound effect of productivity and creativity. It impressed all who saw it. Because of its success, the NSF has continued and expanded their center programs.This illustrates my second point that I hope you will take to heart and leave here today remembering. America’s scientific leadership and capacity for innovation stem broadly from the federal government’s investment in a rich portfolio of research. Therefore, it is critical that all federal funding of research be increased.The scientific community is very pleased to see both the Administration’s and the Congress’ commitment to doubling the budgets of the NSF, the DOE Office of Science and of NIST. However, NASA’s science budget, the NIH and DOD’s scientific programs play important roles as well and should not be overlooked. Passage last week of Senate Bill 761, the America COMPETES Act, was a vital development and your work on this milestone legislation is recognized by all of us interested in American science. However, more must be done to raise the level of research funding significantly higher, and for all federal research agencies.The third and final point that I want to leave you with, is that Congress and the Administration must stay vigilant in your commitment to long term, basic science that has no obvious immediate commercial application. Without this foundational research the really big, transformational discoveries and leaps in understanding will not occur. Basic science is the beginning of the innovation pipeline that leads to revolutionary technologies.Take the prospects for advancements in energy research. Although progress in the effectiveness and cost efficiency of existing technologies, such as current methods of ethanol production and silicon-based photovoltaic cells, will happen, many believe that their learning curves are flattening out and that improvements will not get us to a place where significant inroads are made in carbon emission reductions or energy independence.However, some of the most promising avenues for developing new, clean and revolutionary energy technologies are solutions rooted in fundamental basic science. For example, the DOE Office of Science is funding new bioenergy research centers that will investigate all of the scientific aspects of developing new cleaner fuels from biomass. We have known for a long time that we could produce liquid fuel from biomass; the problem has been that it is prohibitively expensive – we had to put the biomass in acid baths to free up the chemicals and then treat the resulting liquid, consuming a lot of energy while doing it. The research challenge is to find, and perhaps design and synthesize, new biological organisms and enzymes that will make the conversion process cheap enough to compete against the cost of gasoline. The new tools developed with the support of the Office of Science in genomics, computer modeling and synthetic biology put this within our reach, but much more work needs to be done.In another example, the Office of Science is funding advanced research in nanotechnologies which offer the best hope for developing new energy storage systems that will be critical for making solar and wind economically attractive alternatives. Why is new nanotechnology so important for the future growth of solar and wind energy? These resources are available only while the sun shines or the wind blows, and that may be at times when they are not needed. Inexpensive ways to store that energy would make them useful resources all of the time. And why is nanotechnology so important to developing new energy storage systems? Our future success in energy storage depends on being able to build batteries that will be able to hold much higher charges, and be discharged much more rapidly, than present ones do; the way to achieve these advances is through advanced nanotechnology research – again, fundamental basic science.In conclusion, I applaud the renewed focus that the Senate, the House and the Administration have placed on the need to maintain America’s international competitiveness through nurturing innovation. Innovation, like science, is organic. No one knows where the next big “breakthrough” will occur and where it will lead us. No one can guess who will be the next young “Einstein” or “Edison” that takes the world in new directions. Therefore, it is critical that every child, every student, every researcher and every creative idea have the potential to blossom. You, as the stewards of our government, have the power of the purse and the legislative pen that can ensure America continues to invest in a broad portfolio of scientific endeavors, more aggressively invests in math and science education, provides the updated scientific infrastructure needed for 21st Century science, and encourages a research environment that embraces risks and awards creativity.In times of crisis the nation mobilizes its science enterprise. Whether in response to hostile outside threats, challenges to our preeminence, such as in the case of Sputnik, or as with today’s energy-based climate and economic security concerns, the nation turns to scientific and technological solutions. For future crises it is critical that the country keep a broad, vital and strong science infrastructure.Even without the grand challenges to address, science impacts everyday life and makes our world a better place. It is clear to all that the economic prosperity, personal health, and world leadership of the country and its population rests upon the products of basic scientific research and the vitality of our science enterprise. The country's place in the world will directly reflect the level of its science. Any country that wishes to be a world leader must be a world leader in science.Thank you, again, for the opportunity to provide testimony on this important topic.