National Academies convocation champions nanotech, science education

May 1, 2008 — The National Academies — advisers to the nation on science, engineering and medicine — held a national convocation this week (April 29) in Washington, D.C. that focused in part on nanotechnology. In his speech to the participants, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez emphasized the importance of basic research to nanotechnology innovation and application. “NIST (the National Institute of Standards and Technology) has created the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology. Nanotechnology is just one area where the basic research funded by ACI [America Competes Initiative] has real world impacts,” noted Gutierrez. “Advances in manipulating matter on the tiniest of scales is spurring business creation around the world, showing tremendous potential for new health benefits, economic growth and productivity.”

Called “Rising Above the Gathering Storm Two Years Later: Accelerating Progress toward a Brighter Economic Future,” the convocation was organized by the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academies with support from the National Math and Science Initiative.

The event aimed to take stock of what has occurred since the fall of 2005, when the National Academies released the report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future.

Major accomplishments since then include the passage of the bipartisan America Competes Act, which was signed by the President last August, as well as initiatives by several states and by the private sector. In addition, the convocation worked to strengthen engagement among the various stakeholders seeking to renew American innovation and explore how progress can be sustained and accelerated.

But work remains to be done — in terms of intellectual property protection, immigration, free trade, and commitment to science education. “The ‘Gathering Storm’ report articulated ways in which we must address our nation’s shortages of talented educators and scientists,” he said — and then urged Congress to act. “Maintaining America’s technology leadership requires a commitment to basic science . . . The Administration has also set a goal to increase the number of scientists and engineers at NIST by 1,500, but this goal will only be met if the President’s proposal to double funding for basic research is implemented.”

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