Neal F. Lane
Assistant to the President for
Science and Technology
Awards Ceremony for
The Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers
Wednesday, April 12, 2000
Room 450 OEOB
When I read about your individual and collective accomplishments, it took me back to my days as a young scientist. (Way back!) The pressures you deal with today considerably greater. I know how hard it has become to juggle the demands of research, teaching, administration, and family life. But even so, this is a great time to be a scientist or engineer! Hardly a week goes by without some new research discovery heralded on the front page, sometimes correctly. From unraveling the genomes of complex organisms to understanding the functions of the brain to making breath-taking discoveries in space—we live in very exciting times. I can tell you -- it makes my job very exciting as well.
I especially want to extend a warm welcome to your families, friends,
and mentors, whom I know you credit for much of your accomplishment and,
who came to share this proud moment with you. The White House, indeed,
the entire Federal government, join them in taking enormous pride in your
accomplishments. We all know that you have a key role to play in
sustaining the U.S. scientific and technological enterprise.
Thanks to farsighted, bipartisan investments in R&D, today's U.S. S&T enterprise is without peer, whether measured in terms of discoveries, citations, awards and prizes, advanced education or contributions to technological innovation. And we need to remind ourselves that it has been due to those past investments in science and technology that have produced today's stunning economy which is providing so much opportunity to so many in America. We need to be sure we continue to make these investments.
But, we're here to talk about PECASE and all of you.
President Clinton established the Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) for three very specific reasons:
The President wanted to recognize and support young professionals
beginning their independent research careers across the full spectrum of
the scientific and engineering disciplines. Collectively, you represent
an impressive range of expertise. We have experts here on everything
from photon harvesting polymers, to El Nino, to cognition and learning,
to the inner most workings of the cell, and much more.
Additionally, the President wanted to emphasize that outstanding scientists and engineers are making vital contributions to virtually every area of human need. Almost every Federal agency engaged in research and development is involved in these awards, including the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, and Veterans Affairs, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the National Science Foundation. These Federal departments and agencies are helping meet the President's overarching goal of producing the finest scientists and engineers for the 21st century. We have long had a tradition of scientific and engineering excellence in this country. For centuries, we've seen it at our scientific meetings, and in our research papers, Nobel prizes and other acclaims, and in our innovative products. Today, it is best demonstrated by the enthusiasm you have in your own work and that of your students. We are counting on you to use your outstanding talents to keep this tradition of excellence and innovation thriving in America.
Finally, the President wanted to underscore the crucial and complementary role that universities and other academic institutions play in partnership with the Federal government. Universities are where education and research inextricably link, where we are literally making the future by creating intellectual and human capital. The Administration is strongly committed to the American system of higher education, particularly to forging closer ties between the Federal government and universities. Last year, the President released a report that identified many of the issues that over the years have put some stress on that partnership. Since the release of that report, the White House and other Federal agencies have been engaged in a yearlong public discussion on how to strengthen the bonds. Based on the remarkable productivity of our past 100 years of investment in universities, we must continue to ensure that this link between academic research institutions and the Federal enterprise remains strong, vibrant, and mutually beneficial.
Additionally, you need to remember that as important as your work is—there is another side to your career you need to focus on. I place a great premium on the notion of the "civic scientist." And for the past six years, I have been speaking about this somewhat idealized individual who steps beyond the campus, laboratory, or Federal agency to engage in active dialogue with non-scientists--discussing the issues critical to our communities and the Nation's citizens while, at the same time, addressing the seminal scientific questions of the day.
The President noted recently at Cal Tech that far too many of our citizens think science is something that is done behind closed doors by men and women in white labs coats that somehow leads to satellite TV and Dolly the sheep. I think it is our responsibility to open up the world of science and technology to more of our fellow citizens, to help them understand the great questions science, mathematics, and engineering, and seeking to answer, and to help them see how those answers will actually benefit their lives and their children's lives in profoundly important and positive ways. And, where there are challenging ethical, religions, legal and social questions about what we are doing, we must keep in mind that our newest technologies must always incorporate our oldest values.
But while we scientists and engineers strive to better engage the public here at home, it is no less important that we become more actively involved in the global community. We are citizens not just of the United States, but of the world. Many of the challenges we face -- from energy utilization to emerging infectious diseases -- and many of the opportunities within our reach -- from economic stability to preservation of species -- are both domestic and global in scope and consequence.
The United States and the other nations of the world are increasingly dependent on the global exchange of ideas and technologies to maintain vibrant national science and technology enterprises. To understand the needs of the American people as well as humankind worldwide, and to demonstrate how new knowledge can help meet those needs, we must concern ourselves with international issues as well as national issues.
So, science and technology, just can't be viewed as a domestic undertaking; this is an international endeavor. The fundamental workings of nature - the function of a gene, the quantum behavior of matter and energy, the chemistry of the atmosphere - respect no national boundaries. Domestically, scientific lines of communication between local communities and across state boundaries have created partnerships for strengthening our national innovation system and for utilizing new technologies to improve our transportation, communication, and education systems. And internationally, scientific communication lines between countries typically remain open even when almost every other form of contact has collapsed. We saw this during the Cold War in the many links between U.S. scientists and those in the Soviet Union. It is equally important today that research exchanges continue between nations that find themselves in conflict of one form or another. Science is about harmony . . . about collaborative discovery. It can help lay the groundwork for peace, and prosperity.
The President's commitment to fundamental research for the sake of knowledge alone has been amply demonstrated over the past seven years with increased budgets for basic research each year. And his budget request for next year is record breaking. We must learn more about nature, about ourselves (and what we build), about our planet, and about the other forms of life with whom we share this special island in our galaxy. Because of our passion for discovery, we have produced new cures for diseases, new machines to improve productivity, and new ways to protect the environment. These discoveries have improved the quality and richness of our daily lives and have provided a more secure future for our children.
The President believes in recognizing excellence and commitment to knowledge creation. That is why we honor you today. In a few minutes each of you will be individually recognized. I believe all of you will agree with me that the diversity of scientific and engineering investigation represented in this room only underscores the breadth of excellent research that our government sponsors.
You represent the best of this country's developing researchers, and in a very real way, you are the future of science and engineering. It is my great pleasure to congratulate you and to once again thank your families, friends, and your mentors for helping you achieve your goals in making science and engineering research stronger for our nation's future.
Nearly 70 years ago, Albert Einstein said, "Never forget this, in the midst of your diagrams and equations: concern for man himself and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavors." I think Einstein would agree that today, at the dawn of a new millennium, we can envision an era of unparalleled promise and possibility. You have the power to put science, engineering and technology to work in advancing the human condition as never before.
We cannot accurately predict, of course, which areas of science and engineering will yield ground-breaking discoveries, what those inventions will be, how they will impact other scientific disciplines, and, eventually, benefit our daily lives.
Nor can we be certain exactly what advances will be needed to maintain our national security and our strong economy, or clean up our environment and develop a healthier, better educated citizenry.
But what we can ensure -- thanks to your dedication and commitment -- is that our nation will remain at the forefront of scientific capability, thereby enhancing our ability to shape a more prosperous future for ourselves, our children, and future generations while building a better America for the twenty-first century.
Thank you again for your special contributions. Godspeed to you all, and may the best be yet to come!