Michael A. McRobbie, John Thrasher: Time is now to boldly invest in America’s scientific enterprise

National-High-Magnetic-Field-Laboratory
The directorate would help bridge the gap between the discoveries taking place at the National MagLab and the marketplace.

In his landmark 1945 report “Science: The Endless Frontier,” Vannevar Bush, a legendary American engineer and inventor, remarked upon the importance of scientific research — specifically penicillin and radar — in helping with the war effort.

At such a pivotal moment in history, Bush clearly saw the vital link between scientific research and economic progress.

We are at another such pivotal moment in history where continuing American competitiveness is at stake. New bipartisan legislation would dramatically impact America’s ability to ensure more rapid economic growth from our scientific advances.

The “Endless Frontier Act,” introduced by U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, and Republican Todd Young from Indiana, and Reps. Ro Khanna, a California Democrat, and Mike Gallagher, a Republican from Wisconsin, would authorize $110 billion in federal investment in scientific programs and emerging technologies critical to our economic competitiveness and national security.

The Endless Frontier Act would also expand the National Science Foundation through a new “directorate” within the organization to advance research and development in several key technological fields, including artificial intelligence, semiconductors, quantum computing, advanced communications, biotechnology and advanced energy sources.

Such dramatic new investment in research, education and training, entrepreneurship, and technology transfer promises to spread the bounty of big tech beyond Silicon Valley to the other key regions of the U.S. where skilled workforces and first-rate research institutions like Florida State University and Indiana University are poised to build the industries of the future.

Headquartered at Florida State University, the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory has been NSF-funded since 1990. It has hosted tens of thousands of scientists from across the nation who are at the forefront of advancements in advanced materials science and energy research — two fields that are increasingly important to address pressing national needs. This lab has had a tremendous footprint when it comes to jobs.

A recent analysis put the lab’s 2020 economic impact at $709 million. Over the next 20 years, it is projected to generate a $14.2 billion economic output.

A new technology directorate at the NSF would boost those numbers even higher.

The creation of the directorate would help bridge the gap between the discoveries taking place at the National MagLab and the marketplace.

For example, it could accelerate the development of quantum computing, medical technology such as next-generation MRI machines, and rare earth magnet alternatives and stronger steels needed to enhance our nation’s infrastructure.

Since 2003, the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research, Indiana University’s flagship center for cybersecurity, has provided Indiana and the nation with leadership in applied cybersecurity technology, education and policy.

Through its applied research, which has been funded by the NSF, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Energy and other organizations, the center continues to identify and address the most complex cybersecurity problems facing public and private communities. It also serves as a driver of economic development and job growth.

Over its lifetime, the center has had a nearly $94 million impact on the south-central Indiana region, while engaging in 90 research projects, many of which are helping to enable trustworthy research, protect important data and safeguard critical U.S. systems from increasing cyberattacks.

The Endless Frontier Act will further the impressive impact these and other centers across our country are having, while reinvigorating American research and development more broadly. It also will help build the U.S. workforce of the future by making available new scholarships, fellowships and other support for students pursuing careers in the key technology fields that our nation expects to dominate.

As the Endless Frontier Act moves through the legislative process, we welcome — and strongly urge legislators to support — this major and visionary investment in our nation’s scientific infrastructure.

Our nation’s leaders understood many decades ago just how much America stood to gain by supporting its research enterprise. We would be wise to follow their example and renew our faith in the power and potential of science and innovation.

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Michael A. McRobbie is president of Indiana University. John Thrasher is president of Florida State University.

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