Three Presidential Science and Technology Advisors opened the NNI Innovation Summit in National Harbor, Maryland, today. The Summit was a kind of 10th birthday party for the National Nanotechnology Initiative. I was surprised at how much of this opening discussion focused on education.
John Holdren, Director of President Obama's Office of Science and Technology Policy, opened the Summit with a talk about the high priority that nanotechnology research has within the Obama adminstration. They see nano research as playing a vital role in technology development and future jobs creation. He said that while the government will continue to support a wide range of research areas, three areas of focus have been identified as NNI signature initiatives: nanoelectronics, sustaintable nanomanufacturing, and nano for solar energy collection and conversion. Holdren also said that the adminstration is emphasizing responsible development. John Marburger, who had Holdren’s jobs during the Bush adminstration, added that attention needs to be given to future workforce needs. Neil Lane, who had the same positions in the Clinton adminstration, noted the need for “civic scientists.” What he means by “civic scientist’ is someone who has made his mark in science and technology and then goes on to put time and energy into communicating with the public and government and civic leaders. They need to help excite young people – overall we don’t interest enough young people into SMET careers, said Lane. We need to help parents become aware of SMET careers for their children. We need to communicate the story told in the NRC report “Rising above the Gathering Storm." (The full report and a free executive summary are available at www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11463.) And when the time is right scientists should think of public service. We need to make sure that as many people as possible get why SMET are crucial, said Neil. Thomas Kalil, also from the Office of Science and Technology Policy, pointed out that scientists and engineers need to be trained to overcome the “curse of expertise,” in order to be able to communicate with the public. I was struck that much of what these Presidential advisors talked about related directly to the work of the NISE Net. When asked about funding and the federal budget, Holdren said that science, technology, and innovation are the engines of economic growth and recovery and President Obama gets that.