On March 29, 2012, the National Science Foundation (NSF) conducted a bipartisan congressional briefing sponsored by the Coalition for National Science Funding and hosted by the Congressional Research and Development Caucus and its Co-Chairs Rush Holt (NJ-12) and Judy Biggert (IL-13) and special guests Representatives Daniel Lipinski (IL-3) and Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18).
“For 60 years, NSF has played a central role in innovation by catalyzing the development of fundamental ideas in science and engineering and supporting the people who generate them,” said NSF Director Subra Suresh. “NSF remains the nation’s engine of innovation, the fuel for which is fundamental research. NSF’s mission positions it to stimulate innovative research that connects the science and engineering enterprise with potential economic, societal and educational benefits.”
NSF supports a broad range of fundamental science and engineering research. Through a series of innovation programs, NSF continues to catalyze the transformation of fundamental research efforts into market reality and nurture the commercialization of technology, creating high-quality jobs and economic growth. These NSF programs leverage partnerships with the private sector in order to strengthen the nation’s innovation ecosystem, enhancing America’s global economic competitiveness.
“Let me congratulate the NSF for acknowledging the vitality of science in America. As a former Member of the House Science Committee, I always say that science is the work of the 21st century. We are now in the 21st century,” said Rep. Lee at the briefing.
Rep. Lipinski said, “We need to do the best that we can to leverage the research in this country and translate it into new products, new businesses and new jobs. The NSF has a number of programs to do this: to make research discoveries that create innovations and help spur the economy.”
The briefing highlighted NSF-supported efforts, representing activities at the three primary stages of innovation: (1) Making discoveries through industrially relevant fundamental research, (2) Creating new technology companies, and (3) Moving useful technology into the marketplace.
Basic research is at the core of NSF’s mission, with the agency providing $5.6 billion for fundamental science and engineering to 11,000 of our nation’s colleges and universities. One mechanism NSF supports to enhance basic research in partnership with industry is the Industry-University Cooperative Research Centers (I/UCRC) program. Richard Haber, site director of the Ceramic, Composite, and Optical Materials Center at Rutgers University, highlighted work from the I/UCRC program.
Professor Haber spoke to how I/UCRCs conduct cutting-edge fundamental research relevant to its industry and end-user members. He cited examples of economic benefits through the successes of a New Jersey-based startup company called Solidia Technologies, which produces a new kind of concrete with a negative carbon footprint.
Neil Kane, president of Illinois Partners is an industry mentor for the Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program. This past year, he has been mentoring an I-Corps team led by Professor Yi Lu of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, helping establish a company that will further develop an innovative point-of-care medical diagnostic device. The I-Corps program was very helpful in our developing a winning commercial strategy. Our startup company GlucoSentient’s chances for success are much higher due to the commercial analysis done with the I-Corps curriculum,” said Kane.
Stephen Spoonamore, CEO and Chairman of ABSMaterials, Inc., shared his company’s experiences as a beneficiary of NSF’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.
“The NSF SBIR funding that ABSMaterials has received is allowing innovations in water quality to be validated, fielded and placed into the service of American community needs far faster than otherwise possible,” said Spoonamore.
The SBIR program–begun at NSF in 1982 and a successful model for programs now in 11 federal agencies–provides small businesses with support at the critical early stages of research and development. ABSMaterials emerged as a company ten years after its Chief Science Officer, Paul Edmiston, received his first NSF grant for basic research. Edmiston has since received an additional academic research grant and two SBIR grants to further the work. The company has received five SBIR grants to further the work.
“These speakers’ stories exemplify the value of NSF-funded basic research and the partnerships that facilitate success in American innovation,” said Thomas Peterson, Assistant Director for the Engineering Directorate at NSF. “NSF has developed a strategy–utilizing its long-term experience, existing programs and new initiatives–to increase the likelihood and speed of commercializing discoveries. These discoveries can yield high-value products and processes, new businesses and industries, as well as expand high-quality employment and a more technologically advanced workforce.”
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