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Photo of Cora Marrett

Dr. Cora Marrett
Acting Deputy Director
National Science Foundation

"Igniting Our Imagination"

NSF Responds to the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act:
National Science Board

December 10, 2009

See also slide presentation.

[Slide 1: Title Slide]

  • Good morning, everyone. Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you about the National Science Foundation's response to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

  • Sometimes emergencies create a path to new opportunities. This is the case for the Recovery Act and NSF's continuing role in advancing and enlightening new futures.

  • You have heard the "facts and figures" surrounding NSF and the ARRA. I intend to speak about the promise of this extraordinary investment—how it can "ignite our imagination" and provide the nation with an enduring legacy of discovery and learning.

ARRA provides short term relief

  • NSF's $3 billion dollar share in ARRA (about 4 tenths of one percent of total stimulus funding)1 has provided short-term "relief" to the academic science and engineering community during very difficult economic times—curtailing job losses, providing significant support for undergraduate and graduate students, and paving the way for new discoveries.

[Slide 2: NSF: Relief and Reinvestment]

  • Academic positions for newly minted scholars are becoming as "scarce as hen's teeth," as university departments cancel more and more searches for new faculty. For James Walters and 25 other new investigators in the life sciences, Recovery Act funds came to the rescue through competitive, Postdoctoral Fellowships. Recovery money enabled BIO to nearly double the number of Fellows in 2009. The Office of International Science and Education funded an additional 54 Postdoctoral Fellowships with Recovery Act funds.

  • Dr. Walters will study the evolution of genes butterflies, important pollinators. He will do so as a Fellow at Cambridge and Stanford Universities.

  • Each grant has broadening ripples. At the Allen Telescope Array in Hat Creek, California, those ripples touch the technical staff. UC-Berkeley assistant professor of astronomy Geoffrey Bower's $500,000-dollar research grant will help him retain key technical staff in what he characterizes as "an economically depressed region of the state."2

  • We can be sure that similar stories have unfolded in many colleges and universities, in every state. The benefits of the Recovery Act are far-reaching. In addition to jobs created for students, post-docs, faculty and technicians, there is the prospect of speeding the discoveries that can boost U.S. innovation and competitiveness. And there is the new knowledge that can help us resolve pressing dilemmas in sustainable and clean energy, climate change, health, and security.

  • The Recovery Act investment, with its tacit recognition of the value of new knowledge, has ignited our imagination and lifted our spirits. It has given us renewed pride in what we contribute to realizing America's aspirations.

[Slide 3: Cornell Poster]

  • This poster from Cornell is a lighthearted interpretation of this buoyant mood. (By the way, every research project depicted here is supported by NSF.)

NSF Approach to ARRA

  • As you know, NSF responded to both the short- and long-term goals of the Recovery Act. Our policy reflected two overarching goals: first, to maintain the level of excellence and promise characteristic of NSF awards, and second, to act expeditiously and responsibly to get the money to those who could put it to work for the nation.

  • For many years, the funding rate had been declining, even as the number of high quality proposals accelerated. We decided to fund high quality proposals that could not be funded within our regular budget—a strategy that satisfied both goals.

  • Our Recovery portfolio demonstrates how successful this strategy has been. Some examples can provide only a suggestion of the depth and breadth of the research and education made possible.

Highlights of NSF ARRA Investments

  • A major aim of these investments is to revitalize and reenergize U.S. leadership in fundamental research, creating new knowledge to advance innovation and address pressing national needs. The Recovery Act is a shot in the arm, speeding up research that could address the nation’s most difficult challenges.

[Slide 4: EFRI collage]

  • One of these challenges is energy. The ability to produce renewable energy for transportation fuels and electricity will have great impact on energy independence, national security, the environment, and jobs for America. The Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation program funded seven projects that could remove fundamental roadblocks to the efficient development of hydrocarbons from biomass.

[Slide 5: West Antarctic ice sheet]

  • Climate change is another national—indeed, global—problem. In climate science, three interrelated projects will study the subglacial environments of two West Antarctic ice streams. This interdisciplinary research will help improve ice sheet models necessary to address uncertainties about future global ocean circulation and sea level rise. In addition, the subglacial environment may harbor a unique ecological niche that contributes significantly to biogeochemical cycling.

[Slide 6: Expeditions in Computing]

  • One area that has never ceased producing returns to the American public is information technology. NSF continues to nourish fundamental, cutting edge discovery in computer, information and communications science and engineering—work that will one day translate into innovative technologies.

  • Recovery funds helped bring that day a little bit closer for three major projects in NSF's cutting-edge and highly competitive Expeditions in Computing program. One Expedition, conceived by Jason Cong at UCLA, will explore "customized computing," which he hopes will revolutionize the role of medical imaging and modeling in healthcare. Cong and his colleagues believe customized computing has the potential to deliver order-of-magnitude improvements in energy efficiency, development effort, time-to-solution, cost, and overall productivity by crafting computing tools tailored to specific applications and needs.

[Slide 7: EPSCoR]

  • A comprehensive, inclusive cyberinfrastructure ranks as a top priority in today's highly interdisciplinary and interconnected research environment. Cyberinfrastructure can accelerate discovery, and help build research competitiveness—the goal of the NSF Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).

  • NSF invested $30 million in Recovery Act funds to develop innovation-enabling cyberinfrastructure at institutions in 12 EPSCoR states. Five collaborative projects will strengthen discovery and learning and support the economic development in these EPSCoR states.


[Slide 8: CAREER]

  • One of the fundamental tenets of NSF has long been the integration of research and education. The tenet is the hallmark of the CAREER program.

  • A particular emphasis of NSF Recovery Act investments is support for CAREER and first time grantees. The CAREER program places a strong emphasis on promising junior researchers who are committed to being both teachers and scholars.

  • You may be familiar with the story, told by Jeff Mervis in Science magazine, about Hilairy Hartnett, a geochemist at Arizona State University. Dr. Hartnett's case was like that of many other researchers caught by a tight budget situation at NSF. Her CAREER proposal to explore the fate of organic carbon in the Colorado River system was highly rated, but unfunded.

  • The Recovery Act saved the day. Not only will she advance her important research, she will also realize her plan for an educational program of field studies for undergraduates. The CAREER awards will directly affect the quality of undergraduate education in many universities.

  • Another CAREER grantee, Young-Hui Chang, at Georgia Tech is studying how locomotion in normal, healthy people adapts to different terrains, minor injuries, and chronic pathologies. He plans to integrate the research into a new and unique research-based Master of Science Program in Prosthetics and Orthotics.

[Slide 9: Graduate Research Fellowship Program]

  • I mentioned to you earlier the impact of Recovery Act investments on postdoctoral scholars. We simply can't afford to allow promising young researchers to interrupt or abandon their careers.

  • The same is true for graduate students, at the very beginning of their journey into discovery. These students have already navigated serious hurdles and proven their substantial talent. To lose them would be to lose a piece of the future and America's ability to lead in science and technology. NSF supported 391 new Graduate Research Fellowships with Recovery Act funds. This is clearly one of our most significant investments.

[Slide 10: MREFC Projects: ARRV, OOI, ATST]

  • Building the tools and infrastructure needed for frontier discovery has always been a critical strategic goal for NSF.

  • You are already familiar with the three large facilities projects funded by the Recovery Act, so I don't need to emphasize how important these world-class tools are to the community. The Alaska Regional Research Vessel was the first NSF grant awarded with Recovery Act funds. It will help us decipher the rapid environmental change now taking place in the Arctic Region.

  • Through the ARRA, the Ocean Observatories Initiative received its first, significant tranche of construction funds. The observatories will give us a new vista on climate change, ecosystem health, ocean acidification and carbon cycling.

  • The Advanced Technology Solar Telescope will be funded in 2010 with ARRA funding.

  • These examples – from the large facilities projects through the awards to individual investigators -- barely skim the surface. They all hold exceptional promise of producing new knowledge and training a new generation of savvy researchers, teachers, and technicians. So do the nearly 4,700 other awards in this portfolio. Each one is an opportunity saved, not lost. None would be underway today without the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

[Slide 11: Igniting Our Imagination]

Igniting our Imagination

  • When President Barack Obama signed the Recovery Act he asserted: "This investment will ignite our imagination once more, spurring new discoveries and breakthroughs that will make our economy stronger, our nation more secure and our planet safer for our children."

  • There are signs of strong support for science and engineering within the wider public. A recent poll conducted by Research!America found that 93 percent of the respondents think that the U.S, should lead in scientific discoveries.

  • The National Science Foundation is proud to participate in the fostering of discoveries and innovations of which the public dreams.

  • We can participate, thanks to strong support we have received from the Administration, Congress, and the scientific and engineering communities.

  • At a recent press conference to announce the new ScienceWorksForUS Web site, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi spoke of the Recovery Act not as the end, but as "the beginning of a sustained commitment to science." Congressman Bart Gordon, Chairman of the House Science Committee confirmed vigorously his continuing support for the doubling of the NSF budget.

  • From our perspective at NSF, this trust in the science and engineering community to excel and lead in research and education is richly deserved. America's colleges and universities—their faculty and students—will weather the current storm and continue to develop the new knowledge and talent we need to assure a prosperous and safe future.

  • I can't conclude without mentioning the dedication of NSF staff. Our colleagues showed great professionalism and good spirit in handling a workload that doubled almost overnight. They unquestionably made the investments that emerge from and spark still more imaginativeness.

  • And to all of you on the National Science Board, thank you for your support and encouragement. Your well-respected voice has turned skeptics into believers. We need your continuing support in the months ahead.

  • We would be delighted to hear your stories that amplify the value of the Recovery Act.


1. 3 billion/787 billion = .0038 (Return to speech)

2. (Return to speech)



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