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Opening Statement FY 2008 NIST Budget Press Briefing Teleconference

Good afternoon. This is a great day for NIST. The President's 2008 budget request calls for an 11 percent increase in funding for the NIST core (which consists of our research and facilities) over the 2007 request. That is  a 21 percent increase over the funding as specified in the joint resolution passed by the House of Representatives last week and sent on to the Senate. Since we have limited time for this briefing, I'm going to concentrate on how NIST proposes to use these funding increases to produce the maximum possible benefit for the U.S. economy.

The proposed increases are part of the President's American Competitiveness Initiative – a long-term plan to not just maintain – but to further enhance our nation's global economic competitiveness. Under the ACI, funding for NIST's core, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Energy's Office of Science is slated to double by 2016.          

The NIST increases proposed in the budget AND the fact that the House joint resolution provided a $60 million increase in NIST's core – despite a severe budget climate – shows that there is broad recognition of the important role that NIST plays in supporting the innovation that drives our nation's economy and the well being of all Americans.          

NIST's impact on the nation's capacity to innovate and on the ability of U.S. companies to compete in world-wide markets has not always been this widely appreciated. Our heritage as the nation's Bureau of Weights and Measures has perhaps caused some to misunderstand the breadth of NIST's role supporting the economy and U.S. science.  

We do provide the foundational measurements and standards that help ensure you get your money's worth at the deli counter or that helps ensure your electric bill is accurate.  But NIST also serves as a kind of advanced reconnaissance team for new technologies striving to make their way into the marketplace. Our scientists and engineers are world leaders in their fields. They frequently arrive at the "cutting edge" of science before anyone else. And once there – they partner with industry and academia to identify and cross technological "minefields" or climb over barriers that can slow or even halt the progress of new innovations.

A good example of this is nanotechnology. Nanoscale components are already in everything from medical diagnostic devices to tennis balls to sunscreen. Nanotechnology – the ability to build products from the atoms up – promises to redefine 21st century manufacturing just as the assembly line redefined 20th century manufacturing. However – there are definite "minefields" that must be crossed and technical barriers that must be scaled before nanotechnology can reach its full potential.         

The 2007 and 2008 budget requests include a total of $26 million in initiatives for NIST research in nanotechnology. This includes funding for the NIST Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology – a unique partnership among NIST, industry, and universities – that combines a world-class nanofabrication and nanometrology user facility with a strong research program. The Center's emphasis will be on overcoming the technical barriers for nanotechnology development and adoption. For example, products built from nanoscale components require entirely new ways to accurately quantify their properties and determine their sizes, shapes, and chemical composition. And there is an urgent need to improve understanding and measurement of nanomaterials to ensure safe handling and protection against potential health or environmental hazards that may be posed by specific types of these materials.          

NIST has already made substantial contributions on these two fronts for the quintessential nanotech product – the carbon nanotube.  These are unusual arrangements of carbon atoms that looks like chicken wire rolled into tubes. The technology has extraordinary potential. Carbon nanotubes may one day be the critical elements in the strongest of fibers, the fastest of circuits, and the most sensitive of sensors. But first we must learn how to make them consistently in the same sizes and shapes, with reliable properties. NIST is helping U.S. industry and academia nurture nanotube applications by tackling an array of complex measurement problems.         

The unusual properties of carbon nanotubes, however, also have raised questions about possible health and environmental effects. Initial studies of nanotube toxicity have been inconsistent. Recent NIST measurements have shown that typical nanotube samples are far from uniform and often contain large amounts of impurities that arise as a byproduct of the manufacturing process.          

So – are the possible adverse effects of nanotube samples caused by the nanotubes themselves – or by impurities – or by the variation in sizes – or by some other factor? We don't know yet. But we do know that for health and environmental researchers to draw valid conclusions they need accurate ways to measure, analyze, and purify nanotube samples. NIST will use a portion of its funding to develop the measurement techniques required to better characterize potential nanotechnology impacts to our health, safety, and environment.          

This is the common theme that runs through all of NIST's proposed 2008 research initiatives. Each helps build a missing or inadequate measurement base – a rigorous, accepted way of quantitatively describing something – that improves confidence in scientific results or improves the quality, reliability or safety of innovative products.

  • The $5 million in initiatives for climate change research will aid in understanding the complex relationships between environmental variables. Establishment of absolute calibration and standard references will allow accurate intercomparisons of data from a variety of U.S. and international systems, will help identify small environmental changes occurring over many years, and will reduce uncertainties in the data input to global climate change models. 
  • An additional $4 million in funding for quantum science will help provide the fundamental physics methods needed to manipulate individual atoms and light particles in ways that turn nature's smallest things into the "wires" and processors of our future computers and communications systems.
  • The $4 million and $3.25 million in increases for disaster resilient structures and earthquake hazard mitigation will provide the infrastructure of data and tools needed to make both natural and man-made disasters more survivable.

NIST's scientists and engineers will tackle these projects and many more in collaboration with about 2500 associates and guest researchers who come to NIST each year to work side-by-side with our experts. The 2008 facilities budget is designed to ensure that NIST staff and guest researchers have the laboratory capabilities they need to continually advance measurement's cutting edge.  

  • Expansion of the main laboratory on NIST's Boulder, Colo., campus clearly demonstrates the need.  When President Eisenhower dedicated the Colorado laboratory in 1954, no one imagined that half a century later scientists would be manipulating matter atom-by-atom. As measurement scales shrink in size – small fluctuations in temperature, humidity, air quality, and vibration begin to distort results. The 2008 budget will start construction of state-of-the-art laboratory space that will meet the stringent environmental conditions required for 21st century scientific advances. The new facility will allow NIST's Boulder staff to continue its string of firsts in fields like atomic timekeeping, quantum science, laser engineering, and superconductivity.
  • Likewise, the capacity and capability enhancements at the NIST Center for Neutron Research are critical for promoting innovation. This center is widely regarded as the most scientifically productive and cost-effective neutron facility in the U.S., and serves more scientists and engineers than all other such U.S. facilities combined. This initiative begun in 2007 is the second-year of a planned five-year program to expand significantly the capacity and capabilities of the center. With the 2008 funding, we will complete construction of a new guide hall which will ultimately house 5 state-of-the-art new instruments and allow an additional 500 researchers per year to study advanced materials and biological systems at the smallest spatial scales.  

I started off by saying that NIST has traditionally had a bit of a visibility problem. We have been described with phrases like "a premier – but little known federal agency" or "a jewel in the crown of U.S. science . . .  – . . . that you've probably never heard of. "         

We are a smaller agency compared to many others in federal science and technology – but we play a critical supporting role in accelerating innovation and in enhancing U.S. economic competitiveness.

Research universities are the wellspring of American scientific creativity and new knowledge. Industry uses that knowledge to build the products that allow a pilot to find her way in a snowstorm or a teenager to carry thousands of songs, a phone, and a photo album in one pocket-sized device. NIST is the glue that holds the two together. The results of NIST research are found in virtually every manufacturing and service industry.  

NIST has a long history of being at the forefront of new innovations through our high-impact measurements and standards. Of the greatest engineering achievements of the 20th century as identified by the National Academy of Engineering – NIST measurements and standards were integral to the successful development and adoption of virtually every one. 

And NIST research is critical to our Nation's future competitiveness. The increased funding requested for NIST research and facilities will directly support technological advances in broad sectors of the economy that will define the 21st century – as well as improve the safety and quality of life for all our citizens.

At this point, I'll be happy to take your questions.

Created August 24, 2009, Updated October 25, 2016