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Summer/Fall 2008 Vol. 8 No. 2

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Grainger Foundation Expands NAE’s Frontiers of Engineering

The National Academy of Engineering announced in July a three-year, $3 million grant from the Grainger Foundation to support NAE's Frontiers of Engineering symposia. These symposia celebrate excellence in engineering by recognizing outstanding early-career engineers and the cutting-edge work they perform in universities, industry, and government labs.

"The Frontiers of Engineering program brings together young engineers for eclectic symposia on topics that cut across disciplinary boundaries to transfer knowledge and techniques, encourage collaboration, and exchange ideas that can foster U.S. innovation," said NAE President Charles M. Vest. "We are grateful to the Grainger Foundation for their support of this important and exciting program."

Begun in 1995 for U.S.-based engineers, the Frontiers of Engineering program now includes bilateral meetings of U.S. engineers with engineers from Germany, Japan, and India. The Grainger Foundation grant will help sustain these symposia and allow expansion of the program to include symposia with China and additional countries in Europe.

Attendees of the symposia, who are under the age of 45, are competitively selected and represent the engineering leaders of tomorrow. The symposia span 2-1/2 days and provide a unique opportunity for these future leaders to network and learn about cutting-edge developments in fields other than their own. Approximately 100 engineers are invited to attend each year's U.S. meeting, and 30 from each country attend the two-nation symposia. The bilateral meetings provide a window for U.S. engineers to learn about developments at the forefront of technology in the global marketplace.   -- Randy Atkins

Sacklers Establish US-UK Scientific Forum

Dr. and Mrs. Sackler

In September, the National Academy of Sciences announced a substantial gift from the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Foundation to endow a bilateral scientific forum to be operated jointly by NAS and the Royal Society in London. The forum will hold scientific conferences and meetings in both the United States and United Kingdom. The topics, participants, activities, and goals of these conferences will be determined by a joint panel of NAS and the Royal Society.

"We understand the importance of supporting scientific endeavors and heritage around the world," said Raymond R. Sackler. "Our hope is that the new Raymond and Beverly Sackler USA-UK Scientific Forum will help the scientific leadership of the United Kingdom and the United States forge an enduring and productive partnership on pressing topics of worldwide scientific concern with benefit to all people."

Raymond R. Sackler, M.D., is a founder and board member of Purdue Pharma L.P., Stamford, Conn., and a founder and board member of NAPP Pharmaceutical Group Limited in the United Kingdom. Individually and through their foundations, Dr. Sackler and his wife Beverly have sponsored medical research at a number of major U.S. and international academic centers.

"Science is more and more an international undertaking," said NAS President Ralph J. Cicerone. "Engaging the best scientific minds and research from around the world is key to addressing worldwide challenges such as agriculture, our energy needs, and climate change. We thank Raymond and Beverly Sackler for their foresight in opening new pathways to speed our work."   -- William Skane

Convocation Keeps an Eye on Gathering Storm

Rising Above the Gathering Storm Two Years Later: Accelerating Progress Toward a Brigher Economic Future, photo by Event Digital Photography Inc.

Americans risk losing their lead in the global marketplace -- and ultimately their standard of living -- unless the U.S. improves its research enterprise and K-12 education system. That was the warning issued by the National Academies' 2005 report Rising Above the Gathering Storm, which informed a new White House initiative to kick-start U.S. competitiveness, along with a law passed by Congress last year. But how much has actually been done to implement the report's recommendations, and what work remains?

Hundreds of policymakers, educators, and representatives of nonprofits packed a summit held in Washington, D.C., on April 29 to try to answer those questions. Speakers at the event -- which was hosted by the Academies with support from the National Math and Science Initiative -- included several U.S. senators and representatives, business leaders, and the secretaries of energy, education, and commerce.

Gathering Storm committee chair Norman R. Augustine pointed out that plenty of steps have been taken to bolster competitiveness in response to the report -- only not by the United States. India has started an initiative to become a global nanotechnology hub, for example, and the U.K. is slated to increase its R&D investment by 25 percent. "It would be a cruel outcome if the Gathering Storm were to motivate others to become more competitive while we did little. …fortunately, America's leaders seem very genuinely convinced that action needed to be taken."

Augustine was referring in large part to Congress' passage of the 2007 America COMPETES Act, which authorized many of the actions recommended by the report. But as he and other speakers noted, the act's programs have not been funded -- a shortfall that some in attendance hope to help remedy. "We are now in the process of writing the appropriations bills for this year, and this is where the rubber is going to hit the road," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas.

Some promising steps have been taken by the private sector -- both nonprofits and businesses -- to improve K-12 science and math education, other speakers pointed out. But none advocated complacency with the progress made so far.

"We are about to be hit by the full force of global competition. If we continue to ignore the obvious task at hand while others beat us at our own game, our children and grandchildren will pay the price," said NAE President and Gathering Storm committee member Charles Vest. "Gathering Storm has elevated awareness of our challenge, but we must now establish a sense of urgency … Urgency because time has run out."   -- Sara Frueh

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Copyright 2008 by the National Academy of Sciences