January 3, 2013

The following post used as a resource “Machine Design”; commentary by Kenneth J. Korane, Managing Editor.


According to the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Federal Research and Development (R&D) budget is basically structured to promote sustainable economic growth, advance American manufacturing, cultivate home-grown clean energy, improve health care and address the mounting challenges of global warming.   This is a mouth-full but the goals are certainly laudable and worthwhile.

OK, with that being said, where does the money go?  Recently the White House released its 2013 budget for Science and Technology R&D–$140.8 billion (yes that’s with a “B”).  A lot of money by any standard.  The National Science Foundation (NSF) gets a paltry $5. 9 Billion This year.  According to the NSF web site, for over sixty years it has had a profound impact on transformative and fundamental research leading to path-breaking advances.  This site details hundreds of research opportunities being currently funded.   I would like to give you several of the projects under way as follows:

  • $199,760:  North Carolina State UniversityA Retrospective Oral History of Computer Simulation will document the emergence of the field of computer simulation since WWII.
  • $96,000: Colby Community CollegeCattle Feed Efficiency Data Technician will train students to use the GrowSafe system, which electronically monitors what cattle eat.
  • $1,616,125: Ohio State UniversityBeyond Penguins and Polar Bears in the K-5 Classroom.  Researches hope to “maximize” the impact of International Polar Year on elementary classrooms by capturing student interest and fostering the ability of elementary- school teachers to integrate polar concepts into their teaching.
  • $30,000: University of California at Santa BarbaraInternational Gender and Language Assn. Student Travel.   Graduate students to present their research and gain professional experience at the International Gender and Language Assn conference to be held this June in Brazil.
  • $ 349,820: Virginia PolytechnicBridging the Gap Between Engineers and Society: Learning to Listen.    This project will explore the relationships between engineering, science, and society and teach engineers to acknowledge and listen to the voices of the community they serve.
  • $1,206,278: Chicago Zoological SocietyClimate Literacy Zoo Education Network.  Develop a new approach to climate-change education that connects zoo visitors to polar animals endangered by global warming.
  • $24,000: Northeastern University:  Maurice Auslander International Conference.    This is the conference on the work of the influential mathematician, widely known for creating the Auslander-R eaten theory.

I do not wish to be a pain and I’m sure all of these projects involve honest, hard-working people with good intentions, but we are not exactly talking about breakthroughs in nanotechnology, fusion energy, or solar-cell efficiency.  Assuming the NSF spends its money as wisely as other government entities, one get the sense we need to better target critical national priorities.  What do you think?  

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