Science agency leaders discuss “Future of U.S. Science”

Pushpalatha Bhat

Pushpalatha Bhat

President Obama’s Science Advisor John Holdren and the leaders of three key federal agencies spoke at a symposium at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington D.C., in February on “Grand Visions for the Future of U.S. Science in a New Global Era.” As a member of the Physics and Societal Impacts of Science & Engineering Sections of the AAAS, I organized and moderated the session.

Holdren, who presented the view from the White House, said that science, technology and innovation (known as ST&I) are central to meeting key challenges of economic growth, health care, clean energy and national security, as well as to “lifting the human spirit through discovery, invention and expanded understanding.” He emphasized that the Obama administration has taken the advice of the ST&I community to an extraordinary degree, subject to constraints of budget. He outlined a number of ST&I priorities and initiatives under President Obama and argued that, with his vision for science, the President has also charted a practical path and walked the walk.

NSF Director France Córdova talked about the research program at all scales of science that the NSF supports — the smallest scales studied through experimental particle physics to the cosmic scales in astronomy and astrophysics. She also talked about some new cross-agency initiatives, about global STEM education and increasing international partnerships. Undersecretary for Science and Energy Lynn Orr emphasized that fundamental scientific research is essential to our energy future, and that the Department of Energy funds scientific research through 10 national labs and three applied energy research labs. He talked about the neutrino science research at Fermilab and other basic science areas as well as exascale computing and its potential in simulations of complex systems and processes. Administrator Bolden, head of NASA, made remarks on NASA’s ambitious program to send American astronauts to Mars in the 2030s and to asteroids before then, how NASA’s satellites are studying our own planet, and on studies on the International Space Station. He said that the future of NASA is strong. It is helping us to uncover the secrets of the universe and to create the future, and as President Obama said, “We are pushing farther into the solar system, not just to visit, but to stay.”

A panel discussion on globalization, international partnerships and public outreach, as well as a Q&A with the audience, followed.

View slides of talks from Drs. Holdren, Córdova and Orr.

Pushpa Bhat is a Fermilab physicist and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Pushpa Bhat, left, led a panel discussion on the future of science in the United States during a symposium at the recent AAAS meeting.

Pushpa Bhat, left, led a panel discussion on the future of science in the United States during a symposium at the recent AAAS meeting.