Arthur M. Bueche Award

2010 Arthur M. Bueche Award Winner Acceptance Remarks

2010 Arthur M. Bueche Award Winner Acceptance Remarks – October 2010

Presented by: Anita Jones

Mr. Chairman, Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, I am deeply honored to receive the Arthur M. Bueche Award from the NAE. It comes from an organization that I revere, and this award honors me greatly by association with previous winners. 

I grew up a girl in Texas. I chose computer science as a field and joined the faculty of Carnegie-Mellon University, one of the premier computer science departments in the world. Yet, a few years into teaching and research, I was getting a little bored.

An NAE member, Keith Uncapher, made himself my mentor; he was watching over my career progression. I told him about feeling insufficiently stimulated professionally. Keith called back the next day and said, “I thought about it, and you should join the Air Force”. After the shock of incredulity passed, I found that he had arranged for me to become a member of the Air Force Science Advisory Board, a group of about 30 individuals who advise the U.S. Air Force leadership on their problems.

Graham Greene wrote, “Once in a while a door opens and the future walks in”. For me, the future, indeed, walked right in.   In the next several years – still wet behind the ears and 10-20 years younger than most of the other members – I sat at conference tables with extraordinary minds. I watched and learned how they approached problems of great magnitude. I was privileged to work with people like Glenn Kent, Gene Covert, Al Flax, and Natalie Crawford – a number of them being engineers. I learned that I could contribute to solving such major problems. 

Somewhere in this life-altering education with the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, I came to know that that I was passionately devoted to advancement of the U.S. innovation enterprise, especially the research activities where new knowledge is routinely created and where the experts who will be needed tomorrow are trained. I have taken on many assignments in this arena. I learn something new with each one. And, I would like to share some thoughts with you:

1. I learned that the best way for our federal government to nurture research is to include mission agencies that fund basic and applied research in areas that promise to serve their mission. I saw this most clearly when I served in the Department of Defense (DoD), overseeing the DoD science and technology program. After World War II President Roosevelt asked Vannevar Bush how to ensure that scientists and engineers would be available to the nation in a future crisis as they were during that war. Bush, in the report Science, the Endless Frontier, proposed a single federal agency that was to fund curiosity-driven science and engineering in the universitites.  (That agency was created; it is the National Science Foundation (NSF).) But, several U.S. mission agencies such as DoD have – decade in and decade out – also sustained merit-based research, choosing topics guided by their mission. With some frequency mission-driven research yields a result that is different and sometimes better from that which is generated by curiosity-driven research. Bush was wrong; history shows that a combination of curiosity-driven research and mission-motivated research yields better results.

2.  Serving on the National Science Board – the governing board of the NSF – reinforced my belief that it is useful to have an agency dedicated to funding curiosity-driven research. Assuring stable funding for students and funding construction and operation of large scientific instruments will not necessarily be of high priority for program officers driven to serve a mission. And both elements of stability are important to a healthy research and education enterprise.

3.  The wall of classification around intelligence agencies is impenetrable to small entrepreneurial companies developing just the new technology that those agencies need.   I learned that creative government action can broach that wall. I serve as a trustee for the not-for-profit organization called InQTel. It was created and funded by insightful leadership at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). InQTel has invested in more than 100 high-tech companies whose products have been piloted and adopted by multiple intelligence agencies. This would not have been possible without the intermediary, InQTel.

4. I learned that even a small country can advance its ability to compete in the burgeoning knowledge economy. I learned this by serving as a founding trustee of Science Foundation Ireland (SFI). Designed to be an Irish clone of the NSF, Science Foundation Ireland funds merit-based research in the Irish universities, and has lured back to Ireland émigrés who had become distinguished researchers in other parts of the world. SFI has genuinely advanced Ireland’s ability to compete in the knowledge economy. 

5. Today, I am studying whether a state, Arizona, can advance its competitive position by funding merit-based university and industrial research in the state. I serve as a founding trustee for Science Foundation Arizona, essentially another clone of the NSF. Progress has been made and time will tell.

So, I have been privileged to be a participant in many different activities that give vibrancy and resilience to the U.S. innovation enterprise. With all its chaos, its many dimensions, and (thankfully) its lack of central planning, the innovation enterprise is resilient. But other nations seek to compete and lead in technological innovation.  

I participated in the National Academies committee that reported – 5 years ago – that a Gathering Storm has arisen threatening the U.S. quality of life. The U.S. is not paying attention to core problems such as quality of teaching and research investment. Just this month our Gathering Storm committee issued a second report asserting that with the relative neglect by the nation, this storm is approaching “category 5”. 

I have lived through the decades when women scientists and engineers have been allowed to participate more. Having chosen computer science as a professional field, I have watched advancements in information technology power the strongest economic force in the world over the past half-century.   It is a privilege to play even a small part and to be allowed to work on problems that really, really matter.

Thank you.