Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Obama plan good news for research universities

U-M leaders say a plan detailed Monday by President Barack Obama to “restore science to its rightful place” is good news for research universities and the scientific community.

Obama emphasized the role of research and development during a speech to the National Academy of the Sciences in Washington, D.C., during which he vowed to devote 3 percent of the national GDP to R&D, representing the largest commitment to scientific research and innovation in American history.

“This work begins with an historic commitment to basic science and applied research, from the labs of renowned universities to the proving grounds of innovative companies,” he said.

“Global economic leadership and prosperity at home depends, more than ever, on innovation,” says Stephen Forrest, vice president for research. “And innovation begins with imagination followed by research. The commitments made toward targeting 3 percent of the GDP toward research will ensure that the US maintains and strengthens its position of economic leadership. The particular focus on renewable energy also provides an opportunity to free ourselves of our dependence on foreign oil while providing clean energy that is readily available to people around the world.”

The president also unveiled plans to fund a new agency called Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) that will conduct “high-risk, high-reward research.”

“ARPA-E provides a rapid-response mechanism for universities and industry, often in partnership, to solve the largest problems that we are confronted with in changing our energy sources,” Forrest says. “Particularly in Michigan we have both the need and the means to rebuild our economy based on knowledge-rich fields represented by the production of renewable energies such as solar and wind and biofuels. ARPA-E will create many opportunities to move quickly toward that long overdue economic transformation.”

Of his proposed budget, the president said: "We double the budget of key agencies, including the National Science Foundation, a primary source of funding for academic research, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which supports a wide range of pursuits — from improving health information technology to measuring carbon pollution, from testing ‘smart grid’ designs to developing advanced manufacturing processes.

“And my budget doubles funding for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which builds and operates accelerators, colliders, supercomputers, high-energy light sources, and facilities for making nano-materials. Because we know that a nation’s potential for scientific discovery is defined by the tools it makes available to its researchers.”

The president also called for:

• Increased funding for new technologies to produce, use and save energy

• Additional funding to the National Institutes of Health to “address shortcomings in our health care system, including $6 billion to fund cancer research

• A President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology to engage the scientific community in matters of public policy