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Remarks by Dr. James M. Turner
Acting Director, National Institute of Standards and Technology
Sponsors Reception for the American Chemical Society National Awards
October 30, 2007


Innovation, Chemistry, and Partnerships

It is a pleasure and an honor to be here with you tonight to pay tribute to the sponsors of the American Chemical Society’s more than 60 different national awards.

The list of these sponsors reads like a Who’s Who of U.S. industry. Well represented are the most familiar names in the chemical industry, but also included are companies in pharmaceuticals, electronics, computing, and a wide variety of privately funded foundations. But this is a reflection of the face of modern chemistry. We see exciting new discovery arising from crossing traditional lines between different scientific disciplines.

I’m proud that NIST is teaming with the ACS’ Green Chemistry Institute to support an award. 

The diversity of ACS award sponsors speaks to both the vitality of chemistry and to the power of partnerships. By sponsoring these awards that recognize the creativity and invention of chemists in a very broad range of endeavors, your organizations have chosen to be part of something larger than yourselves. ACS can’t do this alone and neither can you. But together you produce something money can’t buy: inspiration for the next round of outstanding chemical achievements. 

Now before I say much more, I feel compelled to reiterate that I am not a chemist, although I am a member of ACS. . . . I am, alas, as you have heard, a physicist, but in the best traditions of physics, I will assume you will not hold that against me. . . .

I was asked to discuss unique public-private partnerships fostered by NIST and the role they play in ensuring future U.S. competitiveness.   From my current vantage point as Acting Director of NIST, I see these two themes, the vitality of chemistry and the power of partnerships, every day.  Before getting into that, I want to give a short overview of NIST and our role in supporting innovation and competitiveness.

NIST was established more than 100 years ago as the federal government’s first physical sciences laboratory. As Eric Bigham said, it’s our job to promote innovation and industrial competitiveness.   Innovation is the bedrock that supports and sustains the U.S. economy. By some estimates, innovation accounts for more than half of America’s economic growth. It is the key to our high standard of living, quality of life, and the source of future jobs.

NIST helps create the infrastructure that U.S. industry and science needs to innovate—to continually improve products and services—while also enhancing security and improving our quality of life. In practice, this means we develop measurement science, methods, and standards that allow emerging technologies to be developed into new products and services. If these methods and standards are accepted internationally, these new products can compete globally on an even playing field.

Chemistry plays a major role in innovation. If one looks at nanotechnologies, DNA diagnostics, biopharmaceuticals, renewable fuels, plastic electronics—inspired chemistry is critical to them all.

NIST researchers are working in each of these areas and many others. We are laying the needed groundwork for both the physical chemistry of accurate measurements and the human chemistry for effective public-private partnerships to enable success in these new fields.

Our entire history is based on partnerships with industry and academia. In planning our research and services. In carrying out that work. And in striving to see that the results get put to good use. We began our formal cooperative programs early in the last century. In fact, a collaborative research program on dental materials, which began with the American Dental Association back in the 1920s, is still going strong.

These types of collaborations that bring together industry, university, and government researchers are NIST’s stock in trade. More than 1,800 guest researchers from those sectors work with nearly 3,000 NIST staff members in NIST laboratories on several campuses. Outside our labs, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership Program works with 1,600 manufacturing specialists and staff at nearly 350 affiliated non-profit centers around the country. And hundreds of individuals from companies and other organizations participate in selecting award recipients for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Awards, which are managed by NIST. And there are dozens of state efforts around the country modeled after the Baldrige program.

Recently, NIST took a new and different step. We established a partnership with the Semiconductor Research Corporation to support research and innovation in nanoelectronics. By exploiting the unique properties of nanometer-scale materials, nanoelectronics promises to produce faster, less expensive computer chips based on components as small as individual molecules.

Over the next year, NIST will contribute $2.76 million to the effort, which, when combined with funds from industry, will provide close to $4 million of new research grants. The partnership, aimed to provide $18.5 million over five years, will fund high-priority projects identified by the Nanoelectronics Research Initiative, which coordinates research in nanoelectronics among major universities across the country. This is an example of a new approach to research investment that we are investigating. It focuses on long-term basic research industry needs—and uses federal-industry-university partnerships to drive the science and technology forward. This new type of collaboration may be a model for the future.

One of our most ambitious collaborative efforts is a recent assessment of the state of the U.S. Measurement System completed earlier this year. This multi-year, NIST-led project identified more than 700 scientific and technical measurement challenges facing the U.S. It featured an analysis of measurement-related needs for supporting innovation across a sample of 11 industrial sectors and technology areas, including chemicals; electronics; energy, power, and environment; health care; materials; and nanotechnology. More than 1,000 people in industry, academia and government were involved in the study. We are using the results to prioritize our work and develop research strategies.

And after all that work, the report’s main message was something that this group clearly already appreciates, as evidenced by your generous contributions to the ACS Awards Programs. If we want this country to continue to excel in science and technology, if we want to sustain U.S. innovation at a world-leading pace, then we must adopt a strategic, long-term approach. We must cultivate public-private partnerships that systematically tackle tough problems and inspire our best to do their best. Ultimately, as I’m sure you knew before you arrived tonight, it’s all about the chemistry.

Thanks for your attention.