Date: Aug. 1, 2005 Contacts: Patrice Pages, Media Relations Officer Michelle Strikowsky, Media Relations Assistant Office of News and Public Information 202-334-2138; e-mail <email@example.com>
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Report Questions Future of U.S. Leadership in Materials Research and Development
WASHINGTON -- While the United States remains a world leader in materials research and development, competition from new materials R&D centers worldwide could weaken the nation's position in this field, says a new report from the National Academies' National Research Council. The federal government should define a national strategy to ensure that future national security needs in materials R&D can be addressed; that universities and federal agencies -- including the U.S. Department of Defense, National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Energy, and NASA -- participate in international materials R&D collaborations; and that more American students are encouraged to pursue careers in science and engineering, said the committee that wrote the report.
"With the globalization of research and development in materials science and engineering, cutting-edge work is expected to emerge from countries that historically have not been centers of materials innovation, such as China, India, Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea," said Peter Bridenbaugh, committee chair and retired executive vice president, Alcoa Inc., Pittsburgh. "Although this increased global activity may help our nation develop new materials, it is also possible that a country which has not traditionally been an ally of the United States may decide not to share a new and critical technology developed within its borders."
Available evidence suggests that the globalization of materials R&D has had a limited effect on the U.S. economy and national security to date, but the impact in the near future is highly uncertain, the report says. The federal government needs to gather data on trends in materials R&D worldwide in order to assess how well the United States is performing compared with other countries and to determine how to ensure that the nation's economic and security needs are met.
The United States can no longer assume that the most important innovations in materials science and engineering will take place domestically. To have access to superior technologies developed elsewhere, the United States needs to become one of the most active players in international materials R&D teams and ensure that knowledge generated by foreign R&D is absorbed into domestic programs, both civilian and military, the report says.
Policy-makers need to ensure that current controls on exports do not impede U.S. participation in international projects, the committee said. Also, foreign students and researchers should be encouraged to participate in U.S. projects to facilitate access to cutting-edge knowledge and technology developed elsewhere.
Maintaining U.S. leadership in materials R&D also will require that the nation's educational system attract more students to degrees in science and engineering, the committee said. Many foreign governments -- notably China and India -- are accelerating investment in their educational infrastructure, while comparable expenditures in the United States are falling. If the United States is to continue to compete on the global stage, its educational system will have to consider the needs of federal agencies and industry and ensure an adequate supply of professionals in materials science and engineering, the committee said.
The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit institution that provide science and technology advice under a congressional charter. A committee roster follows.