End of year reflections

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As the year
draws to a close, I’m glad for the opportunity to take stock of 2017. I can’t
help but reflect on all that NSF has accomplished. I’m reminded of how many
“firsts” we had this year, including the discovery of gold and other heavy elements
from the merger of two neutron stars in a galaxy far away.

Continuing our
efforts to reach new groups with our messages, this was the first time NSF
participated in Awesome
Con

and the Washington
Auto Show
,
two exciting conferences for very different audiences that offered new
perspectives on the many ways science matters in our day-to-day lives. At the
Washington Auto Show, I discussed the technology of self-driving cars and
helped showcase one of the most advanced autonomous vehicles, whose development
was supported in part by NSF. At Awesome Con, I joined a distinguished panel of
scientists from academia and government to talk about women’s historical
contributions to the sciences and their role in STEM today. Although character
costumes are a big part of comic conventions like Awesome Con, I came in
business attire as the NSF Director.

I continued to
give talks and keynote speeches around the world about our “10 Big Ideas for
Future NSF Investments.” This year, the American Institute of Aeronautics and
Astronautics invited me to give the Durand Lecture
for Public Service
at their annual convention. I was also invited by NIH Director
Francis Collins to give the prestigious Lindberg-King
lecture
by
the National Library of Medicine. I spoke to a distinguished audience about the
impact of Big Data and advanced computing on the field of biomedicine. 

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Image credit: National Science Foundation/LIGO/Sonoma State University/A. Simonnet

This year we
learned of eight U.S. winners of the 2017 Nobel Prizes in physics, chemistry, medicine and economics, all of whom
received NSF funding during their careers. The Nobel Prize in physics was
awarded in recognition of LIGO’s discoveries, which include a number of black
hole mergers and the first
detection of gravitational waves coming from the collision between two neutron
stars
.
Scientists were able to observe this binary neutron star merger with
traditional, light-based instruments thanks to a remarkable collaboration
between gravitational wave facilities in the U.S. and Italy and some 70 ground-
and space-based observatories around the world, making it a banner year for
multi-messenger astronomy.

I also did
quite a bit of traveling this year. I started the year at the World
Economic Forum
in
Davos, Switzerland, where I spoke about how NSF’s investments in basic and
collaborative research have benefited our country and the world. In May, I
accompanied a congressional
delegation
to
Greenland, where Members of Congress and committee staff visited NSF research
facilities and met with NSF-funded researchers. I took the stage at the World
Science Festivals in Australia and New York to discuss multiverses and exotic particles, and traveled to Ireland to
participate in Inspirefest at the invitation of the U.S.’s acting ambassador to
Ireland, Reece Smyth. In the fall, I represented the United States at
the 2017
G7 Science Ministerial
in Turin, Italy. The
topics addressed included growing the STEM workforce, the future direction of
innovation and partnerships, and the importance of long-term, sustained
investment in state-of-the-art research infrastructure. And I finished the year
of travels abroad as a guest of the physics Nobelists in Stockholm. NSF was
mentioned many times during the week of celebration for its persistence of
vision (and funding!) of LIGO.

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Credit: Rick Fienberg / TravelQuest International / Wilderness Travel

Perhaps one of
the most exciting events this year was the “Great
American Eclipse
,” which captured the attention of millions of Americans and offered
NSF-funded
scientists
a
unique opportunity to study some of our sun’s more intriguing features, such as
the mysterious corona. I camped on the path of totality with solar scientists
in Glendo, Wyoming, and joined the collective gasp as we watched the brilliant
“diamond ring” form when the moon moved in front of the sun. Congress even held
a hearing on the eclipse to highlight the importance of the science and
educational opportunities surrounding the event.  

Another first:
a large and gloriously detailed “History Wall” graces the entrance to our new
building in Alexandria, replete with images of NSF’s impact on security,
health, the economy, and education. With the holidays upon us and the move to
our new Alexandria headquarters finally behind us, I wanted to take a moment to
offer my most sincere thanks to NSF employees, who ensured there was no
disruption of NSF’S support for cutting-edge research even as their lives were
disrupted by the relocation.

The camaraderie
and good cheer I have seen in all of you, not just this season but every
season, is something that makes working at NSF so rewarding. And thank you to
everyone who supports science outside of NSF. Our agency wouldn’t exist without
your passion for new knowledge and new discoveries. I anticipate plenty of both
in the coming year, and I can’t wait to share them with all of you. 

Best wishes for the new year!


Photo credits for collage:

Washington Auto Show: NSF

Durand Lecture: AIAA

Solar eclipse: France Córdova/NSF

LIGO Press Conference 2017: NSF

G7 Italy 2017: G7 2017 ITALIA/CC-BY 3.0

Lindberg-King Lecture:  Chia-Chi Charlie Chang/NIH

World Science Festival: World Science Festival/Greg Kessler

Congressional Delegation in Greenland: Amanda Greenwell/NSF