Reflections for a new year

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The start of a new year is a time of promise and opportunity – and for reflection on past milestones. I’m grateful for the National Science Foundation’s accomplishments and will be using the lessons I learned from them to help guide the agency forward. Here are a few reflections.

Today’s complex research challenges call for increased global cooperation. I was therefore pleased to represent NSF at events around the world in support of that goal. I
began 2018 with a trip to Belgium to address the Astroparticle Physics European
Consortium on NSF’s main contributions to discoveries in astroparticle physics. As an astrophysicist, this opportunity to discuss a topic I love was especially thrilling.

How do we empower the public to share in the thrill of doing science? How will artificial intelligence impact the future of skilled jobs and society? How do we make policy decisions based on evidence? I was pleased to discuss these timely topics with global science leaders at the Carnegie Meeting of Science Ministers in Banff, Canada.

I was honored to travel to Japan for a panel discussion at the Science and Technology in Society (STS) Forum on the nature of discovery and the complex and often conflicting opportunities that arise with the advent of new technologies. And my work also took me to Israel to speak at the “Thinking Outside the Box” international conference, where I heard firsthand about ways to strengthen the scientific partnership between our nations.

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Arctic Science Ministerial. Photo credit: John Farrell, USARC Executive Director  

Building on the progress made at the first Arctic Science Ministerial in 2016, I joined
other leaders in Germany for the second ministerial. We explored the continuing challenges and opportunities of a changing Arctic and strategies for how best to improve Arctic observation, data and infrastructure.

International partnerships bring innovation to the U.S., connect brilliant minds across the planet, and lay the groundwork for global innovation networks. In Rwanda, I saw this process taking shape at the Next Einstein Forum Global Gathering, where participants explored new methods for supporting STEM education throughout Africa, working to transform the continent’s labor force and economy.

NSF spent the past year strengthening partnerships at home as well. Last year, the White House convened scientists, engineers and senior officials from federal research
agencies for a Quantum Information Science Summit, where we collaborated on a national approach to the next century of quantum discovery. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy also hosted the Summit on Artificial Intelligence for American Industry, which engaged various perspectives on the promise of AI and the policies we’ll need to realize it.

We also engaged in partnerships aimed at building the future of the U.S. science and engineering enterprise by enhancing the nation’s STEM workforce. As co-chair of the Committee on STEM Education, I was proud to join OSTP in unveiling the federal government’s five-year strategic plan for STEM education. I was also appointed a member of the President’s Council on the American Worker to develop policy and strategy recommendations to improve the workforce in America.

Forums like the summer meeting of the National Governors Association in Santa Fe gave me a chance to discuss NSF’s work building smart and connected communities
throughout country, as well as our initiatives to help researchers transition their work from the lab to the marketplace.

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When a neutrino interacts in the clear Antarctic ice, it produces secondary particles that leave a trace of blue light as they travel through NSF’s IceCube detector. Credit: Nicolle R. Fuller/NSF/IceCube

We see the evidence of these partnerships in the scientific breakthroughs made over the past year. For example, NSF’s IceCube Neutrino Observatory took an important step toward solving the high-energy cosmic ray mystery – a discovery that will enhance our understanding about how the universe is built and behaves. The observatory was able to do so by detecting the presence of a very high-energy neutrino, then relaying that information to other instruments, including a NASA-operated orbiting telescope, for confirmation of the path the particle took. Without partnerships in place to share this type of information, this discovery would have been impossible.

Throughout the previous year, NSF built and strengthened partnerships, dedicated new
resources to supporting a healthy U.S. STEM workforce, and laid the foundation
for even more progress this year. I am profoundly grateful for the contributions of NSF staff and collaborators who made our work in 2018 possible, and I am even more excited for the unexpected journeys and new discoveries that lie ahead.