Stimulate US: Funding innovation in science

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While many pundits bemoan the loss of manufacturing jobs, I'm more concerned about our nation's long-term plan to promote innovation. The U.S. has long been a leader in invention, thanks to the best higher education system in the world and generous federal funding for scientific research. However, budget constraints and the barriers we've imposed on foreign nationals wishing to work in the U.S. threaten our leadership.

That's why I'm glad to see money in the new stimulus package for science. This should benefit the country immediately (by putting people to work) and in the long run by leading to the development of new, and in particular green, industries.

Certainly there is a great deal of green ($21.5 billion) for R&D in the bill. The funds are spread among a number of government entities, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Energy Department (DOE), NASA, NOAA, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The DOE will distribute $3.5 billion for research in green technology, including conservation, weatherization, fossil fuels, and other areas. The bill also funds the newly created Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy with $400 million.

NASA receives an additional $1 billion to bolster its R&D, particularly in climate change, as well as hasten the development of new space flight technology to replace the aging shuttle fleet.

$3 billion is routed to The National Science Foundation, two-thirds of which will be used to fund research grants.

The National Institutes of Health will have $10.4 billion to spend, mostly for in-house and outside research. Within these grants a subset, called Challenge Grants, will focus on 15 high-priority topics, including genomics, regenerative medicine, stem cells, bioethics, and information technology for processing health care data. NIH will also fund the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the work of which will be important to the ongoing health care debate.

A good deal of the science-relating funding has been earmarked for much-needed construction and updates to research facilities, both federally owned and private, mostly university, based.

This is the broad outline for investing stimulus money in the science community. Just where, however, are those jobs, those people, those programs that would otherwise have gone begging for lack of funds?

A good example comes from Science magazine, which interviewed Andrew Belmonte of Penn State. The mathematician is hopeful that his proposal on transformation of materials during fluid flows, which was not funded to date, will receive funding from the stimulus package. This will put a postdoc and several undergrads to work.

The departments in charge of funding are still in the process of choosing which research proposals to fund, but within a few weeks labs across the country should be up and humming again.

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