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NIST Director: Manufacturing ‘Transforms Innovative Ideas into Products’

A strong manufacturing sector that can convert discoveries and ideas into new products and processes is a necessary ingredient of strategies to maintain the nation’s global competitiveness in science and technology, said National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Director Patrick Gallagher.

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Director Patrick Gallagher

With manufacturing firms responsible for 70% of all private sector research and development spending, prudent U.S. policies are needed to promote the health of the manufacturing sector, Gallagher said at the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Forum. That will support the innovation that is critical to economic growth and to solving national and global problems, he added.

“If we fail to advance the technology with which we produce things, we, in effect, cut off a leg and hurt our ability to remain competitive around the world,” said Gallagher, who spoke 14 May at the 2010 AAAS Science & Technology Policy Forum. “There is a deep interplay between innovating something and manufacturing something.”

Held 13-14 May at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C., the 35th Annual Forum attracted more than 500 attendees for sessions on international scientific engagement; the role of science and technology in national security; societal impacts of S&T; and budget outlook for the U.S. government R&D portfolio.

During his breakfast talk, Gallagher, who was confirmed as the 14th director of NIST in November 2009, spoke about manufacturing, innovation as an economic driver, and his institute’s role in supporting industry and groundbreaking research.

With an FY2009 budget of about $1.6 billion, said Gallagher, NIST is “right in the middle of the president’s innovation framework,” advancing measurements and standards to enable industry to create the next generation of new products and services, as well as support U.S. competitiveness.

Gallagher said that U.S. economic growth in the coming decades will be based on the nation’s ability to create new products and services, which necessitates increasing science and engineering capacity and adjusting to the globalization of innovation.

He compared to the current economic climate to that of the 1980s—a decade marked by a serious recession in the United States, major job losses, and a drop in manufacturing. In addition, the decade saw the economic ascendancy of Asia, especially Japan.

Gallagher cited a survey which found that 90% of the top 1000 research and development companies in the world had facilities or programs outside the country of their headquarters. In addition, the top 80 U.S. companies on the list spend more than 50% of R&D money overseas.

“In addition to increasing the nation’s innovation competitiveness, we need to recognize that the next big idea will most likely not be ours,” said Gallagher, adding that the U.S. only accounts for 30% of the world’s patents.

In addition to federal initiatives, Gallagher called on states to stimulate innovation within their borders as well as form regional partnerships. These partnerships can harness regional advantages—access to alternative energy sources like wind or solar, for example—to develop new technologies.

Gallagher said that science has been at the core of NIST since it was established in 1901.

Beyond supporting commerce by setting standards for measurements, NIST’s atomic clock in Boulder, Colorado, serves as the source for nation’s official time. In addition, NIST scientists and engineers are leaders in their fields, including atomic, molecular and optical physics, photovoltaics, cloud computing, cyber security, and smart grid technologies.

“NIST has a deep engagement with science and technology to help the private sector and drive innovation to address our national needs,” said Gallagher. “Our mission has never been more important.”


Listen to audio from Patrick Gallagher’s talk at the AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy.

See more news from the 2010 Forum.

Get details about the program and speakers at this year’s Forum.