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Sat., May 24, 2014, midnight

Eric Beier: U.S. must continue to invest in research

With many of my fellow college students at Washington State University newly graduated, we are all wondering what our future holds.  As a junior physics major who is interested in all things scientific, my next step in life includes finding a way to conduct long-term scientific research; the foundation of new technologies, job creation and economic growth in our society.

 The federal government funds the majority of fundamental research in the United States, but budgetary constraints, including the resumption of sequestration in fiscal year 2016, have me greatly concerned.  An uncertain funding future means conducting research in graduate school – a necessity to earn an advanced degree – may not be possible.  Also, conducting long-term research in industry is just as uncertain as most of it is funded through government grants or contracts. Businesses are just too risk-averse to invest their own money in a long-term research project.  

Another concern of mine is that the U.S. is slowly losing its prominence as a global leader in science and technology. For instance, the U.S. share of worldwide research and development has fallen from 37 percent to 31 percent.  And while nations such as China, Japan, South Korea and countries in the European Union are ramping up their investment in scientific research, U.S. funding of science is remaining stagnant. Therefore, I recently joined about 15 physics students from WSU in sending a letter to U.S. Sen.  Patty Murray asking her to support robust and sustained funding for scientific research.

Our letter states that we are students who are devoting our undergraduate years to the rigors of math and science to make a difference in new technologies that will likely lead to novel sources of energy and efficient communications. We further state that in an increasingly competitive and globalized world, new technologies will give the U.S. advantages in production and commerce. We understand that there are many challenges facing the U.S. in areas such as energy, health care and national security, and we want to make a difference in addressing those challenges through scientific research.

Moreover, we want to continue America’s great tradition of innovation, which accounts for more than one-half of the nation’s economic growth since World War II. Those inventions make our lives so much easier, and connect us to so many people from around the world. They include the Internet, integrated circuit and GPS – all of which developed from federally funded research.

Furthermore, the transformational breakthroughs in science that have improved our lives, such as the laser, MRI and vaccinations, will cease if we fail to make funding scientific research a priority.

Additionally, we note that robust scientific funding will also boost the confidence of the next generation of scientists about America’s commitment to science. Much to our chagrin, students are considering offers to conduct research overseas because other countries are making stronger commitments to funding science.  America can ill afford to lose the talents of bright students who have so much to contribute to our great nation.

Lastly, we want an investment in the opportunity that science offers us.  If the U.S. is to remain competitive in the global environment, we need to maintain our research infrastructure. This can be done through investments in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the National Science Foundation, NASA, and large projects involving fusion, space exploration and high-energy physics; all of which demonstrate to the world that the U.S. is the leader in pushing the boundaries of human achievement.


Eric Beier is a junior at Washington State University, where he is chapter president of the Society of Physics Students Club.

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