June 1, 1999
The origins of the Internet, magnetic resonance imaging derived from astronomy research and Nobel Prize-winning science. . . . The National Science Foundation has had a hand in these and in almost all of the nation's breakthrough science in the past half century.
And now the National Science Board has a new chair: Eamon M. Kelly. Kelly, Tulane's outgoing president and Kelly Distinguished Professor of International Development, began his two-year term as chair May 11. The National Science Foundation is a $3.4 billion federal agency.
It awards some 10,000 research grants out of approximately 30,000 proposals that it receives each year. In this competitive, merit-reviewed arena, projects range across disciplines from theoretical math and particle physics to anthropology, bioengineering and economics.
Issues span environmental concerns from global warming to science communication and information technology. As chair of the National Science Board, Kelly is chief policymaker for an advisory body to Congress and the President of the United States. The board sets national science policy and functions as a governing board with the power to approve research proposals and award grants.
"This is not a rubber-stamp board," says Marta Cehelsky, executive officer of the National Science Board. "Its a hard-working group."
Kelly won't be reviewing smaller research projectsthe board defers approval of grants for less than $3 million a year or $15 million for five years to the executive director of the National Science Foundationbut he and the board deal with proposals that are large and complex or that have new policy issues embedded in them. In fiscal year 1997, Tulane received $2,193,370 from the National Science Foundation.
To avoid any conflict of interest, Kelly recuses himself when items involving Tulane are before the boardas other board members do, too, in projects involving their institutions. All board members have been appointed by the president and their appointments ratified by Congress. A 10-percent increase in funding for the National Science Foundation budget is now before the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations, and Kelly expects to testify before Congress in the coming months.
Creating excitement about science is a top priority for Kelly. One of his tasks will be conveying to Congressand the general publicthe value of basic science research and the importance of developing the "human infrastructure" of scientists and engineers for the future.
"We have a lot of young people who are turned off about science," said Kelly, "because of the way they receive their early science education in elementary school, high school and college."
In order for American science to stay at the competitive edge of research, the National Science Foundation must "fund activities that lead to the education of the strongest possible group of scientists," said Kelly, citing National Science Foundation support for science education at the K12 level as essential in keeping America the worlds leader in science.
Part of Kelly's new job is motivating scientists to look at how they can better educate the public about the nature and significance of science.
"How can we make clear to the public the enormous benefits that they now enjoy as a result of past investments?" Kelly challenged members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in an April speech. "How do you encourage them to look forward to a world in which they can anticipate a further windfall of benefits from discoveries that we cannot now anticipate?"
Kelly's work as chair of the National Science Boarda two-year, renewable, part-time federal positionwill not change his teaching and research commitment to Tulanes Payson Center for International Development and Technology Transfer. Kelly was elected chair by his 24 fellow board members after serving two years of a six-year renewable term on the board.
"It's an extraordinarily distinguished board," said Kelly. "I feel very honored to be selected chair. And the work is very interesting."
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