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Security, Innovation, and Human Capital in the Global Interest

Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.
President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Center for Strategic and International Studies
1800 K Street, NW
Washington, D.C.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

The central premise of my remarks is that we can better maintain our national security, and other nations their security, and we can maintain security between nations if we can exploit discovery and invention to develop markets and innovations that pertain both within nations and across nations.

This premise must address three things — first, the embedded problems, and rising expectations; second, the role of innovation to resolve problems and address expectations; and third, the development of human capital — in particular, providing a baseline level of global education to the world’s people.

Some embedded problems are cultural, religious, political, social, and must be addressed in that way. Others, if not completely resolvable, are at least partially addressed through exploitation of scientific discovery and technological innovation, and through education.

I will focus, here, on innovation and what it can achieve, and also on education.


There are three aspects of innovation which are relevant:

  • An evolving definition of innovation;
  • Key technologies which are driving innovations today, and pertain to global security; and
  • Global organization of science and engineering.

While the idea of innovation has been around along time, it has a new meaning today. Fifty years ago innovation was closer to invention — discovery and creation in and of itself. Today, the focus is on how to exploit invention commercially, socially, and militarily. Less value is placed on discovery and creation, for the sake of discovery and creation, and more on the exploitation of what comes from them for people and nations. In a sense, this reflects the success of the early model of innovation based on the investment — through a partnership of government and academia — in basic research and the development of scientific talent. What has come out of 50 years of this compact has demonstrated the impact that science and technology can have on things that matter to people and to nations.

Embedded in the original investment in basic research and human resource development was a promissory note — that such investment would redound to the benefit of society. Initially, “society” was nationally focused, and the “benefit” related primarily to national security. But, as new discoveries were made and technologies evolved, the long term benefits were far broader — and, included huge commercial and economic payoffs — extending to global commerce and advances in energy, health, transportation, and many other sectors. Our present U.S. affluence owes much to this investment and to the ease of global ‘migration’ (both literal, with modern transportation, and virtual, with the Internet and global communication networks).

In this century, four key technology sectors pertaining to global security emerge — energy (nuclear power and hydrogen fuel cells), nanotechnology/materials science, biotechnology (genomics, genetically modified food and plants, personalized drugs, etc.), and information technology.


The continued availability of reliable, relatively cheap energy is an assumption which undergirds our economy and underpins nearly all of the technologies we will discuss here — including the information storage and manipulation on which many technologies rely. In that sense, the U.S. technology profile over the next 15 years will be influenced by the overall health of the U.S energy sector, our dependence on foreign oil, and the environmental impact of the energy sources we tap to meet expanding demand. Given that most of the world currently uses far less energy per capita than the U.S., the drive toward higher standards of living in developing countries will make the growth in energy demand even more dramatic when viewed globally.

It is important, therefore, briefly to consider the potential future role of two energy-related technologies: nuclear power and the hydrogen fuel cell.

In spite of the slowdown in nuclear power development in the United States, and in spite of the accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, on a global scale, there has been a steady interest in, and development of, nuclear power.

Current expansion and growth prospects for nuclear power are centered in Asia. Twenty of the last 29 reactors to be connected to national grids are in the Far East and South Asia. And, of the 31 units under construction worldwide, 18 are located in India, Japan, South Korea, China, and Taiwan. Many analysts believe the case for new nuclear construction around the globe — including in North America and Western Europe — is gaining ground.

This turn of events is based on motivations to maintain security of supply and diversity of the energy portfolio, and to lower carbon emissions. While renewable sources of electricity generation such as wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass have been hailed as the way of the future — and, each has made good progress — none have yet shown the potential to be able to provide baseline power on the scale needed to replace fossil fuel sources.

In addition, new technologies are being married with the old to make nuclear power itself more efficient, cost-effective, and reliable. Examples include the use of information technology and new materials for applications such as new digital feedwater controls for enhanced load-following capability of nuclear plants, and for new components in key safety systems.

In 1999, the U.S. Department of Energy initiated the Generation IV nuclear power research and innovation program — an effort that has since been joined by Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France, Japan, South Africa, South Korea, and the United Kingdom — to develop a new generation of reactors that would benefit from five decades of operational and design experience, that would provide convincing solutions for nuclear waste, safety, security, environmental and proliferation concerns, and that would be economically competitive.

The same motivations may be said to drive examination of new alternative energy sources. Fuel-cell technology holds promise. Hydrogen-powered fuel-cell based cars could reduce our dependence on oil and the gas emissions which contribute to global warming.

There are, however, significant technology and infrastructure barriers to be hurdled. Production of pure hydrogen, itself, must become both cheaper, and more environmentally sound, to make hydrogen-powered fuel cells economically feasible. This activity is multidisciplinary — involving fields from chemical engineering to the life sciences, and several new production techniques.

Any of the proposed production methodologies for hydrogen-powered fuel cells may prove useful. We, also, must develop practical technologies which store, transport, and distribute hydrogen safely. There has been a recommitment to move forward with hydrogen fuel-cell development, but this is but a single example of future energy technologies.


A second key technology sector affecting global security relates to human health. As economic globalization progresses, health interdependence expands. Maintaining a healthy population will challenge governments to adapt policies, develop public health infrastructures, and assign resources in order to address comprehensive national health in ways they have not in the past, and to address worldwide migration of diseases such as HIV/AIDS and SARS.

As the rate of HIV/AIDS infection grows internationally, an increasing number of nations will be addressing the health management of this epidemic. A few efficacious drugs at high cost to the patients have been used in developed countries. However, improved AIDS drugs, such as Fuzeon®, which inhibits the ability of the HIV virus to fuse to immune system cells, helping to restore the patient’s natural defenses, are almost prohibitively expensive at an annual cost of $20,000. Governments in developing and underdeveloped countries will find such solutions inadequate for the level of actual and potential exposure of their citizens. This is an arena where faster/better/cheaper drugs through pharmaceutical research would permit populations to optimize their human potential and elevate their quality of life.

Research at the cutting edge of drug discovery is focused on improved and efficient analysis of potential drugs. This research has combined nanotechnology, microfluidics, and biological materials to form the “animal-on-a-chip”, with the objective of reproducing the effects of chemical compounds in the body. The application of Information Technology for mathematical modeling and simulation of chemical reactions in the body, combinatorial chemistry for potential drug identification, coupled with accelerated and efficient screening by high throughput processes will allow faster drug discovery, shortened time to market, and substantially lower development costs.

As an example in the realm of nanobiotechnology — nanostructured materials — scientists at Johns Hopkins University have developed a self-assembling protein gel which stimulates biological signals to quicken the growth of cells. Using a combination of cells, engineered materials, and biochemical factors, the gel can replace, repair, or regenerate damaged tissues.

In the long run, the innovations derived from existing and alternative fuels, biotechnology, information technology, and nanotechnology may be incidental to the original inquiry — but, they will not be accidental. We cannot predict the technological transformations of the future. But, we can expect them, if appropriate investments in research and development are made.

The evolution brought about by these and other technological innovations may have been launched in the U.S., but the ripple effect of these benefits has been not local, not national, but global. This has resulted in resulting in a plethora of interconnected factors and effects, including the rise in trade and the emergence of strong technological and industrial infrastructures in other nations.


The global organization of science and engineering research and innovation is driven by three factors — the need in certain areas for multinational collaborations; the multidisciplinarity of science and engineering today; and the spread of broadband Internet-based communications.

Multinational collaborations arise because of the costs of certain projects, because of global impact, and because information technology makes new organizational formats possible.

International cooperation is essential for addressing the post-petroleum energy needs of the world. The U.S. has made proposals for cooperation in moving toward a hydrogen-based economy, in carbon sequestration, and in clean coal combustion. Cooperation will be essential to finance the kinds of major technology development programs that will be needed in the future. For example, the U.S. has rejoined the consortium to build the ITER reactor, but that important program is stalled over a deadlock on which country — Japan or France — will host the project. And, of course, if the materials challenge of the confinement vessel cannot be solved, the ITER approach to fusion may never be practical, anyway. The project from this and other points is inherently multidisciplinary; and it is a reason to share the intellectual and financial burden by cooperation among many nations.

Multidisciplinarity, as illustrated, for example, in nanobiotechnology and ITER, requires scientists and engineers to tackle problems cooperatively, and allows researchers to avoid scientific cul-de-sacs. This means drawing on a multiplicity of talents spread around the world.

As well, the Internet and linked technologies allow multi-national businesses to operate essentially twenty-four hours a day — globally — and allows researchers to work together in a telepresence environment, simultaneously.


A consistent factor in the emergence of industrialized nations is the rising baseline level of global education, and it continues to be a major factor that will shape future scientific and engineering developments.

The basic level of education must rise globally to help create transparency, to elevate the rights and potential of women (by creating opportunity and literacy), and to allow people to innovate and to solve their own problems. Addressing problems with technological roots and spurring economic growth requires the nurture and development of science and engineering talent.

The success of the Vannevar Bush model of the government partnership with the research university, a model which has supported American scientific and industrial pre-eminence for more than five decades, has not been lost on the rest of the world.

In fact, it has been emulated. Developing countries are reaping the generous harvest of their own sustained efforts to increase domestic participation in university-level science and engineering programs. It may come as a surprise that, in the most recent year for which data is available (2000), out of 2.8 million first university degrees in science and engineering granted worldwide, only 400,000 were granted in the U.S. — while European universities granted 830,000 and 1.2 million were earned by Asian students in Asian universities.

The countries which have been primary sources for the United States of science and engineering talent — China, India, Taiwan, South Korea — are making a concerted effort to educate more of their own at home, and to fund more research within their borders. Between 1986 and 1999, the number of science and engineering doctorates granted increased 400 percent in South Korea, 500 percent in Taiwan, and 5,400 percent (that is correct — 5,400 percent) in China. Not surprisingly, the number of South Korean, Taiwanese, and Chinese students receiving doctorates in the United States declined in the late 1990s. During the decade from 1991 to 2001, while U.S. spending on research and development was rising about 60 percent, spending rose more than 300 percent in South Korea and about 500 percent in China, albeit from an initially much smaller base.

The proportional emphasis on science and engineering is greater in other nations than in the U.S. Science and engineering degrees now represent 59 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in China, 46 percent in South Korea, and 41 percent in Taiwan. By contrast, the percentage of U.S. bachelor’s degrees taken in science and engineering has hovered around 33 percent for three decades.

In 1995, China pledged a strategy of “rejuvenating the nation by relying on science and education.” In 1995, there were fewer than 1.8 million undergraduates in China enrolled in science, engineering, agriculture, and medicine. By 2000, this number had more than doubled to 3.3 million. In the mid-1990s, student enrollments in these fields had accelerated from 3 percent to 18 percent in 1999, growing to 31 percent in the year 2000. Graduate enrollments showed comparable increases. Similarly, in the Engineering Index, China ranked 6th among all nations. But by 1999, it had risen to 3rd, with its share of the total increasing from 4.3 percent in 1998 to 7.4 percent in 1999.

In national ranking of international scientific publications, China rose from 12th in 1992 to 8th by 1999. Similarly, China’s rank in the Scientific Citations Index (SCI) rose from 17th to 8th by 1999. U.S. research and development expenditures ratio to GDP rose from 2.40 percent in 1994 to 2.69 percent in 2000, as growth in research and development outpaced the growth of the overall economy. But the economic slowdown brought the ratio to 2.71 percent in 2001 and 2.64 percent in 2002.

The European Union (EU), as another example, in 2000 set a goal, of becoming "the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010."16 The EU followed up, in 2003, with an action plan and a commitment to raise the EU investment in research investment level from 1.9 percent of GDP today to 3 percent of GDP by 2010, of which two-thirds is to be funded by the private sector.

The result, unsurprisingly, is the ascendancy of foreign science and technology platforms and infrastructures in multiple countries, with a pace of growth that far outstrips our own. As an inevitable result, the lure of the U.S. is lessening as a place for students to come to study, or for graduates to come to work. This effect is compounded by recent U.S. security practices, and exacerbated by four trends, each troubling individually, converging, in time, to create a real concern which I have called both “the Quiet Crisis” and “the Perfect Storm.” If these are not addressed comprehensively, together they will undermine U.S. capacity to continue to fully engage the scientific and technological enterprise within this global environment.

What are these four elements?

Our science and engineering workforce is aging more rapidly than the supply of new talent being produced to replace it. The number of workers with science and engineering degrees reaching retirement age is likely to triple in the next decade. Several fields — nuclear and aeronautics, for example — already face worker shortages.

Twenty-five percent of NASA’s scientists and engineers will be eligible to retire in the next three to five years. Sixty-two percent of the employees at NASA are older than 50, and NASA employees over 60 outnumber those under 30 by a ratio of about 3 to 1.

Fewer American students are choosing to pursue science and engineering degrees. The United States now ranks 17th among nations surveyed in the proportion of its 18-to-24-year-olds earning natural science and engineering degrees. In 1975, it ranked third. Few fields have been as hard hit as engineering. In 2000, 59,536 engineering baccalaureate degrees were awarded, well below the mid-80s high of more than 77,572. At the doctoral level, students from abroad earned 56 percent of the engineering degrees awarded by American universities.

As stated earlier, the enrollment of international students in our science and engineering programs is declining. In the post-9/11 world, it is more difficult for international students to enter the United States to study. Many are choosing to pursue degrees at universities elsewhere, and their own nations are rapidly developing not only higher education offerings, but also investing in research and development and policies to encourage foreign investment in job-creating industries.

A demographic shift in the United States also has altered the landscape, creating a “new majority,” but one which traditionally has been underrepresented in science and engineering careers.

The nation now has a minority population comprising more than 30 percent. Add young women and the “new majority” — this “underrepresented majority” emerges clearly. The current — and soon to retire — science and engineering workforce, on the other hand, is 82 percent white and more than three quarters male — not reflecting the new majority — the new reality.

Any new science and engineering workforce must, of necessity, reflect the new demographics — this now is our talent pool. This requires that we find the means to attract young women and minority youth into what will be, for them, “new” arenas, where they will find few role models and mentors. Since much of our youth is poorly prepared compared to their international peers, this will be a challenge requiring comprehensive attention from an amalgam of government, corporate and education sectors. The diversity of our science and engineering workforce can be a distinct benefit when interacting in a globally-linked multinational, multicultural research and innovation environment (e.g. South Africa).

The emerging crisis is garnering attention. The U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century, known as “Hart-Rudman Commission,” references this as a major concern. Federal agencies are weighing in, including NASA and the General Accounting Office (GAO).

The National Science Board spoke out in a report released last August, and last week in Paris, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and UNESCO (the United Nations Economic, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) met to address worldwide concerns about how to improve the quality of basic science education, and its linkage to the situation in the U.S.

The media are beginning to follow the issue. The New York Times, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, just recently featured the issue in articles and editorials.


One cannot look at the future of science and technology without considering the war on terrorism and the shift in research and development funding priorities which is now underway in the US. This trend must be watched to avoid long-term negative impacts on the U.S. research and development enterprise, especially if funding shifts sharply and both university and industrial research move aggressively in that direction. It is, of course, also possible that this new focus on terrorism and homeland security will positively influence overall funding for research and development in this country, although that is not apparent from present federal budget proposals.

Cybersecurity challenges continue to increase at an enormous rate and if this cannot be more effectively addressed than at present, it will be a continuing frustration and possible limitation to realizing the full potential of the new information technology world.

Stem cell research, and its potential for dramatic breakthroughs in healing, could be an area of biology where restrictive U.S. government policies essentially cede leadership to investigators overseas, where laws are more favorable for such research, for example, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and China.

When some 70 percent of the pages of America’s leading physics journal, Physical Review, derive from foreign authors and over half of U.S. engineering Ph.D.’s are granted to non-US citizens (and the statistics are not much different for other physical science disciplines), it seems clear that the limitation of the interaction of American science with foreign investigators can have very adverse effects.

If present research and development manpower trends continue, with fewer American, Japanese and Western European students opting for careers in the physical and mathematical sciences, the research and development center of gravity will move to China and India, or to places like Singapore where targeted investments are being made in specific areas — earlier, in semiconductors, and today, in biological research. Of course, limitations on financial resources may impede growth in such countries. However, a present trend is for American, Japanese, and European companies with available funds increasingly to establish research and development operations in those countries where the skilled manpower is available.

Other challenges include the rule of law, intellectual property rights protections, regulatory environment, foreign policy of sovereign nations, political climate, religious conflict, etc., but, I will not discuss them.

To summarize, is a nation’s status determined by its military strength, its economic strength, or the strength of its research and development community, and its advanced technological assets? It is apparent that U.S. economic and military strength in recent years have been intimately connected with the achievements of the U.S. scientific and technological community, within a venture capital and entrepreneurial environment which has stimulated innovation. These conditions have not existed to such a favorable degree in Europe and Japan, which have relatively high national research and development budgets, but many countries are seeking to emulate the U.S. in stimulating such an environment. This could over time affect, in very real ways, U.S. relationships around the world, especially against the backdrop of shifting perceptions of the U.S. and shifting multinational alliances, not only in Europe, but in Asia, South America, and Africa, as well.

Thank you.

Source citations are available from the division of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Statistical data contained herein were factually accurate at the time it was delivered. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute assumes no duty to change it to reflect new developments.

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