Innovation Pipeline Reception Highlights Ways to Keep America Competitive in 21st Century

June 21, 2016 | Tawanda W. Johnson

To improve the innovation pipeline, the U.S. must invest in long-term, sustained research as well as in students who represent the scientists of tomorrow, said U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) who gave opening remarks during a recent Capitol Hill reception sponsored by the Senate Competitiveness Caucus.

The caucus is a bipartisan forum for fostering greater awareness and understanding of issues critical to U.S. economic growth. The American Physical Society and American Chemical Society hosted the reception, which was held June 7 in the Hart Building. Coons and U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) are co-chairs of the caucus.

During the reception, several speakers addressed strategies for strengthening the innovator pipeline, including improving STEM education for an increasingly diverse population; training qualified science teachers; expanding research experiences for undergraduate students; and boosting federal funding for graduate research projects.

“Long-term, sustained research is the best way to secure our future,” Coons told the attendees who included congressional staffers and federal workers.

He added that students enrolled in physics classes in high school are often taught by teachers who did not major in the subject.

“Many teachers don’t have degrees in physics,” he said.

According to a U.S. Department of Education study, only 47 percent of physics classes and 46 percent of chemistry classes are taught by teachers with specialties in the subjects.

Zachary Keane, a staff physicist at Northrup Grumman, pointed out that he is an example of how “investing in science creates the workforce of the future.”

“As a graduate student, grants from the National Science Foundation’s Nanoscale Exploratory Research program and the Division of Materials Research enabled me to broaden and deepen my skill set while performing research on single-molecule transistors,” he said.

Piali De, co-owner of Senscio Systems, a health technology company that recently expanded to South Dakota, noted that scientific research has paid huge dividends to our nation in the form of innovation and jobs.

“Scientific investment has led to more than half of the nation’s economic growth since World War II,” she said, adding that her scientific background played an integral role in the creation of her business.

Science is also important in addressing crucial issues facing the U.S., explained John Gavenonis, global technology manager at DuPont Science & Innovation.

“Predictable and sustainable funding is key to solving our challenges,” he said.

Policy news and viewpoints for the physics community. The analysis and opinions are those of the APS Office of Public Affairs and do not necessarily represent the entire Society.

U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) talks with students during a reception
Photo: American Chemical Society

U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) (far left) talks with students during a reception titled Strengthening the Innovator Pipeline held June 7 in the Hart Building on Capitol Hill.