As the University broke ground for the Institute for Advanced Science and Technology last week, the President outlined the state of science in the nation--and a Penn response to its plight.

IAST and the Vagelos Laboratories:
The Sign and Symbol of a New Research Agenda

by Judith Rodin

I welcome all of you to this celebration. This is a significant moment in Penn history. Today's groundbreaking signals our renewed commitment to the spirit of discovery and experiment that has distinguished this University since Benjamin Franklin, America's first scientist, called it into being here.

This groundbreaking is both a sign and a symbol of Penn's agenda as a great research university--in facilities, in direction, in goals and priorities.

Research universities are small in number, enormous in influence. Of the more than 3,000 institutions of higher learning in the United States, only 170 universities produce most of the nation's doctorates in science and engineering and perform most of the research.

An even smaller number--30--account for most of the federal funds for academic research. Penn is proudly among this highly select group of research-intensive universities.

Research universities are one of America's greatest resources and truly the envy of the world. We serve the national interest at many levels. The new knowledge and the new talent that we produce touches every sector of American life, from the well-being of our people to the strength of our national economy and our global competitiveness.

And this brings me to some very serious concerns in academic research today. To understand one aspect of these concerns, we need to go back to 1944.

Ten months before the end of World War II, President Roosevelt asked his chief science adviser, Vannevar Bush, how science might be used in peacetime to improve the national health, create new enterprises and new jobs, and better the standard of living.

Bush's report, Science--The Endless Frontier, effectively promised the nation that science could yield enormous benefits if three conditions were met. What were these conditions?

+ First, that the nation make a substantial commitment to basic research;
+ Second, that higher education take on the job of providing the nation with new scientific and engineering knowledge and talent; and,
+ Finally, that the federal government provide funds to enable higher education to meet those new responsibilities.

It was a visionary idea. The policy makers in Washington understood what was at stake and acted. Investment of tax dollars led to the establishment of the largest and strongest scientific and higher education enterprise that the world has ever known. An enterprise that today carries out half of all federally-funded basic research.

The American taxpayers' investment has paid off handsomely. We are the nation that gave the world the electronic computer and medical technologies, cured polio, and walked on the moon.

Yet, our leadership role in science and engineering is being seriously challenged. In the last twenty years, America's investment in research and development has remained flat while that of Western Europe and Japan has almost doubled. And now, there is pressure building in Congress to cut billions in funding for basic research.

These cuts do not make economic sense.

As my colleague, Thomas Everhart, president of CalTech recently wrote in The Wall Street Journal: "One of the worst cases of 'waste, fraud, and abuse' that a society can commit is the failure to invest in its own future sustainability."

Ironically, the public and the policymakers seem to think research universities are doing just fine: "Look at the Nobel prizes we win in science! Look at the billions of dollars the government pours into our research!"

All right, let's look at Nobel prizes: What few realize is that, in recent years, most U.S. Nobel prizes in science have been based on work done before 1975.

Or, let's look at funding: Government support for academic research, when adjusted for inflation, is only 20% higher than it was in the golden age of the 1960s--about $10 billion today. Yet there are twice as many researchers competing for a pot of money that has grown little in the past thirty years. Some of them work in new fields of research that didn't even have a name thirty years ago--fields like molecular biology, organometallic chemistry, and cybernetics.

Another problem is the cost of doing science and engineering research today. The more complex the work, the more sophisticated the equipment we need. And today's research is incredibly complex. As an example, back in the 1920s, scientists laid the foundation of modern physics. The most expensive equipment they used--and I am talking in terms of current dollars--cost less than one tenth of one percent of what is needed today to build a single particle accelerator.

What is true of physics is true in different ways for almost every field of science and engineering. A former president of the NAS once said: "In science, the best is vastly more important than the next best."

Quality does count. A research university cannot produce the best work with outdated labs and equipment any more than it can produce the best science without the best scientists. Yet, according to the NSF, more than half of the laboratory facilities at our research universities were built before 1970. Ten years ago, it was estimated that it would cost $10 billion to replace outdated university research equipment. Little has been done since then. Can you imagine what that figure is now?

But our country's circumstances and commitments have changed, and we must be prepared to address that. What is needed now is a new vision --a long-term vision--of the research enterprise. And a new model of how we do--and pay for--science and engineering research.

Rethinking the Research Enterprise

At this critical time, the University is especially fortunate to have at its helm a Chairman fully committed to the task ahead. Under Roy's visionary leadership, Merck was named "America's Most Admired Corporation" time and time again. That same leadership and vision, on Roy's part and that of our Trustees, is certain to make Penn "America's Most Admired Research University of the 21st Century." And I cannot think of a more appropriate occasion than the groundbreaking for The Roy and Diana Vagelos Laboratories to announce that Penn intends to redouble its efforts and commitment to science and engineering.

It is important for us as an institution. It is critical to us as a nation.

Realizing our vision will require resources, energy, some fearlessness, and a look to the distant future, rather than just tomorrow.

Having said that, we are going to make certain that what we do, we do brilliantly--and with a full financial, personnel, and infrastructure commitment. In an increasingly competitive and demanding research environment, we cannot afford to do less.

And we must begin by rethinking the research enterprise as we have known it. We must adopt more highly selective strategies in determining where we invest and how we invest.We must commit ourselves to only world-class standards in every program that we undertake. We must use our resources wisely to assure the most important aspect of our research --quality.

We must recruit, retain, and support innovators who are working across the boundaries of disciplines and schools. And we must continue to link our research enterprise with the process of educating the next generation.

Finally, we must become ingenious entrepreneurs of our own intellectual capital. Current levels of funding for science and engineering are far below what is needed for healthy, even lean, research. We must therefore identify new revenue streams. We will seek investments by those in the private sector who recognize the long-term importance of our research enterprise to the nation and to society-- corporations, foundations, and alumni and friends of Penn.

We will take full advantage of mechanisms that connect research results with economic utility such as technology transfer, marketing, licensing, and patents. You can be certain that if ENIAC were invented at Penn today, the University would hold the rights.

Today we begin anew to invent our future in research with The Roy and Diana Vagelos Laboratories, the first phase of The Institute for Advanced Science and Technology.

When completed, this facility will house faculty members in chemistry, chemical engineering, and bioengineering, and two interacting research groups: The Center for Excellence in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering and the Institute for Medicine and Engineering. Here researchers from our Schools of Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Applied Science, and Medicine--all at the lead in their field--will collaborate on cutting-edge research that ranges from the understanding of biological functions to bioengineering approaches to human injury and aging.

I mentioned previously that we would seek the support of those who recognize the value of IAST to the nation and society. We have with us today two remarkable people who responded immediately and generously to this vision: Roy and Diana Vagelos.

I could tell you that Penn alumnus Roy Vagelos is the former chairman and CEO of Merck, chair of the University of Pennsylvania Board of Trustees, recipient of the Enzyme Chemistry Award, and member of the National Business Hall of Fame. I could tell you that Diana Vagelos, a Barnard alumna and a former teacher of French in a special program for elementary school children, is a Trustee of Barnard College, Chair of its Student Life Committee, and President of the Women's Board of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

I could tell you all that. But I would rather tell you that Diana and Roy have always been a team--at home, in work, in their community-- and in their unselfish commitment to higher education and academic science. One sign of this marvelous partnership will be their names together on Penn's newest scientific and engineering facility, The Roy and Diana Vagelos Laboratories of the Institute for Advanced Science and Technology--named in recognition of their extraordinary commitment of $10 million.

The other sign of this extraordinary partnership will be in the research performed, the new talent developed, and the contribution to national well-being made possible by their generosity. On behalf of the University of Pennsylvania, our faculty and our students, thank you, Diana and Roy, for your confidence, your support, your faith in us, and your unwavering vision.