Visit From Washington

Berkeley Scientists Present the Case for Federal Funding for Research

by Marie Felde

Nobody in industry was much interested in his work in the late '50s, said Charles Townes. So it was a good thing the federal government was funding science research, he told House Science Committee members when they visited the campus Aug. 9.

The work Townes was referring to led to the development of the laser and a Nobel Prize in 1964.

The discussion was the finale to a visit by the Congressional representatives who play a key role in determining federal science funding. The committee oversees funding for the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and NASA.

This fiscal year, federal research grants to the campus total more than $183 million.

The committee, chaired by Rep. Robert Walker of Pennsylvania, was joined by a who's who of campus and UC administrators and scientists led by Chancellor Tien. Mayor Shirley Dean welcomed the committee to campus, with a proclamation declaring Aug. 9 House Science Committee Day in Berkeley.

Their visit was part of a fact-finding trip that included stops at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Stanford University.

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland left the gathering with an interesting challenge. He said it is again time for the nation and its universities to spark the interest of America's young people toward grand scientific achievement akin to the challenge of putting a man on the moon.

At their first stop at Soda Hall, committee members and their staffs heard presentations by Robert Wilensky, professor and chair of computer science, and Alice Agogino, professor of mechanical engineering.

In a presentation at the Valley Life Sciences Building, graduate student Greg DeLory told the committee that thanks to federal funding for a NASA project he works with, he is able to do the full range of science he could never do elsewhere.

Joe Cerny, vice chancellor for research, wrapped up the visit by asking the committee how it sees the future of federal research in higher education.

Walker responded that "it will be very hard," but that a sense of priorities within the nation's science program must be developed and that the focus must be on basic science. The nation that works on "the creating of new knowledge," he said, will be an economic force in the future.

California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher said he believes the era when universities and other areas of scientific research could expect funding without anticipating defined results is over.

That's when Townes told the committee that while it is "eminently reasonable to set priorities," the problem is that "there is a great deal about science that is unpredictable. What we don't know yet, we don't know," he said.

Scientific growth and discovery, he said, is dependent on the kind strong interaction that universities do so well.

The committee and its staff concluded their visit with a campus reception in their honor on a sunny patio at Valley Life Sciences Building. The visit was organized by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and the campus's Public Affairs Office.


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