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Public Papers - 1989

Remarks to the Winners of the Westinghouse Science Talent Search

1989-03-03

Thank you, Mr. Marous, and all of what you at Westinghouse do for this outstanding concept. Doctor Press -- last time I saw Frank Press -- maybe it wasn't the last time, but he'd just received an honorary degree at a graduation ceremony where there were 50,000 people present, at Ohio State University -- well-deserved honor, that he well deserved, as a matter of fact, for prestige he's given to science in this country. And when he salutes a group like this, why, it makes a big impression on me as well.

I want to thank you all, Dr. Seaborg, whose reputation is well-known to everybody here, and John as well, for explaining some of the exhibits to me. [Laughter] I had done a lot in the field of the viability of MVM Parvo Virus. [Laughter] And then at night I like to curl up with a book on mapping mutants. [Laughter] And every once in a while, when I have some spare time, Barbara and I read aloud about the behavior of the inhibitions of sialidases. [Laughter] So, we have a lot in common with these researchers here. [Laughter] But I'll tell you, I'm glad there's no quiz. [Laughter]

And I am so impressed, and I expect everybody here has had a chance to look at these studies. And I'll tell you, it just reaffirms your basic faith in the young people of this country and, I'd say also, in the academic process. Yesterday we saluted some teachers over at the White House, and boy, I wish I'd seen this before I'd been over there to pay my respects to the teachers who help these young minds.

But really, what all of you have accomplished is really something to be proud of. Not only is it a great achievement but you really earned these honors. Thomas Edison said that genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. Well, each of you, with your academic diligence and your intellect and a lot of hard work, have won the oldest and largest national high school competition in the entire country. And past winners of the Westinghouse Talent Search have distinguished themselves in every field of science and mathematics. And your predecessors have received every major honor and award in their fields, including the Nobel Prize and the National Medal of Science. And what you've done is important for America. Scientific and technological advancement have always been at the very heart of our nation's pioneer spirit, pushing the boundaries of our knowledge, creating economic opportunity, and certainly increasing our standard of living and making this a healthier and safer world in which to live.

It is scientific advancements that made us aware of the damage to our Earth's protective ozone layer and the need to reduce CFC's [chlorofluorocarbons] that deplete our precious upper atmospheric resources. As a result of these advances, the United States and other nations have led the way, through the Montreal protocol, toward reductions of CFC's. And that protocol will reduce CFC's to 50 percent of 1986 levels by the year 1998. But recent studies indicate that this 50-percent reduction may not be enough. And I thought some of you interested in that field might like to know that I today asked Bill Reilly, our new EPA Administrator, to join with other nations this weekend as he goes abroad in supporting the call for the elimination of CFC's by the year 2000, provided, you know, that safe substitutes are available. And of course, such a phaseout must be guided by the scientific, economic, and technological assessments under the protocol.

As a nation, we have no natural resource more precious than our intellectual resources. In fact, it's only thanks to human knowledge and ingenuity that crude oil became a valuable fuel and that fields of grain become methanol or that grains of sand become silicon chips. Scientific knowledge must be renewed and expanded in each generation. Many of the miracles that we take for granted in everyday life originated in defense and space research. This investment in new technologies and new plant and equipment helps expand our competitive edge as a nation, and thereby assuring future opportunities for America's next generation in science, engineering, and manufacturing. But for our country to maintain its technological and scientific excellence, no investment in machines or laboratories, as vital as that may be, will by itself be sufficient. There have to be the people who have the knowledge and the commitment, and that will be men and women like yourselves who will lead America into the next century.

You know, by one estimate, it takes 10,000 high school students expressing an interest in a science or engineering major to assure us of 20 men and women who will go on to receive doctorate degrees. And I hope that each student in this room gets a doctorate or pursues a career of one kind or another in science and technology and that some of you consider returning to the classroom as teachers to inspire a new generation of scientists for the future. The fruits of investing in science and scientists are evident. Human intelligence has explored the vastness of outer space and the inner frontiers of the particles of the atom. Diseases have been cured. Knowledge has been harnessed. And energy -- I was going to say that energy has been created, but then I remembered the laws of thermodynamics. So, let's just call it a wash -- [laughter] -- and say that energy has neither been created nor destroyed. [Laughter] And please don't debate me on that, Glenn. [Laughter]

But we truly have seen the scientific knowledge developed in the United States vastly improve the lives of our citizens and of people around the world. And today international scientists and science students are coming here to America to do research, to study, to teach. And this is something that our country greatly benefits from. Yet, still, as a nation, let's face it, we've got to do better. We're not producing enough scientists and mathematicians and engineers. American universities confer only about 77,000 engineering degrees a year at the undergraduate level. And that's about the same number that Japan produces with a total population of only half our size.

Initiatives from Washington are important, but they're not enough. Students and parents and teachers will determine the direction our young people take and, ultimately, what direction, therefore, that our country takes. And there's only one goal that is worthy of us as Americans, and that is to be the very best in the world, to be number one. That's our history, but it is also, I believe, our destiny. Our national qualities of intellectual curiosity and innovation, our frontier spirit and our habit of problemsolving, all uniquely equip America for the great technological age that is dawning.

To help us move in that direction, the Federal budget I propose would, as Frank said, increase funding for -- maybe he didn't cover this point -- but for NASA [National Aeronautics and Space Administration] by 22 percent, would also advance us toward our goal of doubling the budget for the National Science Foundation by 1993. I also proposed full funding for the superconducting supercollider -- and even though I'm from Texas, people seem to understand -- [laughter] -- and as an incentive for private industry, a permanent research and experimentation tax credit.

But one of the most important investments that I want us to make is in science education. So, I have proposed a National Science Scholars Program that would provide 570 scholarships a year. And these would be for up to ,000 a year, for 4 years. And this program would be based on merit, and it would draw at least one young scientist from every congressional district -- 435 across the entire United States -- providing local inspiration and national leadership for the study of science. And I think no one proves better than all of you just how much our students are capable of and how important it is to provide the encouragement and resources that you need. And when you couple this modest Federal effort with what Westinghouse and others are doing in this area across the country, we do have something significant and, I'd say, unique in our country.

So, I came over here to congratulate the sponsors, to congratulate the scientists who have given their blessing to this innovative program, and especially to congratulate all of you achievers. I think all of you are destined for great things. And if you've got any skeptics out in the audience, go next door and take a look, and you'll see exactly what I mean. Thank you, and God bless all of you.

Note: The President spoke at 2:20 p.m. at the National Academy of Sciences Building. In his opening remarks, he referred to John C. Morous, Jr., chairman and chief executive officer of Westinghouse Corp.; Frank Press, president of the National Academy of Sciences; and Glenn Theodore Seaborg, chemist and Nobel Prize winner.

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