Enabling Scientific Innovation

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Science  12 Oct 2012:
Vol. 338, Issue 6104, pp. 171
DOI: 10.1126/science.1230947

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These should be wonderful times for physicists. Advances in experimental and computational capabilities have opened windows to research areas that previously had seemed out of our reach. We now can see in exquisite detail what atoms are doing inside complex materials, and we have the tools to test predictive theories of what's happening. We have been able do this in ways that are interesting not just to physicists but also to engineers, biologists, and many others. Examples abound in this issue of Science, which features a special section that focuses on physics in developmental biology (beginning on p. 209). Unfortunately, our ability to take advantage of these opportunities has been eroded in an environment where innovation and interdisciplinary research are systematically discouraged. Present funding levels in the United States cannot support a scientific community large enough to sustain a full range of world-leading research programs and to educate the new generations of scientists and engineers that the country needs. That problem cannot be solved quickly in today's political climate, but government funding agencies ought not to operate in ways that make it worse.