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Released October 22, 2003


HATTIESBURG - A convergence of disciplines has made a positive impact on scientific research, providing greater opportunities for advancement in exploring the world around us and "inevitable surprises" in the way of discoveries through scientific research that improve our quality of life.

That's how Tuesday's University Forum speaker at The University of Southern Mississippi, National Science Foundation director Dr. Rita Colwell, assessed the current state of scientific research in her presentation "Meeting Society's Needs: Science in a New Era" during her visit to the Hattiesburg campus.

"The basic scientific research that we do has a very important impact on the human condition," Colwell said. As an example of "inevitable surprises," she noted the eventual use of adaptive optics originally incorporated for research in astronomy for improving human vision.

Colwell described 21st century science as working in a context using what she describes as "collaborative, cross-disciplinary and computational" and is aimed at the complexity and complete integration of research and education. She said the practices come down to connections and communication that "yield a critical mass of scale, richness and pace no earlier century could have imagined."

The differences between early photography and today's motion pictures were cited by Colwell as an analogy for the difference between how science and engineering was once illustrated and how we now visualize and simulate phenomenon with advances in technology.

These advances have allowed such areas of research as bioscience, which at one time relied on botanical and anatomical illustration, with more comprehensive methods of examining information.

"We were restricted to two-dimensional illustration," Colwell said. "Our minds supplied the third dimension, and beyond. Today, we are gaining the capability to represent our universe, from the nanoscale to the astronomical in a specificity of detail that is breathtaking."

Since becoming director of the NSF, Colwell has spearheaded the agency's emphases in K-12 science and mathematics education, graduate science and engineering education/training and the increased participation of women and minorities in science and engineering. Under her leadership, the foundation has received significant budget increases, and its funding recently reached a level of more than $4.8 billion.

Dr. Colwell has held many advisory positions in the U.S. government, nonprofit science policy organizations and private foundations, as well as in the international scientific research community. She has authored or co-authored 16 books and more than 600 scientific publications, and produced the award-winning film Invisible Seas, and has served on editorial boards of numerous scientific journals.


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM