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Testimony of Christopher M. Lawson, Ph.D.

Executive Director, Alabama EPSCoR
Director of the Graduate Research Scholars Program
Professor, Department of Physics, University of Alabama at Birmingham
Submitted to the House Committee on Appropriations
Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, my name is Christopher Lawson. I’m a UAB physics professor, and I also serve as Executive Director of Alabama EPSCoR. Thank you for this opportunity to testify about NSF EPSCoR and NASA EPSCoR.  For Fiscal Year 2014, we respectfully request $160 million for the NSF EPSCoR budget and $25 million for the NASA EPSCoR budget.

Congress established the EPSCoR program to ensure that research universities in all states participate in Federal science and technology activities.  Although EPSCoR states have 20% of the nation’s population, and close to 25% of its doctoral research universities, these states only receive about 10% of the Federal research outlays.  EPSCoR provides a mechanism to address these geographical imbalances.  The program has been a huge success—investments have generated growth in state economies, attracted students into STEM fields, and created a broader base of high-tech research expertise.

In my home state of Alabama, NSF EPSCoR funding has generated revolutionary advancements in science and engineering that have led to new business growth and high-paying jobs. For  example,  EPSCoR  funded research  at  UAB  has seeded  a  new  type  of  ultra-sensitive “laser optical  nose”,  that  can “sniff” environmental  toxins  from  spills  caused  by  natural disasters.    It also  may  enable long range laser “sniffing” of explosives such as roadside IED’s, to protect our soldiers. This  new  technology  led  directly  to  the  creation  of  a  new  multi-million dollar startup company in Alabama.

NSF  EPSCoR  dollars  have introduced  more  than  2,000  individuals  across  Alabama  to science  and  technology  concepts  in  the last year  alone.    In  a  time  when  the President  and  Congress  talk  about  the  urgency  of  getting  more  of  our students engaged  in  STEM  fields,  it  only  makes  sense  to  build  on  this success by continuing to fund NSF EPSCoR at $160 million.

Like  its  NSF  companion,  Congress  designed NASA EPSCoR to increase the research capacity of states with little NASA research involvement.    The  program  helps  states  compete for  funding  in  areas  that  are  directly  relevant  to  NASA’s  mission  in  earth and space science, human spaceflight, and aerospace technology.

For example, NASA EPSCoR research at the University of Alabama on  fluid  dynamics  has  the  potential  to  reduce  airflow  drag  by  30%.  A  1% reduction  in  drag  can  save  an  airline  company  $100,000  to  $200,000  in fuel  per  year  per  aircraft.  Thus,  this  research  could  ultimately   reduce  the nation’s  dependency  on  fossil  fuels,  CO2  emissions  into  the  atmosphere, and costs. Funding the NASA EPSCoR program at last year’s request level of $25 million will help to develop additional new types of NASA related technologies for additional economic growth.

At a time of economic challenges and tight budgets, programs like EPSCoR that seek a broader distribution of research funding make solid fiscal sense.  Limiting these resources to only a few states and institutions is self-defeating for our nation in the long run.  NSF and NASA EPSCoR help all states to benefit from taxpayer investments in Federal research and development, and they generate long-term growth and a skilled workforce for the future.  NSF and NASA EPSCoR stretch limited Federal dollars farther through state matching.  Not only do states benefit from increased research capacity and growth, but our nation benefits from the rich and diverse pool of talent that our entire country can provide. In a time that 33 percent of all bachelors degrees in China are in Engineering, compared to 4.5 percent in the U.S., if we are to remain globally competitive, instead of restricting ourselves to only a few states and institutions, we need to be training and harnessing all of our nation’s brainpower, and EPSCoR is working to achieve this goal.    Thank you for inviting me to testify today.

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