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When policymakers began discussing a stimulus package to help jumpstart the U.S. economy, there was much discussion about whether it would be prudent to include funding for the scientific enterprise.
Some legislators questioned the efficacy of providing funding to facilities such as the Stanford Linear Accelerator (SLAC) and the Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL). What, they asked, do these folks do that would stimulate the economy in the near term? They don’t make cars. They don’t build houses. Why bother?
Well, nearly nine months later, I am elated to reinforce the message the scientific community provided to naysayers about the simulative effects of science investments: Science funding puts people to work. It also helps the U.S. maintain scientific leadership stateside instead of allowing it to migrate elsewhere. It keeps the nation’s top scientists employed here. And, of course, it creates those coveted blue-collar jobs all the senators like to talk about.As part of the project to complete the Linac Coherent Light Source at SLAC, the lab has thus far:
In addition to creating and retaining jobs in the near term, completion of the LHC construction will help reverse the downward slide of the U.S. status in particle physics. According to a 2006 National Research Council committee, “a lack of investment meant that the United States risked forfeiting its leadership in particle physics.”
Why does this matter?
Among many reasons, particle accelerators such as the LHC can help scientists better understand chemical reactions, which could lead to better solar cells, new drugs and myriad other applications. Given the keen focus on climate change and renewable energy mandates, wouldn’t it be better to create a new generation of solar cells here in the U.S. instead of importing them from China or South Korea? The short answer is obviously “yes.”
The folks at BNL have been equally industrious.
According to the Administration’s recovery web site, Brookhaven Science Associates was the recipient of the eighth largest contract award for work related to construction of the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS II), as well as other general construction work at the site.
Of the $150 million BNL received for NSLS II, 250 jobs have already been created.
As the stimulus funding continues to flow, the numbers of both blue- and white-collar jobs created through science will only go up. And the viability of our domestic scientific enterprise will be strengthened. Does science investment create jobs AND reinforce U.S. competitiveness in the near term? Yes it can.