Lucas & Bice in The Oklahoman: Spurring science and innovation in Oklahoma, across the nation

July 14, 2021
In The News
In a single day in Oklahoma, you can drive through fields being planted and harvested using precision GPS technology, past some of the country’s premier research universities, alongside natural gas wells using state-of-the-art energy technologies, and into the heart of Oklahoma City where the Innovation District hosts thriving bioscience, aerospace engineering and advanced medical research industries.
 
Our state is a showcase of the power of advanced science and technology and how it improves our lives, creates jobs and strengthens our economy. The foundation of technological growth is basic, early stage research. That’s how we make fundamental discoveries that entrepreneurs and businesses can translate into exiting new innovations.
 
For decades, America has seen sustained technological progress and enjoyed all the benefits that come with it. We are the world leader in science and technology because of decades of investment in research and development. But now that leadership is under threat, and our progress could stall. Meanwhile, in China, progress is accelerating. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) intends to surpass us as the frontrunner in scientific knowledge and technological development, and they’re committing extensive resources to crucial technologies like artificial intelligence, quantum information sciences, critical mineral development and advanced manufacturing. Falling behind will threaten our national security, our global competitiveness, and jobs here at home. Our continued success requires us to invest in next-generation technologies and to protect our research from theft.
 
Last week, we and our colleagues on the House Science, Space, & Technology Committee passed comprehensive legislation to do just that. Together, the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the Future Act and the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science for the Future Act are a whole-of-government approach that fund basic and transform early stage research into the technologies that will keep the U.S. competitive.
 
As we developed this legislation to spur America’s technological progress, we wanted to be sure our research investments weren’t limited to places like San Francisco and Boston or limited to the top 10 research universities in the country, but also reached places like Oklahoma. America’s scientific progress is best served by encouraging a wide range of researchers from across the country, operating at diverse research institutions.
 
The NSF for the Future Act provides additional funding to some of our bigger institutions, including Oklahoma State University, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Tulsa, but also furnishes the resources needed to establish and expand research capabilities at historically black colleges and universities (HBCU), as well as tribal and community colleges. Institutions like Langston University will have the ability to strengthen their research capabilities and become more competitive for federal grants, leading to a more diverse research pool and more opportunities for students here in Oklahoma.
 
We want to be sure every state contributes to America’s scientific advancement and benefits from it. For instance, we’re investing in advanced scientific computing capabilities, quantum sciences and artificial intelligence. This is the kind of research that directly supports the work being done at the Institute for Research on Trustworthy AI in Weather, Climate, and Coastal Oceanography anchored at the University of Oklahoma.
 
Energy Department scientists will lay the groundwork in computing and modeling methods and then researchers at OU and across the country can use these methods to revolutionize weather prediction and improve conservation and agricultural practices.
 
Our bills also fund the next generation of energy technologies like carbon capture, bioenergy and fusion energy. Basic research at the Energy Department was directly responsible for the shale gas revolution right here in Oklahoma. LED lighting, efficient solar cells, cheaper batteries, lighter materials for transportation and nuclear power plants are all innovations that can be traced back to basic research. By investing in this kind of research, we can reduce emissions, address climate change and keep energy affordable for all Americans.
 
Another key provision in both the acts is developing jobs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and preparing Americans to fill these jobs. Already, we’re seeing tremendous growth in STEM-related work. The U.S.’s science and engineering workforce has grown faster over time than the workforce overall and now represents 5% of all U.S. jobs, with a median salary more than double that of non-science and non-engineering occupations.
 
According to Bureau of Labor Statistics projections, the United States will need 1 million more STEM professionals than we are on track to produce in the coming decade. We can fill this gap and give our children a brighter future by ensuring that every American, in every part of the country, has access to the opportunities and benefits of STEM work.
 
The NSF for the Future Act makes critical investments to improve STEM education and research training for our K-12 students, students pursuing undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral degrees at colleges like OSU and OU, and for individuals pursing degrees in skilled STEM professions at institutions like Oklahoma City Community College.
 
We’re also expanding STEM programs outside of the classroom through organizations like FFA, 4-H, and Boy and Girl Scouts. Extracurricular activities, competitions and field experiences can get students excited about STEM and supplement their education.
 
It’s time to redouble our commitment to American scientific progress. Our bills increase research funding responsibly and sustainably so that we may continue to push the boundaries of our scientific knowledge and create exciting new opportunities right here in our state of Oklahoma.
 
U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne, represents Oklahoma's 3rd Congressional District. U.S. Rep. Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma City, represents the state's 5th Congressional District.
 
This commentary originally appeared in The Oklahoman.