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Invest in research now for a strong future, SPIE members tell Congress

BELLINGHAM, WA, USA - 11 March 2008 - The message carried to Congress last week by volunteers from SPIE and other science and technology societies was clear: Invest today in federal funding for research and education, in order to remain viable and competitive tomorrow.

Thirteen volunteers representing SPIE were among more than 250 who participated on 5 March in the annual Congressional Visits Day (CVD) sponsored by the Science-Education-Technology (SET) Working Group. The working group is a coalition of organizations and industry representatives concerned about federal investment in scientific research.

SPIE volunteers who visited members of Congress uring Congressional Visits Day last week included, front, from left, Barbara Darnell, Richard Youngworth, Tom Lee, Marilyn Gorsuch, Terence Haran; middle, from left, Fabio Parigi, Robert Breault, Alessandro Gandelli; back, from left, James Harrington, Jason Heikenfeld, Jim McNally, Michael Fiddy. Michael Lloyd-Hart also participated but is not pictured.

They illustrated the message with firsthand stories of aging federal labs, grants that fund projects only partially through the life of the project and are not renewed, and other funding shortfalls that combine to reduce the country's ability to be a world leader in innovation.

"The choice is, be a force, be a leader, or be number seven or number eight," NIST Acting Director James Turner told the volunteers in a pre-visits briefing.

Tom Lee of Stanford University, left, and Jason Heikenfeld of the University of Cincinnati, right, met NIST Acting Director James Turner during a reception at the Rayburn House Office Building during SET Congressional Visits Day.

The American Competitiveness Initiative and America COMPETES Act lay out sound multiyear plans and need funding through appropriations, volunteers told their representatives in Congress.

SET visitors also urged Congressional support of math and science education programs, pointing to recent studies that show a serious decline in proficiency in both areas among students in America's schools.

Barbara Darnell, Bodkin Design and Engineering, LLC, at left, and Krisinda Plenkovich, SPIE, talk with Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Michigan) at the SET reception. Rep. Ehlers is a past recipient of the SET Leadership Award.

Visits were timed to occur while Congress is preparing its budget for fiscal year 2009, following on President Bush's recommended budget released in early February.

Returning visitors such as Jim McNally of TruTouch Technologies, Inc., in Albuquerque, NM, find the CVD program to be very effective. "The timing is good, as Congress is starting to consider budget bills."

Rich Youngworth of Light Capture, Inc., in Longmont, CO, pointed out that giving a consistent message about the long-term impacts of research funding is crucial. "With the intensity of day-to-day activity in the Capitol, these visits play an important part in promoting sound public policy that ensures that the U.S. continues to be a world leader in science and engineering."

"I find it very useful to make personal contacts with the staff of my senators' and congressmen's offices," said Barbara Darnell of Bodkin Design and Engineering, LLC, Newton, MA. "So often things we do have political context, especially in the optics industry where funding is not always just related to the order that you've gotten. It may be part of a bigger research project, or maybe not specifically involving your company but the university you're cooperating with. Also, it is great to see your democracy in action - very exciting and worthwhile."

Monthly news updates on public policy of interest to the optics and photonics community are maintained on SPIE's website. Find position papers on various legislative and other issues  and information on how to get involved with Congress.

Michael Fiddy, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, at left, and Terence Haran, Georgia Institute of Technology, were among SPIE volunteers in Washington, DC, for Congressional Visits Day last week.

SPIE's 2008 Congressional Visits Day volunteers included:

  • Robert Breault, Breault Research Organization, AZ
  • Barbara Darnell, Bodkin Design and Engineering, LLC, MA
  • Michael Fiddy, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, NC
  • Alessandro Gandelli, Politecnico di Milano, Italy
  • Marilyn Gorsuch, SPIE, WA
  • Terence Haran, Georgia Institute of Technology, GA
  • James Harrington, Rutgers University, NJ
  • Jason Heikenfeld, Univeristy of Cincinnati, OH
  • Tom Lee, Stanford University, CA
  • Michael Lloyd-Hart, University of Arizona, Steward Observatory, AZ
  • Jim McNally, TruTouch Technologies, Inc., NM
  • Fabio Parigi, Politecnico di Milano, Italy
  • Richard Youngworth, Light Capture, Inc., CO.

About SPIE: SPIE is an international optics and photonics society founded in 1955, advancing an interdisciplinary approach to the science and application of light. Serving the interests of its more than 188,000 active constituents representing 138 different countries, SPIE acts as a catalyst for collaboration among technical disciplines for information exchange, continuing education, publishing opportunities, patent precedent, and career and professional growth. As the organizer and sponsor of approximately 25 major conferences and education programs annually in North America, Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific, SPIE provides publishing, speaking, and learning opportunities on emerging technologies. For more information, visit SPIE.org.