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Texas Leads the Way in Science and Innovation




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U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison
January 9, 2012 | 2249 views | Post a comment

Our state’s world-class research institutions, combined with our state’s pro-growth tax and regulatory policies, have made Texas an oasis for scientists, researchers, and inventors. As incubators for groundbreaking new technologies and research, our university-based innovation hubs are also magnets for savvy entrepreneurs, new businesses and industries -- and for the new jobs that they create.

This past year, our state’s leadership in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) was underscored by the international recognition garnered by two of Texas’ brightest stars, one a distinguished scientist with decades of experience and the other a high school student beginning her career.

Dr. Bruce Beutler of The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center won the 2011 Nobel Prize in physiology / medicine. His research enables scientists and doctors to understand humans’ abilities to respond to infectious diseases and cancer, and is helping to develop new treatments for a broad spectrum of diseases. As a member of The Academy of Medicine, Engineering, and Science of Texas (TAMEST), and now as the state’s 10th living Nobel Prize laureate, Dr. Beutler proudly carries on the Texas tradition of achievement in the STEM fields.

TAMEST took shape in 2004, when I joined with Nobel Laureates Dr. Michael Brown of UT Southwestern and the late Dr. Richard Smalley of Rice University to create a means for our state’s best scientists in all fields to share information and knowledge. We wanted to encourage greater collaboration, not competition, among university researchers.

This vision has paid off. First, by increasing cross-disciplinary science in our state we have improved the quality and impact of the research that Texas produces. Second, TAMEST has been a terrific tool for attracting the best scientific talent to our state. Third, since TAMEST’s creation in 2004, Texas’ share of federal research and development dollars to universities has increased to more than $1.8 billion annually -- from 6th to 3rd in the nation. On January 11th, TAMEST will kick off its 9th Annual Conference in Houston -- welcoming 17 new members -- all of whom have achieved membership in the national academies, as is required for every scientist, engineer, and doctor invited to join TAMEST.

As successful farmers know, you can't eat your seed corn. Likewise, America must continue investing in research to foster the innovation that fuels our economy. A year ago last month, the America COMPETES Act, legislation to reauthorize the key science agencies responsible for supporting basic research, was approved by strong, bipartisan majorities of Congress. As the ranking Republican on the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, which brought forward this legislation, I’m also proud that Congress acted in a fiscally responsible way, by eliminating several duplicative federal programs in order to focus on high-value research.

One of the goals of the America COMPETES Act is to encourage our young people to take science and engineering courses in college, so they can keep our economy strong in the future through research and innovation.

This past year, one Texas high school student stood out: Shree Bose of Fort Worth. Following in the footsteps of giants like Dr. Beutler, Shree won the 2011 Google Science Fair’s $50,000 Grand Prize Award for her research on ovarian cancer, which she conducted with her mentor at the University of North Texas.

Shree’s achievements underscore our nation’s need to develop (many) more math and science graduates. We must inspire our students to pursue STEM fields at an early age, and that depends in large part on having enough teachers trained in the STEM fields.

The UTEACH program, which was originally started at the University of Texas, is helping to meet that challenge by allowing undergraduates to earn a core degree in a STEM field while pursuing teacher training and certification.

As we celebrate the successes of our newest Nobel Laureate and our Google Science Fair winner, let’s remember that the future will belong to those who press further and faster in science and math. America must lead the way.

Hutchison, a Republican, is the senior U.S. senator from Texas and Ranking Member on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.
 
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