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Department of Energy National Science Bowl

May 5, 2008 - 11:30am

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Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by Secretary Bodman

Thank you, Ray.  And thanks to our Office of Science for all the work that went into organizing this year's National Science Bowl.

In particular, I'd like to recognize Sue Ellen Walbridge, who has orchestrated this important event for the past 17 years.  Sue Ellen, thank you for your devotion to America's scientific future.

I'm glad to have my wife Diane with me here today.  It's no secret; we are both big supporters of this competition and of all of you its participants.

You are America's future.  And as I look out here today on many of our best and brightest students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, it is clear to me that our future is bright indeed.

First, let me say congratulations to all of you I know you worked hard to get here and I'm sure the last couple days of competition have been pretty intense.

I know you are anxious for the presentation of the awards.  But I do want to take just a few minutes to tell you why the Department of Energy's National Science Bowl and, in particular, your participation in it is so important to America's prosperity, especially now.

This is such a critical time in our history.  As a nation, we face tremendous challenges to our security, to our health and well-being, and to our future economic competitiveness.  Among our most pressing issues is improving our energy security and addressing global climate change issues that we at the Department of Energy grapple with daily.

How do we begin to find solutions?  I believe science groundbreaking, transformative science is the key.

Now this is certainly not the first time in history we have been faced with such challenges nor is it the first time we have looked to science to help us overcome them.

Let's go back 50 years or so.  In 1957, the Soviet Union put the world's first manmade satellite into orbit around the Earth.  I can remember standing in the backyard of my boyhood home in Illinois with my parents looking for it in the nighttime sky.  Sputnik, as it was called, flashed across the sky like a warning beacon, signaling that America was falling behind in the race for space because we had failed as a country to focus on science in a serious way.

Sputnik caused us to refocus our efforts in particular to renew the emphasis on math and science education in the public schools and to graduate more physical science PhDs.

As we again look to science to help us meet our most pressing challenges, we must once again stimulate the interest of our young people including all of you in math and basic physical science disciplines.

A recent report published by the National Academies Press points out that U.S. colleges and universities awarded nearly twice as many bachelor's degrees in physics in 1956 the year before Sputnik than it did in 2007.  And fewer than 15 percent of U.S. high school graduates have sufficient math and science credentials to even begin to pursue a university engineering degree.

This is a critical issue for America.  During the last two decades, the number of engineers, mathematicians and scientists graduating with bachelors degrees from U.S. universities has declined by 18 percent.  As a percentage of total student population receiving undergraduate degrees, it's down by 40 percent.  Today, China graduates more English-speaking engineers than we do.

Now clearly I am preaching to the choir.  All of you have already nobly accepted the call to pursue scientific studies and for that I applaud you.  But I hope when you leave here and return to your own schools, you will share with your peers the rich rewards of your endeavors and encourage them to pursue these studies as well.

Why is this important?  Because in order to really make progress on the critical issues we face as a nation, we need to make certain America has the scientists, engineers, and mathematicians it needs for the future.  We're depending on them on you to develop innovative solutions to our most pressing problems, including in the energy arena, and to come up with new technologies as well as improvements to existing ones that will keep us competitive in the global economy.

The National Science Bowl plays a critical role in this effort.  Since the Department of Energy established this competition in 1991, more than 130,000 high school students and their teachers have participated raising awareness of the great need to support scientific education and inspiring students across the nation to pursue these disciplines.

We all share in the responsibility to ensure the next generation of scientific leaders receives a firm grounding in math and science if America is to remain at the forefront of scientific innovation.  And, as impressive as your accomplishments are and they truly are impressive the truth is that the Department of Energy's National Science Bowl is more than just an academic contest.  It's an important part of the effort to reinvigorate science in America, now and into the future.

In closing, I thank you for the inspiration you provide to your fellow students of science and mathematics across the Nation.  I congratulate all of you for your outstanding achievement.  And now we will proceed to the awards.

Location: Washington D.C.

Media contact(s): Bethany Shively, (202) 586-4940

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