Science to gain from stimulus funds, but projects must be 'beaker ready'
The first goal is to create jobs, but new technologies – and the employment that comes with them – can take time to develop.
The last time the US ramped up spending on science this much, the result was a man on the moon. This time the goal is more modest: jobs.Skip to next paragraph
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Yes, some interesting science may come out of spending $21.5 billion – equal to a 15 percent boost above recent amounts – in a short burst. But most projects have to be “beaker-ready” because a lot of the dollars will be awarded by September. This means the bulk of the money will be used to build labs, renovate classrooms, or fund projects that are already past the “interesting concept” stage.
Proponents of the spending say it has to be viewed as an “investment,” an economy-builder if a scientist discovers, say, the next “flubber.”
“This type of investment has a little longer lead time than funds devoted to roads and bridges,” says G.P. “Bud” Peterson, president of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. “While spending on research, equipment, and infrastructure all create immediate jobs, the real goal is to develop new technologies, which will result in the formation of new companies and thereby create new jobs.”
The mysterious job question
How many jobs? According to the website Recovery.gov, the $789 billion stimulus package will save or create 3.5 million jobs. But there’s no job estimate for the $21.5 billion being spent on science, say officials at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The American Association for the Advancement of Science, a nonprofit, also says it has no jobs number.
But that spending will help the economy, say supporters. For one thing, new science facilities will be constructed. Last fall Arizona State University in Tempe was ready to erect a $187 million building to house earth- and space-exploration research programs and renewable-energy research.
“When you think about our energy needs, we need greatly expanded research in energy, and this building was designed for that,” says ASU President Michael Crow.
But state financial constraints put the construction on hold. If Uncle Sam will provide the funding, “we could start that job in a week,” says Doug Pruitt, CEO of Tempe-based Sundt Construction, which won the contract to build it.
Construction of the building will require 500 to 600 people on the job site, estimates Mr. Pruitt. Even more workers would fabricate the steel and build the parts to go in the building.
Some of the added science funding will be used to renovate buildings. In Brooklyn, Rogers Hall, part of the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, is in need of modernization. The school has requested $65 million to update the building, which houses classrooms, faculty offices, and labs. Included in this request is $5 million to $7 million to replace the windows and rusting window frames, which date back to 1920. But the school also hopes to get money for a three-dimensional printer, which can cost as much as $60,000.