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Aluminum: Cast Shop and Alloys: Overview Vol. 61, No.2 pp. 31-34

Dear Mr. President: Suggestions to
President Barack Obama from the Materials Community

S. Sen, E. Schofield , J. S. O’Dell, L. Deka, and S. Pillay

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© 2009 The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here are solely those of the contributors and not of their places of employment or TMS.


Materials Technology@TMS is designed to gather the professionals of TMS into one of four virtual “communities:” Established Materials, Emerging Materials, Education, and Materials and Society. At the start of a new presidential administration, members of TMS technical committees engaged in the four community topics were asked to respond to questions about policies and priorities President Barack Obama should undertake during his term of office. Following is a sampling of their comments, organized by community. Visit and access the archive of each community to read all the contributions.


Courtney Young
Past Chair, Hydrometallurgy and Electrometallurgy Committee

First and foremost, the president must recognize what drives our economy and what it will take to make it better. Of course, it’s all tied to our high standard of living and ultimately comes down to natural resource consumption for producing energy and various commodities. With the population expanding, our collective demand for natural resources increases. With our desire to improve our standard of living, our individual demand for natural resources increases even more.

Health, safety, and environmental issues require that we extract and process our natural resources efficiently. Unfortunately, this is not practiced globally. In fact, not even all of the developed countries practice it consistently because the associated costs minimize or nullify profits. Companies have moved abroad to not only avoid these costs, but the associated high salaries as well. Consequently, we have become a nation of natural resource importers. Soon, developing countries will realize that our standard of living is coming at their expense. This national security issue will be worsened if the Mining Act of 1872 is modified.

The president must find a way to make us self-sufficient again or, at least, find a happy medium. This is currently the case regarding oil, is becoming the case for coal, and will become the case for all commodities such as copper and gold. We need to throw less away and recycle more. We need to develop alternative energy sources, including nuclear power, as well as renewable energy resources. And we need to get other countries to become conscientious about their health, safety, and environmental issues.

Lastly, the president must recognize that this will not happen overnight. It will take a plan that will need to be implemented quickly and acted on far beyond his term in office.

Eric Nyberg
Chair, Magnesium Committee
These troubled and turbulent times are without precedent. Two very high priorities for President Obama are bringing the U.S. economy to a viable and sustainable state and reducing our dependence on foreign petroleum. One of the key pieces to accomplishing this is reviving the domestic automotive industry to be internationally competitive, while also including the infrastructure necessary to power alternative-fueled vehicles. Increased use of lightweight magnesium in many aspects of the power generation and transportation industry is one component of a successful transportation and energy strategy.

I believe that President Obama should work first on immediate and tangible energy savings. These include producing lightweight automobiles, while also developing long-range solutions, such as increased use of nuclear power and electric/hybrid vehicles. It must also be recognized that no single solution, short of a scientific miracle, will solve the problems we face, but that many techniques and technologies must be employed.

Further, it is necessary for each American to examine his or her world view and to take appropriate actions to mitigate the adverse effects that each of us cause to our economy and our environment, to the benefit of foreign entities selling many of the natural resources that we consume with little or no concern for the environmental impact of their production methods.


Cynthia K. Belt
Vice Chair, Energy Committee
Promotion of technical solutions to increase energy efficiency, decrease energy consumption, and minimize process emissions must be a high priority for the United States. Work with energy efficiency improves the environment, decreases dependency on foreign energy sources, conserves vital natural resources, reduces greenhouse gases, and makes American companies more cost-effective to retain jobs.

As with any government program, the paperwork and time required to access funding must be reduced. While some government funds have been available, many programs are cumbersome in practice.

Neale R. Neelameggham
Chair, Energy Committee
The new administration should encourage co-generation technologies, including capture and re-use of process emissions and gases, improvement of energy efficiency of industrial processes, and use of alternative energy sources for conventional processes.

Co-generation technologies inherently use most of the input energy, which reduces thermal emissions and improves the energy efficiency of the process. Re-use of process emissions and gases implies the need to use alternative energy sources, such as solar or wind power, with a synergistic reduction in fossil fuel dependency and reduction of carbon footprint.

Applied research emphasizing demonstration of tangible results and conducted on a pilot scale through collaborative efforts between industries and universities should be included in President Obama’s proposed job creation plans. These efforts should benefit consumers and producers instead of being lopsided toward one party—which could hurt the economy.


Adam C. Powell, IV
Chair, Education Committee
New materials have been the primary enabling technology for major new technologies which have brought great benefit to our society. For this reason, empowering students in materials science and engineering is one of the best long-term investments we can make in the nation’s technological future.

At this juncture, the most compelling new tool for materials students is called Integrated Computational Materials Engineering (ICME), as described in the National Research Council report by that name [Committee on Integrated Computational Materials, Integrated Computational Materials Engineering: A Transformational Discipline for Improved Competitiveness and National Security, Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2008].

Using ICME, it is possible to design a new material, or a process for making a new material, at low cost and in a short time. To take full advantage of this opportunity, materials students should have firsthand experience with the use of these tools before they graduate. The government role in providing access to ICME is outlined in the National Research Council report, which offered the following recommendations:

  • Fund cross-disciplinary research and engineering partnerships to develop the taxonomy, knowledge base, and cyber-infrastructure required for ICME.
  • Establish incentives and requirements for materials researchers to place their materials information in open-access infrastructures, together with procedures to ensure that the information and models can be used effectively.
  • Develop engineering talent for ICME by supporting innovative curricula and student internship programs.

Subhadarshi Nayak
Vice-Chair, Professional Registration Committee
I think there are three priorities for President Obama

  • The Economy: An infrastructure revamp can create many jobs, provide an impetus to the economy, and help business run more efficiently for years to come
  • Energy: Renewable energy, particularly solar, should be fully exploited. Energy conservation efforts and addressing environmental issues will also create new opportunities
  • National security: Satellite mapping, sensors, and detectors technology should be a focus to address security threats

Education will play a significant role in addressing these issues. For example, innovations in materials science can play a major part in making more cost-effective and reliable solar and hydrogen fuel cells. Newer materials will be vital in developing fuel-efficient vehicles, health care innovations, weapon sensors, and communication technology. More traditional support sectors, such as steel, metals, and electronics, will also experience boosts as a result of massive infrastructure efforts.

We need to encourage younger generations to choose science and engineering as a career, develop science and engineering educational programs that will boost innovation and creativity, and supply a highly qualified labor pool so good jobs do not get shipped overseas.

Jeffrey LaCombe
Education Committee
Many of President Obama’s stated priorities are well-aligned with materials education. Most notably, he has proposed a broad-based investment in science by doubling funding for basic research over the next 10 years, expanding the roles of America’s universities in research, and making research and development tax credits permanent. The materials community should be reinforcing these initiatives with our own elected representatives, and making clear the important roles of materials in everything from energy independence to homeland security.

The future challenges to American competitiveness are significant. We are good at what we do, but the competition is catching up quickly—and they outnumber us greatly. Innovation is the key to our future success, and we must re-establish the pipeline we once had for our technical workforce.

There is some recent evidence that we are turning the corner on science and math literacy in the United States, but we need to establish policies that will make our K-12 education system competitive with the rest of the world. A key, and currently missing, element we need is to bring “engineering” into K–12 education. Engineering brings relevance to math and science.

If our youth recognize this, they may want to become a part of inventing America’s future. Let’s face it. If you want to truly help change the world, become either a politician or an engineer.


Jud Ready
Chair, Nanomaterials Committee
The Obama campaign has always been about “change.” That slogan has resonated greatly with Americans who are fed up with a great many things related to our government and I see no need to divert from that successful strategy. Nanotechnology is a physical manifestation of this “change” and its resulting impact on science—“nanoscience” is the understanding that properties change, often dramatically, at very small length scales.

President Obama should continue to fund basic research into nanoscale technologies, but needs to impart greater emphasis on applied research that takes the basic “nano” principles discovered and refined over the past decade and puts them to use in commercial products.

In a time where federal funding will be scarce, a case must be made for why those federal dollars are relevant and beneficial—peer-reviewed papers are extremely relevant and beneficial to the scientist, but in no way do they resonate with those funding the work (i.e., taxpayers). A key priority should be for advancing applied nanotechnology that benefits the American taxpayer directly. Examples include improvements to solar cells and other energy technologies.

Roger J. Narayan
Chair, Biomaterials Committee
President Obama has indicated that he supports an increase in federal research funding, as well as the development of “personalized medicine.” During his campaign, President Obama pledged to double support for federal funding agencies over ten years. In addition, he is expected to triple the number of graduate fellowships provided by the National Science Foundation and increase funding to the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates medical devices.

It is also anticipated that he will provide support for private research efforts and overturn the current prohibition on federal support for embryonic stem cell research. However, President Obama is also facing a number of financial challenges—a large federal budget deficit, “bailouts” and other financial support for several industries, financial difficulties in many states, and ongoing military conflicts. Due to these problems, it is unclear whether President Obama will be able to enact his research priorities in the near term.

If they are enacted, these policies will enhance biomaterials research efforts at government laboratories, universities, and medical device companies. In particular, novel biomaterials for personalized medicine will receive increased support over the coming decade. Several factors are currently driving interest in portable sensing and treatment of human disease.

With a significant portion of the population suffering from chronic health conditions, autonomous medical treatment will reduce the number of patient visits to health care facilities and improve overall quality of life. Personalized medicine technologies will also reduce racial disparities in healthcare and provide meaningful near-term outcomes.

Robert Shull
2007 TMS President
Past Chair, Nanomaterials Committee

President Obama should recognize the close linkage between leadership in science and technology and the U.S. economy. The United States has had a good standard of living for the past 50 years precisely because it has led the world in its scientific and technological prowess. However, the rest of the world is catching up and surpassing us. The United States must recapture that lead. This means that President Obama should put much more money into funding the nation’s scientific organizations, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy (DOE), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Department of Defense (DoD), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The most recent new horizon has been the nanotechnology revolution, and advances in nanomaterials have been the enablers. Consequently, it is imperative that President Obama continue to support funding the National Nanotechnology Initiative. Otherwise, the vastly larger financial resources presently supporting nanomaterials research in other parts of the world will result in the United States’ completely losing that potential economic gold mine.

As President Obama develops his policies supporting basic and applied research in nanomaterials, he must recognize the need for balance in those policies. About equal amounts should be devoted to advances in the biological sciences (e.g., biomaterials) as to advances in the physical sciences. Neither area advances very far without input from the other. An initial action would be to increase the NSF budget to put it on a par with the NIH budget, and then increase both of them in step.

Lynne Robinson is the news writer for Materials Technology@TMS.