American history is a story of progress, much of it achieved through science. It’s discoveries like vaccines that eradicated the most virulent viruses and antibiotics that have made once-fatal illnesses curable. Advances achieved through a program that sent American astronauts soaring into space while producing innovations that transformed life back on Earth. All along, science has fueled American progress and prosperity. And much of the scientific discovery that’s led to these innovations were unlocked in university labs and in the field with university researchers.
Scientists are fulfilling the vision written into existence by our Founders. The Constitution features a clause that aims to “promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts” – enshrining the vital importance of science in our founding document. President Lincoln built on that legacy by signing laws that helped establish the nation’s land-grant universities and the National Academy of Sciences. Science is at the very heart of both of their missions.
And our nation’s public research universities have played a central role in its progress. Public research universities annually conduct over $44 billion of research, more than two-thirds of all university research. Discoveries at public research universities have stamped out infections like Tuberculosis, sown the seeds of the Green Revolution, and led to the development of batteries that power electric cars.
The progress continues today. It’s the technology that’s connected the most remote reaches of the planet to our most vibrant cities. It’s the ingenuity that put the sum of the world’s knowledge at our fingertips and in our pockets. And it’s the science that helped us map the human genome to solve some of medicine’s most vexing mysteries. With an insatiable hunger for new knowledge, public university students, faculty, and researchers continue to advance solutions to our world’s most intractable problems.
Their work could not be more urgent or important. Many debilitating genetic disorders remain to be cured. We face a rapidly growing global population that must be sustainably fed. We have to identify next-generation power sources for a planet that consumes more energy than ever before. Without science, we couldn’t understand these challenges – much less solve them. Yet guided by science, we can and will not only tackle the grand challenges of our time, but lay a firm foundation for future generations’ progress too.
Peter McPherson is President of APLU.