Basic research by scientists, engineers and students plays a huge role in the economic well-being of our nation, said John Holdren, President Barack Obama’s science advisor for eight years, who spoke at CU Boulder Nov. 16.
Holdren, the longest-serving science advisor to any president and a central member of Obama’s senior staff, said virtually every economist agrees that more than 50 percent of U.S. economic growth has been driven by science, technology and innovation in government, academia and industry. “We know historically that our investments in basic research have led to an enormous improvement in human well-being,” he said.
Holdren’s public talk to a packed house of more than 500 people at the University Memorial Center was the inaugural event of the CU Boulder Engineering Dean’s Speaker Series created by Bobby Braun, who was named dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Science in January 2017. As part of the event, Holdren fielded questions from the audience, touching on energy policy, sustainability, climate change, science education and technological innovation.
“Discovery and invention are things that make us human,” Holdren said. “It is one of our highest aspirations to better understand ourselves and apply that understanding to improve the human condition.”
Holdren also talked about Engineers Without Borders USA, which was founded 15 years ago by CU Boulder Distinguished Professor Bernard Amadei of civil engineering and now spans 46 countries with more than 16,000 members. “There is value in this project not just for peoples’ livelihoods but the passion it inspires in young engineers, some of whom may go on to do even bigger and better things,” he said.
“My greatest hope is that we will not lose hope,” he said. “I hope the scientists, engineers and innovators in this country—and the young people who are aspiring to become scientists, engineers and innovators—will not become discouraged by the current political environment. Evidence, facts and analysis will ultimately prevail.”