Sandia LabNews

Tom Hunter joins President Bush in panel discussion at Intel on America’s global competitiveness

Less than six months after President George W. Bush’s memorable visit to Sandia to sign the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (Lab News, Aug. 19, 2005), the president was back in the Albuquerque area, and Sandia Director Tom Hunter found himself once again participating in a presidential event.

This time it was in a panel on the president’s new American Competitiveness Initiative conducted at the Intel New Mexico plant in Rio Rancho. Tom was invited to participate in the

55-minute-long, locally televised panel discussion Feb. 3 along with Intel CEO Craig Barrett and several local educational leaders and students.

President Bush himself led the discussions, which centered on boosting US technological competitiveness and math and science education. The initiative, announced by Bush in his State of the Union address three nights earlier, grew out of recommendations of a National Academy of Sciences study led by former Lockheed Martin CEO Norm Augustine and was encouraged and “fine-tuned” (in the president’s words at Intel) by New Mexico’s two US senators, Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman.

In introducing Tom Hunter, the president jokingly recalled the tour Tom gave him of Sandia’s solar thermal test facility last August. “The last time I was with him,” said the president, “we were standing out kind of in a desert area, and he fired up one of these new solar research [here he paused] beams.” That provoked some laughter. “All I can tell you is that I was glad I wasn’t at the other end of the beam.” That brought more laughter. He quickly added, “They’re doing some good stuff when it comes to research and development at Sandia.”

“Welcome,” Bush said to Tom. “Thanks for being here. What’s on your mind?”

Here is a slightly edited transcript of Tom’s comments to the President:

Tom Hunter: Thank you, Mr. President. Well, I should say it’s a real pleasure today to represent about 10,000 of the most committed and best men and women in the role of national security [R&D], support for our economy, and our energy future. It’s probably important to say, though, that this initiative could not have been more important to the future of the country, and could not be more important to me. As I look back on my life, I was born in a place and time when opportunities weren’t that great. I was a middle child of a recently widowed mother, and the economic conditions were not good. I ended up through that period having a mother who loved me and encouraged me about some things — education and hard work. And because of that I was able to arrive at a position where I can represent this fine institution and be seated with you today. And it makes me feel good that those values of education are so important in this initiative that you have. As we look forward, though, which is going to be absolutely critical to this country in how we work across the globe, we’re going to do some new thinking. It’s going to be necessary to not look back at how we have done science and engineering in the past, but look ahead and ask questions about, how can we encourage scientific thought from its very roots? How can we reengineer, if you will, engineering? How can we say there are different ways to do things than we’ve done in the past? We have just begun to realize the important power of these large supercomputers that are now present everywhere. As I sit here today, a few miles away at our laboratory there’s a computer doing something like 40 trillion calculations every second. And that allows people to realize and see things they could never have dreamed of years ago. We’re also seeing now — Intel being one of the most prominent examples [of private sector firms involved in this transition] — what I call small, smart things that will redefine how all of our lives work, from our ability to understand the functions of the human body to how we process information, to how we provide lighting — all those questions. And, finally, looking very deep at the atoms, themselves, and asking, how can we build them up in a way that allows new material to be created? This nano-technology is opening a new frontier. So as we think about educating this next generation of scientists, engineers, and technicians, it’s really critical that we think differently and [inventively] about how we can have a prominent role in those areas across the globe. Our view of ourselves and our institution is to help partner with all the people that you see at this table, and to try to bring forward new ways to look at education and support for education and be prominent in that. We have a large number of partnerships to do so, not only here, but with every university across the country. And I’m proud to be able to be a part of that, proud you called such prominent attention to it, and thank you for being here.

[Bush then marveled at how fast technology advances — people can now watch DVDs in their cars while motoring across Texas — and asked Tom to give an example for the audience of a government-funded research area that has an application to peoples’ lives.]

Tom: Well, let me give you an example. If you look at the lights in this room or other places, you’ll find that about 20 percent of electricity is devoted to lighting, just to make light, at night and as we see today. If you could understand how to change the atoms in one of these little photodiodes — and rearrange them in such a way that you could put in a little electricity and out would come light, then you could end up, by a factor of 10, changing the energy consumption in lights all across the globe. The issue, of course, is how you make white light. Today we can make lots of red light and other colors, but we can’t make white light. So with research, going in and bending the atoms around a bit, we can figure out how to make that lighting just so much more efficient. And I predict that, like DVDs in the cars across Texas, you’ll see lighting in a few years that is all done by other means, saving us an enormous amount of energy.