Science Festival event tackles big ideas in science funding

Whether researchers are studying the mating habits of snails or teaching robots to fold laundry, federal funding for scientific research has been used as a punchline, especially in times of partisan bickering and governmental belt-tightening. Why spend billions on accruing abstract knowledge when there are more pressing priorities on the national docket?    

Answering that question are experts at Penn’s signature event at the Philadelphia Science Festival, “Big Ideas: Funding and Innovation.” There, scientists along the funding chain—from the director of one of the nation’s largest scientific agencies to a post-doctoral student with a long career ahead of him—will discuss the role government plays in advancing innovation and why investing in basic research has incalculable long-term benefits.

The event will take place Tuesday, April 23, at 6:30pm at the Iron Gate Theatre, 37th and Spruce streets.

At the heart of this discussion is Subra Suresh, the director of the National Science Foundation (NSF). Though the NSF spent roughly $7 billion on research last year, its slice of the national budget has been in steady decline since the end of the Cold War, and faces further reduction with sequester cuts looming.    

Other participants in this conversation include Garret FitzGerald, director of the Institute for Translational Medicine and Therapeutics at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine; Sharon Thompson-Schill, the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Psychology in the School of Arts & Sciences and director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience; Chris Hunter, chair of the Pathobiology Department at Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine; and Jordan Miller, post-doctoral fellow in the School of Engineering and Applied Science's Department of Bioengineering.

FitzGerald sees these funding challenges as about more than just lost grants; it is also about laying and preserving a foundation for the careers of future scientists.     

“The opportunity to realize the explosion of basic information in science has never been greater, and yet the incentives for young people to choose to do this as a career have never been worse,” FitzGerald says. “Will we have the people properly trained to exploit the scientific opportunity?”

Tickets to the event can be purchased on the Philadelphia Science Festival website. Enter “psfpenn” for a 10 percent discount. The full calendar of Science Festival programs is also available.