Editor's Note: As Neal Lane settles into his new job as director of the National Science Foundation, his enthusiasm is tempered by a clear understanding of the formidable challenges facing him, his agency, and the United States research community in general.

While confident that the nation can maintain its scientific leadership internationally, the 55-year-old physicist and former Rice University provost acknowledges that, if American science is to fulfill its mission, it must do so in the context of a rapidly changing global environment, with all countries seeking to reshape and reidentify themselves in the post-Cold War world.

Foremost among NSF's objectives, Lane contends, is the identification and support of scientific endeavors that accommodate both the individual investigator's inclination to pursue pure research and the nation's need for applications of scientific discovery. Such applications could come, for example, in the form of advanced technology and commercial products that shore up America's...

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