In his first major science address since taking office, President Obama promised today to increase U.S. public and private spending to historic highs for science research and development.

"I'm here today to set this goal: We will devote more than 3 percent of our GDP to research and development," Obama said during a speech at the National Academy of Sciences.

He added, "We will not just meet, but we will exceed the level achieved at the height of the space race, through policies that invest in basic and applied research, create new incentives for private innovation, promote breakthroughs in energy and medicine, and improve education in math and science."

Obama became the first president since John F. Kennedy to address NAS during his first year in office, and Obama referenced Kennedy and his call for a massive increase in research funding in the area of space exploration during his address.

"A half century ago, this nation made a commitment to lead the world in scientific and technological innovation; to invest in education, in research, in engineering; to set a goal of reaching space and engaging every citizen in that historic mission," Obama said. "That was the high water mark of America's investment in research and development."

Continuing, "I believe it is not in our American character to follow -- but to lead. And it is time for us to lead once again."

At the forefront of that anticipated increase in science funding will be energy research, though Obama said finding a solution to the country's energy and economic problems may prove more daunting than the space race challenge that forced the last massive increase in science spending.

"The fact is, there will be no single Sputnik moment for this generation's challenge to break our dependence on fossil fuels," Obama said. "In many ways, this makes the challenge even tougher to solve -- and makes it all the more important to keep our eyes fixed on the work ahead."

Obama used much of his speech to tout the investments his administration has already made in science and energy research through the economic-stimulus law and other increases that it anticipated as part of the budget resolution.

Specifically, the White House said the stimulus bill provided $21.5 billion for research and development and the fiscal 2010 budget proposal includes $150 billion over 10 years for renewable energy research as well as $75 billion to make permanent the research and experimentation tax credit.

And Obama announced today his administration intends to launch the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) -- a new Energy Department initiative modeled after the Defense Department's DARPA initiative.

The White House said it will provide $400 million for the initial funding of ARPA-E, and those dollars have already been provided through the stimulus bill. The project will provide grants for development of "breakthrough" technologies in areas such as reduction of foreign oil consumption and energy-related emissions, and improvements in energy-efficiency.

The White House also said that it plans to commit a total of $777 million to support 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers, which will solicit roughly 1,800 researches and students from universities, national labs and elsewhere to address "current fundamental scientific roadblocks to clean energy and energy security."

About a third of the funding for those centers will come from stimulus funds, according to the administration.

And Obama said this morning that DOE and the National Science Foundation will launch a joint initiative aimed at urging American students to pursue career in science, engineering and entrepreneurship related to clean energy.

Obama also promised that ideology will no longer be involved in driving scientific decision -- an obvious jab at the policies of the Bush administration.

"Under my administration, the days of science taking a back seat to ideology are over," Obama said. "Our progress as a nation -- and our values as a nation -- are rooted in free and open inquiry. To undermine scientific integrity is to undermine our democracy."

That line drew the most sustained applause of the speech from the roughly 900 individuals gathered in attendance, according to a White House media pool report.

Obama names science advisory council

Besides promising increases in energy research, Obama also announced the formation of the President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology (PCAST), a group that will advise the president on numerous public policies.

"This council represents leaders from many scientific disciplines who will bring a diversity of experiences and views," Obama said. "I will charge PCAST with advising me about national strategies to nurture and sustain a culture of scientific innovation."

Obama said in particular the council will focus on issues such as strengthening weather forecasting, management of the nation's natural resources and stewardship of coastal zones and resources.

The council will be co-chaired by John Holdren, assistant to the president for science and technology; Eric Lander, director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and one of the leaders of the Human Genome Project; and Harold Varmus, former head of the National Institutes of Health and a Nobel laureate.

Other council members:

Rosina Bierbaum, dean of the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan and an expert on climate science.

Christine Cassel, president and CEO of the American Board of Internal Medicine.

Christopher Chyba, professor of astrophysical sciences and international affairs at Princeton University and a member of the Committee on International Security and Arms Control of the National Academy of Sciences.

S. James Gates Jr., professor of physics and director of the Center for String and Particle Theory at the University of Maryland.

Shirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and former chairwoman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Richard Levin, president of Yale University and an economist with expertise in the area of international organizations.

Chad Mirkin, professor of materials science and engineering, chemistry, and medicine at Northwestern University, as well as director of Northwestern's International Institute of Nanotechnology.

Mario Molina, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California, San Diego, and the Center for Atmospheric Sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, as well as the director of the Mario Molina Center for Energy and Environment in Mexico City. He won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1995 for research related to the Earth's ozone layer.

Ernest Moniz, professor of physics and engineering systems, director of the Energy Initiative, and director of the Laboratory for Energy and the Environment at MIT. Former undersecretary of DOE and associate director for science in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer at Microsoft Corp.

William Press, professor of Computer Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin. Previously served as deputy laboratory director for science and technology at the Los Alamos National Laboratory

Maxine Savitz, retired general manager of Technology Partnerships at Honeywell Inc. and former deputy assistant secretary for conservation in the Department of Energy.

Barbara Schaal, professor of biology at Washington University in St. Louis, with an expertise in plant geneticist. Schaal serves as vice president of the National Academy of Sciences, the first woman ever elected to that role.

Eric Schmidt, chairman and CEO of Google Inc. and a member of Apple Inc.'s board of directors.

Daniel Schrag, professor of geology in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University and professor of environmental science and engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Director of the Harvard University-wide Center for Environment.

David Shaw, chief scientist of D.E. Shaw Research LLC and founder of D.E. Shaw & Co., a hedge fund company. He is a former member of PCAST under President Bill Clinton and a member of the executive committee of the Council on Competitiveness, where he co-chairs the steering committee for the council's federally funded High-Performance Computing Initiative.

Ahmed Zewail, professor of chemistry and physics at Caltech and director of the Physical Biology Center. Awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1999 for research that allowed observation of exceedingly rapid molecular transformations.

Reprinted from Greenwire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC., 202-628-6500