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Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen Hicks' Remarks on American Innovation at Purdue University (As Delivered)

Well, thank you to Dr. Chiang for that kind introduction, and congratulations on being named the next president of Purdue University. 


So, as I heard very clearly today, under your leadership Purdue’s College of Engineering really has thrived, and I’m sure this community is really excited to see you take the next step into the position of university president. 

And thank you also for your dedication to public service –both as just mentioned here your former role as Science and Technology Adviser to the U.S. Secretary of State, but also as Technology and Innovation Advisor, as I understand it, to the State of Indiana. I have no doubt that you will continue Purdue’s outstanding legacy of supporting U.S. national security through science and technology.

I also want to thank those of you joining who are serving in one of the ROTC programs here in West Lafayette, and I had an opportunity to meet with you a little earlier today.  I know being a student is very challenging, but it’s a serious commitment to add service on top of that – so I really commend you on your dedication to the defense of our nation.

And of course, defense of our nation is job number one at the Department of Defense. We are focused on national security challenges confronting the United States, and our friends and allies abroad. Sometimes those threats emanate from other nations and transnational actors – but they also come in the form of pandemics, like COVID-19, and climate change.

Meeting those challenges requires DoD, the federal government, and really our entire country, to continually innovate, modernize, and push the boundaries of science and technology.

Our ability to do so is one of America’s greatest strengths. And for the past two days, I’ve had the opportunity to see that innovation first-hand.

Just yesterday, I was in Tennessee at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where materials scientists and machine tool researchers and engineers are developing advanced manufacturing techniques that go beyond traditional casting and forging – pushing the envelope of how we make critical components like Navy ship propellers, the wing spars of aircraft, artillery gun barrels, and advanced aerospace systems.

Beyond the Department of Defense, science and technology research and innovation is good for the United States, good for the American people, and good for the entire world.

It’s an engine of growth that turns small steps into giant leaps – driving economies, improving lives, and helping us tackle some of the biggest collective challenges that we face today. That’s why visiting places like Purdue University is so inspiring.

Neil Armstrong, whose statue is just outside of here, was known to say that Purdue taught him about problem-solving, critical thinking, analyzing situations, and coming to conclusions that were in detail and original. 

This very building is a testament to that Boilermaker spirit--full of examples, from the Hoover Dam to the Golden Gate Bridge, reminding us what science and engineering make possible – every one of them a product of Purdue alumni.

That creativity and ingenuity is alive on this campus today. That’s why earlier this year, the Air Force Research Laboratory picked Purdue as the headquarters for a new network of regional research hubs. Their goal: to create a collaborative science and technology ecosystem – bringing together government, academia, and the private sector – that will accelerate the collision of ideas and talent to produce solutions for both DoD and commercial use.

As an example, today I had the opportunity to tour Purdue’s Zucrow Lab and Hypersonics and Applied Research Facility. The research here will not only help develop the capabilities we need to defend the nation, but it will drive progress beyond DoD, for the aerospace sector and other industries – shaping the next generation of commercial air travel, space exploration, and beyond.

I also visited the Birck Nanotechnology Center – a facility focused on, among other disciplines, the development of microelectronics and semiconductors. There is no understating how critical that work is.

Just last week, President Biden signed the CHIPS and Science Act, a new bipartisan law that will supercharge America’s semiconductor research, development; and most importantly, production – creating jobs and driving innovation across the country, so that America can win the competition for the 21st century. 

And we are grateful to Indiana Senator Todd Young for his leadership in Congress to get this law passed.

This new law will help ensure that America has – and makes – the technology that powers everything from F-35 stealth fighter aircraft to the smartphones in our pockets.

And it’ll be happening right here in West Lafayette – where SkyWater Technology plans to open a new manufacturing facility to fabricate state-of-the-art computer chips in Purdue’s Discovery Park.

Earlier, I quoted a Purdue alum who was the first person on the moon, so let me close with a few words from another Purdue alum, who happens to be, so far, the last person on the moon: Gene Cernan.

In December 1972, as he took his last steps on the lunar surface, he talked about how America’s challenge of today has forged humanity’s destiny of tomorrow.

Those words are as true today as they were 50 years ago. And whether you’re here as a student or a staff member, a researcher, or even the faculty among us – I encourage you to keep them at the forefront of your minds.

Especially when the days are long, the work is hard, and the problems in front of you – the challenges of today – feel especially tricky to solve.

Remember that you are contributing to something greater. You are helping to forge humanity’s promise of tomorrow.

We need you to keep going, and to keep pushing the boundaries of innovation. 

Thank you very much.