America Needs Immigrant Scientists To Retain Its Competitive Edge: ‘Our Growth Is Constrained,’ Says Ohio Businessman

Dr. Ayman Salem is a metals engineer, though you won’t see him in a welding mask, standing amid flying sparks. His domain is the laboratory, where he examines nickel, titanium and steel alloys at the atomic level. “If we can understand how these metals are built, we can predict how much stronger they can be or how much longer they can last,” he says. It’s highly technical work with practical applications in aerospace, biomedicine, automotive and consumer-product design, and 3-D printing. In short, the kind of metalworking that Dr. Salem and his team produces engages multiple facets of the U.S. economy. It is precisely the kind of innovation that gives the United States its competitive edge.

There is a desperate need for people who know science, technology, engineering and math and are capable of working in data science,” he says. “Over the next couple of years, 180,000 jobs vacancies are expected in this field.

Materials Resources LLC, Dr. Salem’s nine-person company, was recently awarded multiple contracts from the U.S. Department of Defense totaling $1.5 million. The company’s work has resulted in one successful patent, and it has two more patents pending. All of this is only possible because Dr. Salem, who came to the United States on a student visa in 1998, was awarded permanent residency status under a special immigration program that recognized his outstanding scientific achievements. While Dr. Salem’s personal experience demonstrates the success of U.S. immigration policy — he is now a citizen — he believes the system could do much more to spur American innovation.

“There is a desperate need for people who know science, technology, engineering and math and are capable of working in data science,” he says. “Over the next couple of years, 180,000 jobs vacancies are expected in this field. The whole world is competing for data scientists. We need well-trained people coming to this country with advanced degrees, or a competing country will take them. I’m speaking as a business owner and as an American. Our growth is constrained.”

The government agency that awarded Materials Resources its recent contracts, the federal Small Business Innovation Research Program, a highly competitive program that directs government funds to small, domestic businesses with the potential for commercialization, “doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world,” says Dr. Salem. “It’s like American Idol for talented scientists who can solve problems of national interest.” But what good are these special opportunities without enough engineers and scientists to use them to generate more jobs in the community? Dr. Salem loves that in America even an immigrant from a developing nation can rise to the top of his field if equipped only with scientific knowledge. He only wishes that he could do more. “From the NSF and NASA to the DOD and the Department of Energy — all these agencies have problems that scientists and engineers could fix.” If given the chance to expand his staff, Dr. Salem and Materials Resources could be part of the solution.

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