KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ President Bush, pointing to concerns the United States is in danger of being dethroned as the ''world champion'' of science and technology, urged Congress on Friday to swiftly approve his plan to boost spending on research and development.

Bush went on the road to tout his plans to spend $71 billion on science and technology in fiscal 1991, and to respond to criticism that his education budget - a proposed 2 percent increase over 1990 - is insufficient to improve performance in the nation's schools. The $71 billion is $4.5 billion more than the money enacted for 1990, according to White House figures.

During his visit to two universities in Tennessee and North Carolina, the president toured a semiconductor lab he termed ''awesome,'' and stood in a pitch-dark room for several minutes attempting to see an experiment involving microorganisms that control chemical pollution in contaminated water and soil.

''In science and technology, the United States is today the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world,'' he told an audience at the University of Tennessee.

''Yet some wonder if America has lost its competitive edge and ask if we must now look overseas for the answer,'' Bush said.

''The United States is the defending world champion, but we have to defend our title day by day, week by week, year-in and year-out,'' the president said.

Bush urged Congress to approve his budget proposals in science, including doubling spending for the National Science Foundation by 1993.

''Building America's competitive strength today also means that we need quick congressional action on our other proposals for investing in new capital - intellectual capital,'' he said.

In answer to questions from students about federal funding for education, however, Bush stressed that in terms of spending ''I still believe a lot of the emphasis has to be at the local and state level.''

Bush announced Friday he was creating a 15-member committee, headed by White House science adviser Allan Bromley and including 14 private-sector members, to advise him on ''all areas of science and technology.'' No names of members were released.

The White House also announced Bush on Monday will address the opening session of a United Nations group that is working on the global warming issue. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will meet at Georgetown University in Washington.

Bush has been criticized for not taking a leadership role on global warming. The announcement Friday came after more than 700 scientists, representing more than a third of all members of the National Academy of Sciences, accused him of being complacent about the global warming threat.

Before arriving in Knoxville, Bush toured a North Carolina State University lab that studies semiconductor surfaces.

''All this brainwork out here, it's a little awesome,'' the president said.

Bush participated in a discussion with a handful of technology company executives about their efforts to work with educational institutions on research projects.

Several stressed the need to put more emphasis on science and math education before students reach college.

''We simply can't wait for the schools to improve. Business must take an active role,'' said Richard Daugherty of International Business Machines Corp., who said IBM spends $900 million a year to educate its own employees. ''We need emphasis on math and science.''

''The improvement of education is fundamental to competitiveness,'' Daugherty said.

Bush has come under attack for proposing an increase of only 2 percent - $500 million - in the education budget for 1991 even as he announced national education goals of improved math and science achievement, literacy and drug-free schools.

Education Secretary Lauro Cavazos, accompanying Bush on Friday, reiterated his argument that the proposed $24.6 billion budget for fiscal 1991 ''is the largest budget we've ever had.''

Bush proposes a 69 percent increase, to $230 million, in the Dwight D. Eisenhower Mathematics and Science Program. The money goes to states for improved math and science teaching programs.

Bush also took Energy Secretary James Watkins on the trip Friday. He said the president's Domestic Policy Council of advisers soon will give the president ''an entirely new intitiative'' dealing with interaction between students and facilties such as the federal Oak Ridge National Laboratory near Knoxville.

At the University of Tennessee, environmental technology professors showed Bush a machine to develop microorganisms that can be used in environmental cleanup.

University President Lamar Alexander told Bush the school will establish a Summer School of the South for Science and Mathematics to help meet the president's goal of making U.S. students No. 1 in science by the year 2000.

The state, Martin Marietta Corp. and the Department of Energy each will contribute $1 million to the Academy for Teachers of Science and Mathematics, which provide instruction for high school science and math teachers, Alexander said.