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                                     March 17, 2018



Amid "troubling adversarial advances," Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), left, questioned this week whether, even at $13.7 billion—a $500 million increase—the Pentagon's science and technology budget is big enough. The chair of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities noted that Russia has raised its basic research budget by nearly 25 percent. China has national-level plans for S&T and wants to lead the world in artificial intelligence by 2030. The United States, therefore, needs "national level efforts" so that it "remains home to the world’s leading experts, researchers, and technological breakthroughs." Stefanik said "we should ask ourselves if 2.3 percent of the total defense budget is the correct balance." At this week's hearing on defense S&T, Mary Miller, representing the office of Undersecretary Mike Griffin, noted that "in a world with near equal access to technology, speed is becoming a discriminator. Not just speed of discovery, but speed of delivery."

JUMP AHEAD: DARPA Director Steven Walker said "the advanced electronics industry is at an inflection point. Design work and fabrication now required to keep on pace is becoming ever more difficult and expensive, and the pace of homegrown innovation is slowing." DARPA's Electronics Resurgence Initiative (ERI) aims to create technology that marginalizes traditional circuit technology. "Over the next four years, ERI will commit hundreds of millions of dollars to nurture research in advanced materials, circuit design tools, and new system architectures." A key ERI component is the Joint University Microelectronics Program (JUMP) "to build up a fundamental research base in fields underlying microelectronic technologies." Walker also said DARPA "is now framing and leading the 'third-wave' of AI," involving "contextual reasoning, the ability to effectively convey to human users how and why specific decisions are made." CQ reports that the full House Armed Services committee will likely consider the National Defense Authorization Act May 9. See all the defense science agency testimony here.

COMPETITION FOR THE BEST STUDENTS: "For the first time in over a half century, U.S. S&T leadership is threatened," National Science Board Chair Maria Zuber told a House Science, Space, and Technology Committee hearing. "China’s growth rate is remarkable." Besides R&D, the United States also sees increased competition in building a highly skilled workforce, Zuber said. "While for many decades the U.S. has benefitted from and counted on an influx of the best and brightest from around the globe, international student numbers in the U.S. dropped between the fall of 2016 and the fall of 2017, with the largest declines seen at the graduate level in computer science (13% decline) and engineering (8% decline)."

'BREAK OUT' OF SILOS: The National Science Foundation "is not playing it safe," Zuber told the committee during a hearing to review NSF's budget. "NSF proposes in this request to break out of academic silos by adding new elements to our funding structure . . . NSF proposes to begin work on the Big Ideas, and in addition, implement two Convergence Accelerators . . . to invest in cutting-edge interdisciplinary research. The two accelerators will focus on Harnessing the Data Revolution for 21st Century Science and Engineering; and the Future of Work at the Human Technology Frontier. 

'FRIVOLOUS' FUNDING: House Science Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) wondered why, "as China leaps forward, the U.S. is slowing down investment in key areas of basic research like physics and computing." Smith's opening statement said he's "concerned about whether or not the NSF is developing its STEM workforce programs to meet the needs of our economy." He complained "there are still too many projects" that waste tax dollars. He cited six, including $310,000 to study congressional “Dear Colleague” letters and $450,000 to study why there is no single English word for “light blue.”

OMNIBUS SLOWED: CQ reports that "House lawmakers couldn't stick to their own plan to release an omnibus spending bill this week, with a new goal of Sunday or Monday." The $1.3 trillion appropriations measure would fund government programs through the remainder of fiscal 2018. The Association of American Universities' Weekly Wrapup says: "To pass both chambers before the government shuts down at 12:01 a.m. next Saturday, the bill needs to be introduced by early next week. If not, Congress may be forced to pass another short-term continuing resolution to fund the government at current levels."

RIDER FOR 'DREAMERS'? The massive FY 2018 appropriations bill could be a way for Congress to break through its impasse on immigration and protect undocumented young people who have benefited from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which President Trump wants to end. However, CQ reports that "Republican leaders are tight-lipped about the possibility of attaching short-term protections for 'Dreamers' . . . despite a report that President Donald Trump might support the move in order to fund his U.S.-Mexico border wall." 


'AI TO ZIKA': You might think research funded by the intelligence community would be classified and require a security clearance. But less than 15 percent of research at the little-known Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity is classified, says Program Manager Kristen Jordan, left. That means the results can be published and international faculty can be involved. Part of the Director of National Intelligence office, IARPA sponsors "high-risk, high-payoff research" that tackles complex, multidisciplinary problems" and that "delivers innovative technology for future overwhelming intelligence advantage," Jordan told the Engineering Research Council's annual conference in Arlington, Va. It specializes in analysis of torrents of data, "anticipatory intelligence" on events like the Arab Spring or disease outbreaks, collection, and computing. Programs can last three to five years, but IARPA will also fund 12-18-month "seedlings." In one respect, IARPA is a traditional spy shop. Access to the building is "not user friendly."

EXPANDED TRIPODS: The National Science Foundation's  Transdisciplinary Research In Principles Of Data Science (TRIPODS) program launched 12 institutes in FY 2017. Now it "seeks to expand . . . by engaging researchers across other NSF disciplines . . . in collaborative activities. TRIPODS + X projects will foster relationships between researchers in science & engineering domains and foundational data scientists by leveraging existing NSF investments in the TRIPODS organizations." A March 20 webinar will explain it. 

REACH ACROSS THE POND: U.S.-based scientists and engineers with NSF-funded CAREER awards and Postdoctoral Research Fellowships can secure travel money to collaborate with colleagues supported through European Research Council (ERC) grants. The ERC Executive Agency (ERCEA) "has provided a list of ERC-funded principal investigators and research teams interested in hosting" NSF awardees. Learn more.

'UNDER CONSIDERATION' FOR OSTP: The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has fewer than half the people who worked there under former President Barack Obama, but the Washington Post reports "they have advanced some early initiatives that have satisfied tech giants in Silicon Valley and beyond. That includes efforts to speed up the arrival of 5G, the next generation of ultrafast, wireless Internet service for smartphones and other devices." And soon it may even get a director, who might wear a second hat as President Trump's science adviser. "One of the candidates under consideration is Kelvin Droegemeier," vice president for research at the University of Oklahoma and an expert in extreme weather and meteorology. Others are said to be in the running. No one will comment publicly. Droegemeier served two terms on the National Science Board and was named vice chairman in 2012. Photo: University of Oklahoma/OU Daily.

A 'DIVISIVE POLITICAL LANDSCAPE': Chris Fall, principal deputy director of the Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), acknowledged the difficulties his agency faces, with the Trump White House requesting again that Congress shut it down. ASME's Capitol Update, covering ARPA-E's annual summit, reports that "Fall emphasized that in order to address the concerns posed by its critics, ARPA-E must execute a mission that is unique and distinguishable from the DOE Office of Science and DOE’s Applied Energy programs; and make an effort to align priorities with Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s own goals, such as advancing clean coal and carbon capture technologies." ASME says Georgia Tech President Bob Peterson "spoke about the opportunities ARPA-E presents for the energy innovation community. Many students have shifted from moving into the workforce to working to create their own start-ups. Last year, Georgia Tech students launched over 100 start-ups, many originated by students competing in entrepreneurial competitions."


The graphic above appears in R&D magazine's 2018 Global R&D Funding Forecast, which explains: "The size of the circles in this chart reflects the relative amount of annual R&D spending by the indicated country. Note the regional grouping of countries by the colors of the balls. The horizontal axis reflects R&D spending as a percent share of the countries’ GDP (gross domestic product). The vertical axis reflects the number of researchers (including scientists and engineers) per million population for the respective countries." Sources: R&D Magazine, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, CIA Fact Book, OECD © 2018 R&D Magazine 

Source: Presentation by Matt Hourihan, budget expert at American Association for the Advancement of Science, at the Engineering Research Council Annual Conference. © 2018 AAAS

Source: Presentation by Matt Hourihan, budget expert at AAAS, before the Engineering Research Council Annual Conference. © 2018 AAAS


WHY WASTE IT? The National Academies is actively pursuing a "comprehensive assessment of future research and development needs for carbon utilization." The study panel, which has so far held seven meetings and plans two more soon, is looking into "the research and development needed for commercialization of technologies that can transform carbon waste streams into products such as chemicals, fuels, polymers, and/or aggregates at a reasonable cost and a net lifecycle reduction of greenhouse (GHG) emissions to the atmosphere." It's led by David Allen, a chemical engineering professor and director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Resources  at the University of Texas at Austin.


LETTER SUPPORTING SCHOLARLY RESEARCH ON DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION IN STEM: Over the past year, there has been a proliferation of targeted attacks on scholarly work that addresses diversity and inclusion in STEM education, including work in engineering education specifically. Many of these attacks have appeared on conservative outlets and in broader alt-right media and social media networks. When specific faculty members are targeted, they and their colleagues are often subject to harassing and threatening calls, emails, tweets, and more. ASEE supports our members and all academic researchers in the face of these attacks on academic freedom. Read the full statement here.

HIGHER EDUCATION ACT REAUTHORIZATION - Letter from ASEE President Bev Watford to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions: "Postsecondary education plays a leading role in the preparation of the engineering and engineering technology workforce, a driving force behind innovation and our economic development. . . . ASEE recognizes, along with the rest of the higher education community, that student financial aid is too complicated. Simplification of aid programs, however, should not lead to reduction of benefits to students. It is important that student aid options, particularly for graduate students, are maintained. Engineering education provides a proven pathway to the middle class and it is critical that this pathway continue to be accessible to students in need." Read the full letter

P-12 ENGINEERING: The 2nd Annual Advancing Excellence in P-12 Engineering Education (AEEE) symposium will be held May 29-31, 2018 in Baltimore, Maryland. The symposium, and larger AEEE project, seek to (a) promote collaboration to pursue a vision/direction for P-12 Engineering Education, and (b) develop a coherent content framework for scaffolding the teaching of engineering and design at the high school level. After hearing from national leaders, symposium participants will work in breakout groups to review and refine the Progressions of Learning in Engineering and recommend culturally-relevant engineering instructional vignettes and activities. Please register before March 13. Additional details are available at https://www.iteea.org/Activities/2142/AEEE_P12/130242/130249.aspx

THE COUNCIL OF GRADUATE SCHOOLS will be distributing a survey to graduate programs directors titled Masters’ Degree Admission Attributes. CGS member graduate deans will distribute the survey to program directors on March 13. We are encouraging our disciplinary representatives to look out for and complete the survey when it arrives. The survey will inform a study titled Master’s Admission Attributes: Current Status and Missing Evidence.  This project has the potential to help universities and programs to clarify the goals and expected outcomes of master’s education, to better identify students who are likely to succeed in various types of master’s degree programs, and ultimately, to better align the curriculum to support master’s student degree completion and success. More detailed information is available at this link

DEANS' SUPPORT SOUGHT FOR AN ADVANCED HIGH SCHOOL ENGINEERING COURSE: A committee of the Engineering Deans Council has been informed by the College Board and the National Science Foundation that in order for them to commit additional resources towards the possibility of launching an advanced high school course in engineering, the College Board would require a minimum of at least 100 Deans of Engineering signing an attestation by Friday, March 9 stating that they will work towards placement and credit somewhere in either their core or elective engineering curriculum, or in their General Education curriculum.

Read the letter to deans here.

ASEE IS CO-HOSTING the First Annual CoNECD (Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity - pronounced “connected”) Conference April 29 to May 1. It will be a forum on enhancing diversity and inclusion of underrepresented groups in engineering and computing. CoNECD will encompass many diverse groups, including those based on gender (including gender identity and gender expression), race and ethnicity, disability, veterans, LGBTQ+, 1st generation and socio-economic status. It's a collaboration of ASEE's Minorities in Engineering and Women in Engineering divisions and several outside groups. Registration is now open. Find out more.

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