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October 24, 2015


INTO THE FISCAL FRAY: Having won a strong show of support from fractured House Republicans, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is expected to be elected speaker Thursday. He'll quickly face: wrangling over the debt limit (if it hasn't been resolved before he assumes the position); an effort to override President Obama's veto of the 2016 defense authorization bill; pressure to reach a budget deal before the government runs out of money Dec. 11; and a longterm highway bill. A big question is whether the former Budget Committee chair, who negotiated two years of relative fiscal peace with Senate counterpart Patty Murray (D-Wash.), can work to pull off another such feat -- if he even wants to.

A VETO OVERRIDE IS UNLIKELY: That's what the Military Times reports, even though Politico expects "a massive public-relations campaign" by Republicans to salvage the FY 2016 defense authorization. The House is due to vote November 5. The measure passed the Senate with a veto-proof majority but not the House. Senate Democrats who voted for it may now back Obama's stance and insist on passage of a new bill. The vetoed measure contains a number of policies affecting the research community. (See October 3 Capitol Shorts.)

'MODEST, SUSTAINED, AND PREDICTABLE INCREASES' in federally funded R&D are "critical to ensuring the economic competitiveness of the United States," says Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.). He cites agreement among "experts from the scientific community, industry, academia, nonprofits and economic development organizations." Peters and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), members of the Commerce Committee, have concluded a series of roundtable meetings as they prepare to draft a reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act. In a press release this week, they listed several common themes from the roundtables, but also asked for more input from interested parties regarding STEM education and workforce issues and research commercialization and technology transfer. They posed a series of questions on each topic. Submissions should be sent by October 30 to: SciencePolicy@commerce.senate.gov.

NITRD UNDER SCRUTINY: The longstanding inter-agency Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) program, which coordinates advanced information technology R&D, will be reviewed Wednesday by the House Subcommittee on Research and Technology. Testifying will be Johns Hopkins computer science professor Gregory Hager, who co-chairs the NITRD working group on the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, and Edward Seidel, who directs the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. See White House documents and a related workshop.

GI BILL OVERPAYMENTS: "Inadequate guidance, processes, and training have limited VA's efforts to reduce overpayments caused by enrollment changes and school errors," according to a report by the Government Accountability Office, Congress's investigative arm. "Many veterans may not realize they can incur overpayments as a result of enrollment changes because VA provides limited guidance to veterans on its policies." As a result, veterans may be unaware of the consequences of enrollment changes until after they have already incurred their first overpayment debt, according to school officials.


Graphic by Jennifer Pocock; Source: National Centers for Environmental Information.

Click here to enlarge and view in presentation mode. If you hover your mouse over one of the states on the map, it will show you how many disasters the state has had.


WHERE WERE THE ENGINEERS? The blowout at Colorado's Gold King Mine "is somewhat emblematic of the current state of practice in abandoned mine remediation," showing "little appreciation for the engineering complexity of some abandoned mine projects that often require, but do not receive, a significant level of expertise." So states an Interior Department assessment. Missing essentials included: an understanding that water impounded behind a blocked mine opening can create hydraulic forces similar to those in a dam; analysis of potential failure modes; analysis of downstream consequences if failure were to occur; engineering considerations that analyze the geologic and hydrologic conditions of the general area; monitoring to ensure that the structure constructed to close the mine portal continues to perform as intended; an understanding of the groundwater system affecting all the mines in the area and the potential for work on one mine affecting conditions at another.

CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACT ON THE U.S. ENERGY SECTOR: A Department of Energy report goes region by region to examine "the current and potential future impacts of climate change and extreme weather on the U.S. energy sector," with examples of climate resilience actions and "potential opportunities and challenges to develop and deploy climate-resilient energy technologies."

INNOVATION STRATEGY UPDATE: The latest version of the Obama Administration's Strategy for American Innovation stresses: "[t]he importance of investing in research and development (R&D) and the other building blocks of long-term economic growth . . . "; "strategic areas from advanced vehicles to precision medicine where focused effort can advance national priorities and help create shared prosperity;" and "new efforts to make the Federal government more innovative." 

NEXT STEP IN COMPUTING: "A Nanotechnology-Inspired Grand Challenge for Future Computing" backed by the White House and five research agencies states: "Create a new type of computer that can proactively interpret and learn from data, solve unfamiliar problems using what it has learned, and operate with the energy efficiency of the human brain."

GROWING PARTNERSHIPS: The National Science Foundation's graduate research fellows are eligible to "engage in international collaborations with investigators in partner countries" and funding for international stays of 2-12 months through Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide (GROW). Find out more.

BETTER MACHINES: "The manufacture of equipment and facilities that enable the production of energy products" are of particular interest to NSF's Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation division as part of its Manufacturing Machines and Equipment program.

MORE ON THE BRAIN: The Integrative Strategies for Understanding Neural and Cognitive Systems has two new research themes: Cognitive and Neural Processes in Realistic, Complex Environments; and Data-Intensive Neuroscience and Cognitive Science.

See also an informational webinar for the National Institutes of Health's "BRAIN Initiative:  Pre-Applications for Industry Partnerships to Provide Early Access to Devices for Stimulation and Recording in the Human Central Nervous System (X02)."

Read about the venerable NSF-Department of Energy quest to understand "the fundamental physics principles governing the collective interactions of large numbers of charged particles, as well as issues of plasma science and engineering that can have impact in other areas or disciplines."


MATERIAL GAIN: The Micron Foundation's $25 million gift to Boise State University will cover nearly half the cost of a new materials science center, the Idaho Statesman reports. Micron has already made a series of gifts to the school's materials science program, which has 18 faculty and $3 million in annual research expenditures.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE INNOVATION CHALLENGE: The contest, now in its second year, "calls on students enrolled in community colleges to propose innovative science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-based solutions to perplexing, real-world problems. This year, solutions are sought to take on challenges at the nexus of food, energy and water systems." It's sponsored by NSF and the American Association of Community Colleges.


'MAKER SPACES IN ENGINEERING EDUCATION' is the lead-off topic at the Frontiers of Engineering Education symposium starting tomorrow in Irvine, Calif. Keynoter is Jonathan Jaglom, CEO of MakerBot. 



Session Requests Are Open:
• Sunday Workshop and Distinguished Lecture Applications are also available between September 1st and November 2, 2015. •
Author's Kits are Available:
• The 2016 Annual Conference Author's Kit -- available on the website -- contains extremely important information regarding the submission process as well as all relevant deadline dates.

eGFI IS HERE: Help inspire the next generation of innovators with the all-new 6th edition of ASEE's prize-winning magazine for middle and high school students: eGFI (Engineering, Go For It). Filled with engaging features, gorgeous graphics, and useful information about engineering colleges and careers, eGFI aims to get teens fired up about learning - and doing - engineering. To purchase copies, go to http://store.asee.org/  For bulk purchases or other inquiries, contact eGFI@asee.org or call 202-331-3500.