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May 14, 2016



These were among recommendations offered Wednesday at a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing on  improving the nation's R&D enterprise. Calling basic research "the foundation of American prosperity and progress," computer scientist Jeannette Wing (at right) urged Congress to consider multiyear appropriations for research agencies along with "steady, sustainable increases." Wing, formerly at Carnegie Mellon and now at Microsoft, also called for modification of policies and regulations to "further propel the flow of IP to market by promoting start-ups and government-university-industry partnerships," and a reduction in paperwork required of researchers.

Michigan engineering dean David Munson told the panel that in his experience, one in three research proposals merits funding. He urged Congress to provide enough money for research agencies to reach that level. The current 20 percent success rate at the National Science Foundation is actually inefficient, Munson argued: When a proposal is rejected, a researcher either reworks it or creates a new one. "This proliferation of research proposals is bogging down the system, causing a waste of time and resources, and is part of the reason for low funding rates."

See additional testimony by Kelvin Droegemeier, vice president for research at the University of Oklahoma (and former vice chair of the National Science Board), and Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

'SCIENCE OF SLOSH': Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) takes aim at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency for a study entitled “Walking with coffee: Why does it spill?” by mechanical engineer Rouslan Krechetnikov, then at the University of California - Santa Barbara. Yes, Krechetnikov won a DARPA Young Faculty Award. But he contends that "not a penny" of the $172,283 grant went for the coffee-splashing study. His curiosity-driven research produced this answer to the question posed in the title: "Particularities of the common cup sizes, the coffee properties, and the biomechanics of walking proved to be responsible for the spilling phenomenon." See a synopsis. Flake also pokes fun at an NSF-funded study at Georgia Tech probing the way dogs and other animals shake to get dry. Researchers David Hu and Andrew Dickerson say understanding the physics involved could help engineers design better washing machines and other devices.

BIG MONEY WEEK AHEAD: The Senate passed its first FY 2017 spending bill 90-8 Thursday, a record early start that raised hopes for a smoother appropriations process than in the past. HR 2028 funds the Department of Energy's billions' worth of R&D, along with the Army Corps of Engineers. In the coming week, CQ reports, "senators will continue work on the $56.5 billion Transportation-HUD bill (S 2844)." On Tuesday, the Senate’s Agriculture appropriations subcommittee is likely to clear its $21.2 billion bill. Meanwhile, House appropriators are expected to pass the $517.1 billion defense spending bill. (See the chart below, provided by the Coalition for National Security Research, which shows R&D funding levels approved by the defense subcommittee.)


Fiscal 2017 Pentagon R&D Spending Approved by a House Appropriations Panel

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Source of graphics immediately above and below: The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, "Restoring the Foundation: The Vital Role of Research in Preserving the American Dream," cited in prepared testimony by Jeannette Wing before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.


PLASMA PARTNERS: Several National Science Foundation directorates, including Engineering, are continuing a Partnership in Basic Plasma Science and Engineering begun in 1997 with the Department of Energy's Office of Science. The reseach "has applications to space physics and astrophysics, materials science, applied mathematics, fusion science, accelerator science, and many branches of engineering," NSF says. The current solicitation "encourages submission of proposals to perform basic plasma experiments at NSF- and DOE-supported user facilities, such as the Basic Plasma Science Facility at the University of California, Los Angeles and facilities located at DOE national laboratories."

CRII-ING TIME AGAIN: The Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) Research Initiation Initiative (CRII) will award grants to new Ph.D.s who have just obtained their first academic post. The point is to provide them with independence to pursue their research. See the revised solicitation.

BIG PLANS FOR MICROBIOMES: The Obama administration will spend $121 million on research into microbial communities that "help define the health and integrity of their living or inanimate hosts." The Office of Science and Technology Policy notes that "many universities have created centers and launched programs designed to accelerate the study of microbiomes, and private-sector involvement in microbiome research and applications has grown rapidly." This year's federal money will be steered into "interdisciplinary, multi-ecosystem research and tools development." The Gates Foundation, University of California - San Diego, and University of Michigran have announced their own microbiome projects.

DARPA BROADENS ITS REACH: Historically, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has been focused "on mostly engineering disciplines," says director Arati Prabhakar. But there are "areas that have not been traditionally part of DARPA's portfolio, but that I think today are actually very, very important," she tells Paul Basken of the Chronicle of Higher Education. Now, "biology, and bioengineering, and biomedical engineering, and the medical research arena" are places where, "when people are chasing a research idea that could become the basis of a big new technology capability, we hope that they're going to come knock on our doors." Also: "I think the opportunities for new technology and capabilities for and coming out of the social sciences" are going to be a "very interesting area, as well."

CLEANER MATERIALS: The Department of Energy will award $70 million (and require non-federal sources to come up with half the total cost) for a “Clean Energy Manufacturing Innovation Institute for Reducing EMbodied-energy And Decreasing Emissions (REMADE) in Materials Manufacturing.” Find out more.

HELP WANTED - DEPUTY DIVISION DIRECTOR: NSF's Engineering Directorate seeks a deputy director of the Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems (CBET). "Appointment to this Senior Executive Service position may be on a career basis, or on a one- to three-year limited-term basis, with a salary range of $160,300 to $177,800." See the position requirements.


LEARN FROM EACH OTHER: The deans of engineering and law at Northwestern University write in a Chronicle op-ed that courses drawing from both their fields "are happening, and growing quickly. Linking these disciplines expands the thinking of all involved but requires building an understanding. We need engineers (creators) connecting with lawyers (risk managers) to provide a balance. But such teams will not function unless engineers learn something about risk management and lawyers learn something about innovation."


DEADLINE APPROACHING: May 31 is the cutoff for entries in the National Academy of Engineering's E4U3 contest. It calls for a "1- to 2-minute video focused on Mega-Engineering," the kind of projects that "typically address important needs of large populations and/or societies, require teams working across countries and cultures on a solution, and involve at least three disciplines including engineering."  


APPLYING EVIDENCE-BASED TEACHING PRACTICES in Computing Education - A New Half-Day Online Training Workshop, June 1, 2016, 1 - 4 PM, ET. Cost: $50. Computers are now as important to research as telescopes and test tubes, but most researchers in STEM are still not taught the equivalent of basic lab skills for computing. In this interactive 3-hour online workshop, Software Carpentry co-founder Greg Wilson will introduce several evidence-based teaching practices and show how they can be used when teaching graduate and undergraduate STEM students. https://docs.asee.org/public/Webinars/2016ComputingWorkshopFlyer.pdf.

'ENGINEERING-ENHANCED' LIBERAL EDUCATION: ASEE, with financial support from the Teagle Foundation and expert guidance by leading education consultant Sheila Tobias, has launched a website highlighting case studies that examine the benefits of greater integration between the liberal arts and engineering. Find out more.


Engineering & Engineering Technology Chairs Conclave

Join us at the ASEE Annual Conference in New Orleans, LA on June 26, 2016 for the inaugural Chairs Conclave, an exclusive forum for Engineering and Engineering Technology Chairs to exchange ideas, share experiences, talk through challenges, and build working relationships. This full day event, designed by Chairs, for Chairs, includes presentations on relevant topics including financial development and managing external connections, and facilitated opportunities for group discussion and brainstorming.  Register today – space is limited! Learn more and view the full agenda.

eGFI Summer Reading: Is your school hosting an engineering camp, bridge program, or professional development session for K-12 teachers this summer? Jump-start the learning with eGFI (Engineering, Go For It), ASEE's award-winning magazine for middle and high school students. Filled with engaging features, gorgeous graphics, and useful information about engineering colleges and careers, eGFI aims to get teens fired up about 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.