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                          September 21, 2019                                 




Topping the House, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a 9.4 percent increase over current spending for the Department of Energy, including a whopping 19.6 percent hike for advanced computing. With the exception of fusion energy, which the panel flat-funded, other research accounts got hefty raises. (See chart below). The bill is still subject to a vote of the full Senate, negotiation with House appropriators, and approval by both chambers and President Trump.

Overall, fiscal 2020 spending remains in flux, with Democrats and the White House at loggerheads over money for President Trump's border wall. The House passed a shorttern stopgap to fund the govenment at current levels through November 21. The Senate and Trump are expected to approve it as well, but when it expires, all bets are off. Noting "ominous signs," CQ reports: "Another shutdown continues to be a very real possibility considering how far apart both sides are." Image: Senate Appropriations chamber in the Capitol. 

FEAR OF 'FALLING BEHIND': Agreeing to spend more than $1 billion for FY 2020 advanced scientific computing research (including $189 million for the Exascale Computing Project), appropriatorss stated in their report they are "concerned that the [Energy] Department is falling behind in its research capabilities and capacity, threatening continued U.S. leadership." They also provided  $12,000,000 for the Computational Sciences Graduate Fellowship.

CLIMATE AND ENVIRONMENT: Approving $770 million for  biological and environmental research, the panel wants DOE to "enhance investments in machine learning to advance the use of diverse and increasingly autonomous datasets to understand environmental and climate dynamics; rapidly incorporate datasets into predictive watershed, ecosystem and climate models; and project the onset of and track extreme events, such as atmospheric rivers and hurricanes." Members urge DOE "to increase its funding for academia to perform independent evaluations of climate models using existing data sets and peer-reviewed publications of climate-scale processes to determine various models’ ability to reproduce the actual climate," and to continue "funding for colleges and universities to examine and evaluate earth system models and validate their ability to reproduce earth systems."

MARINE ENERGY: The bill would provide $40 million for " competitive  grants  to  support  industry-  and  university-led  projects  to  validate  the  performance, reliability, maintainability, environmental impact, and cost of marine  energy  technology  components,  devices,  and  systems  at  a  variety  of  scales." It also calls for "a  balanced  portfolio  of  marine  and  hydrokinetic  technologies [along with] wave, ocean current, tidal and in-river energy conversion  components  and  systems  across  the  high-  and  low-technology  readiness  spectrum  to  increase  energy  capture,  reliability,  survivability,  and  integration  into  local  or  regional  grids."

THREAT FROM ALGAL BLOOMS: In the section of its report dealing with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Appropriations Committee says it's "concerned  about the increasing threat to human health and public safety from [harmful algal blooms] on our nation’s surface waters." The panel calls for "research and  development  into  the  formation,  rapid  detection,  protection  methods,  and  remediation  of  HABs."

THEFT, CHEATING, AND SHADOW LABS: While providing $42.08 billion to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for FY 2020--$3 billion above current spending--appropriators bluntly noted ongoing worries. They remain "deeply  concerned  about  foreign  threats  to  the  research  infrastructure. . . . In particular, the Chinese government has started  a  program  to  recruit  NIH-funded  researchers  to  steal  intellectual  property,  cheat  the  peer-review  system,  establish  shadow  laboratories  in  China,  and  help  the  Chinese  government  obtain  confidential  information  about  NIH  research  grants.  As  the  Federal  Bureau  of  Investigation,  [Department of Health and Human Services],  and  NIH  continue  to  investigate  the  impact  the  Thousand  Talents  and  other  foreign  government  programs  have  had  on  the  NIH  research  community,  the  Committee  expects to be notified quarterly on the progress of the investigation, as  well  as  institutions,  scientists,  and  research  affected." The panel went on: "NIH  shall  evaluate  the  peer-review  system  and  their  internal  controls  through  a  lens  that  takes  into  account  national  security  threats." It tells NIH to spend no less than $5 million to allow the HHS Office  of  National  Security to expand its insider threat program. 

BETTER SCREENING FOR STUBBORN CANCERS: Senate appropriators say limited screening methods and treatments exist for certain  cancer  types  with  particularly  low  survival  rates--so-called recalcitrant cancers--including those of  the  brain,  esophagus,  liver, lung,  ovary,  pancreas,  and  stomach. The panel urges NIH and the National Cancer Institute to  "continue  to  support  research  with  an  emphasis  on  developing  screening  and  early  detection  tools  and  more  effective  treatments  for  all  recalcitrant  cancers."

See the Appropriations Committee report on the Labor-HHS and Education bill. Also see: 

Lewis-Burke Analysis of Labor, HHS and Education;

Lewis Burke Analysis of Agriculture Appropriations bill

Agriculture appropriations bill report


OSTP TO VISIT CAMPUSES ON FOREIGN RESEARCH THREAT: The director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy says his office will "will be holding meetings at academic institutions across the nation to converse with researchers and students on matters of research security and other topics within [the the Joint Committee on the Research Environment." A letter to the research community from Kelvin Droegemeier warns of ""increasingly sophisticated efforts to exploit, influence, and undermine our research activities" that "ultimately undermine the integrity of the research enterprise and, thus, our economic and national security." The Chronicle of Higher Education quotes Droegemeier as saying: “The faculty would benefit by being part of that conversation. . . . That’s really the target audience.” The paper says U.S.-China research collaboration and Chinese recruitment of scholars "are under the microscope, straining the closest research relationship between any two countries in the world."

ARPA-E's 'FUTURE INTERESTS': According to Director Lane Genatowski, these include the grid (tools, modeling and infrastructure), nuclear energy modeling, carbon capture, bioenergy, and waste to energy. On the latter, a recent DOE report says the agency has identified "several R&D opportunities to improve the economic viability of existing [municipal solid waste] waste-to-energy facilities: Develop waste preprocessing and handling strategies to reduce feedstock variability of MSW streams; Reduce operating costs and increase revenues in existing incinerator facilities; and Enhance economic viability of existing anaerobic digestion facilities." DOE also identified "several R&D strategies that might inform next generation waste-to-energy facilities." 

See Genatowski's presentation to the Energy Sciences Coalition

TECH AND THE WORKPLACE: Historically, "technological development has progressed independent of any consideration of its consequences on workers and society," says Dawn Tilbury (below right), the National Science Foundation's assistant director for Engineering. NSF wants to build "a convergent research community that will place long-term social and economic considerations on an equal footing with technological development." Projects will "integrate and meaningfully relate future work, future technology, and future workers. . . . . A consideration of worker outcomes and quality of life informs the social and economic research component, which in turn guides the development of emerging technology to provide sustainable benefits to workers, to the work they perform, and to the national well-being." See Tilbury's presentation to the Coalition for National Science Funding. 

NEW NAMES, NEW SCOPE: The Molecular Separations program is now the Interfacial Engineering Program. Its scope "will be expanded to include fundamental research on atomic- and molecular-scale interfacial phenomena and engineering of interfacial properties, processes, and materials unrelated to a separation process." In another change, the Biological and Environmental Interactions of Nanoscale Materials Program is now the Nanoscale Interactions Program--"expanded to include nanoscale interface and surface interactions with biological and environmental media." Learn more

EFRI AND ERC MENTORS: Researcjers supported by NSF's Emerging Frontiers of Research and Innovation and Engineering Research Centers programs are encouraged "to create carefully mentored research opportunities for high school students, STEM teachers, undergraduate STEM students, faculty, and veterans who may not otherwise become engaged in a research project, and to utilize the contributions and talents of these participants to make further progress toward research goals. The experience should be mutually beneficial. Research experiences and mentorship have been positively correlated with STEM success." Learn more.  

HYPERSONICS - NOT QUITE THERE YET:  The Government Accountability Office, citing a U.S. Air Force Scientific Advisory Board report, says the core technologies needed for development "have reached Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 5 out of 9. The board expected the remaining subsystems for such a weapon to reach TRL 6 or higher by 2020. According to GAO best practices, TRL 7 is the level of technology maturity that constitutes a low risk for starting system development." Challenges include: heat-tolerant materials; propulsion technology; limited testing facilities; and additional improvements of aircraft control and guidance. See the report.


Source: National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NSF), Higher Education in Science and Engineering, part of Science and Engineering Indicators published by the National Science Board. Pointing your cursor will reveal more details for each agency. Find more figures and tables here

Source: Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development,  National Center on Education and the Economy, "Reviewing OECD’s Annual Report Education at a Glance from a U.S. Perspective" 


YOUNG ADULTS NOT IN COLLEGE: The latest “Education at a Glance” report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development compares nations on a variety of measures, from investment in early childhood education to the percentage of the population with postsecondary training. The data include a few bright spots as well as some cautionary notes for U.S. educators seeking to broaden participation in engineering and science. Among them: The United States has a relatively high portion of 19 and 20 year olds enrolled in postsecondary education—the vast majority in bachelor’s programs. Still, only about half of that age group are enrolled. [Click HERE for a chapter in EAG report]

MENTAL HEALTH OF GRAD STUDENTS: The Council of Graduate Schools says "doctoral candidates face a distinctive set of challenges arising from issues such as expectations of high achievement, supervisory relationships, and career insecurity. We recognize that our universities are both an enriching and stressful environment." CGS has teamed with the Jed Foundation on a 22-month project that aims to "create a foundation for evidence-based policies and resources to support graduate student mental health and well-being, prevent psychological distress, and address barriers to effective support and care. CGS and JED will give particular attention to the experiences of underrepresented racial and ethnic minorities pursuing graduate education." Find out more.

A CALL FOR PRODUCTIVITY-BOOSTING R&D: The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation wants Congress to appropriate $4 billion a year for the next decade for productivity-relevant research. It says "Congress’s and the administration’s processes for allocating research funding largely ignore potential productivity impacts. In part, this is because the academic research community opposes such prioritization."  Read the report



ASEE is seeking applications and nominations for the position of Editor‐in‐Chief for the journal Advances in Engineering Education. The anticipated start date for this volunteer position is July 1, 2020, with applications due this fall. Learn more here.

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