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October 1, 2016



Congress averted a government shutdown with a stopgap funding measure - signed by President Obama Thursday - that basically extends FY 2016 spending levels until December 9. Looking to the post-election lame duck session, both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) hope to pass several "minibus" bills, CQ reports. A minibus packages together several appropriations bills likely to win passage. The strategy leaves open the possibility that  agencies not included in a minibus would be funded for the rest of FY 2017 by another continuing resolution. Democrats would prefer an omnibus, drawing on all spending bills that have already cleared the House and Senate appropriations committees. A minibus, they fear, could steer more money to programs that Republicans favor. The Hill newspaper quotes House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer as saying, "I don't know why you would talk about minibuses, unless you want to leave somebody off the bus."

'I'VE POUNDED THE WALL. . . and I've shed quite a few tears,' Kettering University mechanical engineering professor Laura Sullivan tells NPR. A Flint, Michigan native, she has been closely involved in trying to get authorities to respond to the city's year-old lead-in-water crisis. The federal stopgap funding bill enacted this week finally offers a measure of relief. 

LAME DUCK 'CURES': A GOP post-election priority, according to CQ, is passage of a package of biomedical bills - the 21st Century Cures (HR 6). It passed the House in July, 2015 but has languished since in a Senate committee. Among other things, it would establish a $2 billion-a-year National Institutes of Health innovation fund. A summary says the funds would go to biomedical research, "including high-risk, high-reward research and research conducted by early stage investigators."  The bill would also cut Medicare payments for imaging services that don't employ digital technology.

THE NEW VICTORY GARDENS: Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) wants federal farm loans, some $10 million in agricultural research money, and federally backed crop insurance extended to urban farms, including rooftops, vertical farms and indoor production. She's introduced legislation she hopes will make it into the 2018 farm bill. According to the Detroit Free Press, Stabenow thinks it's "a way for Detroit and other Michigan cities to find ways to reuse vacant land" and put people to work. 

REGULATORY RELIEF: A House Science subcommittee examined two recent reports calling for a streamlining of the administrative burden on researchers: the National Academies' "Optimizing the Nation’s Investment in Academic Research: A New Regulatory Framework for the 21st Century," and the Government Accountability Office's "Federal Research Grants: Opportunities Remain for Agencies to Streamline Administrative Requirements." Among current time-wasting practices, the GAO noted that researchers have to provide a lot of documentation about budgets, data, and travel at the pre-award stage when a) these details are uncertain, and b) they have a 20 percent chance of being funded. Science Committee chair Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) said a researcher seeking a grant from the National Science Foundation "should be able to use the same biographical information and format they use when applying for a grant at the Department of Energy . . . ." The format for progress reporting ought to be uniform as well. Larry Faulkner, former president of the  University of Texas at Austin, told the panel that universities themselves need to act to restore grant agencies' trust by applying "appropriate sanctions where behavior deviates from ethical and professional norms." 

A CONGRESS THAT WORKS: Hoping to relieve congressional "dysfunction," two House members from Illinois, Democrat Dan Lipinski (left) and Republican Darin LaHood, propose a 28-member Joint Committee on the Organization of the Congress - evenly divided between the House and Senate and Democrats and Republicans - that would recommend ways to improve the “orderly, timely and effective consideration and disposal of legislation." Such an effort has been tried several times in the past.   


Graphic by Jennifer Pocock based on data from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NSF). Click here for an interactive version.  

The 2°C Scenario (2DS) represents the measures needed to achieve the goal set by the Paris climate accord. That goal is for global temperatures not to climb more than 2° Celcius above pre-industrial levels. Source: International Energy Agency


WHAT'S THE NEXT BIG THING? Engineering deans are asked to engage their faculty in the National Science Foundation's fiscal 2018 topic selection for the Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI) program. Topics should (1) be transformative; (2) address a national or societal need, or grand challenge; (3) be multidisciplinary, with a leadership role for engineering; and (4) be in an area where the research community is poised to respond (i.e., it is emerging, not exploratory).

FOUR CENTERS TO SHARE $94 MILLION: The Science and Technology Centers (STCs) will "lay the foundations for advances in fields ranging from cell biology and mechanobiology to particle physics and materials science," NSF says. Learn more. The agency has also awarded $72 million so far through its Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems program (INFEWS). See the winners.

BIOMATERIAL REVOLUTION: NSF's Division of Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation (in Engineering) will support research "on advanced measurement systems for experimental determination of complex biomaterial properties." Rapid advances in photonic, acoustic, imaging, electronic and manipulative technologies, combined with computation methods, "have the potential to revolutionize our understanding of the mechanics of biological materials from the molecular scale to in vivo measurement."

ENERGY SCIENCE LEADER RETIRING: Pat Dehmer, No. 2 at the Department of Energy's Office of Science, established the SC-2 office and hired all its current associate directors and office directors. Previously, she directed the Office of Basic Energy Sciences. Cherry Murray, who heads the Office of Science, says Dehmer "is widely known for a remarkable campaign of construction of scientific user facilities and major instrument suites and for the creation and execution of the first dozen or so Basic Research Needs Workshops that eventually spawned the Energy Frontier Research Centers." Science magazine calls Dehmer "a guiding force." 

WHEN THE SUN SHINES: The Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy anticipates spending up to $10 million, in awards of $500,000 to $3 million, "to support three key aspects of solar forecasting as a critical enabler of higher penetration of solar power in the electric grid: the improvement of solar forecasting skill, especially during challenging conditions, such as partly cloudy weather and large ramps; the integration of solar power forecasting with existing grid management systems, especially through probabilistic methodologies; and the setup of a common test framework that can be used to validate solar irradiance and power forecast models."  There's a 20 percent cost share. See the Notice of Intent. (If the link breaks, it's DE-FOA-0001658.)

PHOTOVOLTAIC EFFICIENCY: DOE's SunShot Initiative plans to "support improvements in photovoltaic module design as well as approaches to reduce installation and interconnection time." Awards will range from $100,000 to $2 million. Learn more.


AWESOME AMBITION:  China's 500-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (captured in this space photo by NASA) is "the world's largest of its kind," reports Science. It will peer further into the past for "clues to the origins and evolution of the universe, probe gravitational waves and dark matter, and listen for transmissions from extraterrestrial civilizations. Building the instrument required solving a host of engineering problems, ranging from dealing with a remote, barely accessible site, shielding the dish from radio frequency interference that would drown out the signals from cosmic objects, and developing a first-of-its-kind method to pull a portion of the spherical dish into a gradually moving paraboloid to aim at and track astronomical targets as Earth rotates."

SHOULD WE WORRY? "China has become one of the top space powers in the world after decades of high prioritization and steady investment from its leaders, indigenous research and development, and a significant effort to buy or otherwise appropriate technologies from foreign sources, especially the United States," says Dennis C. Shea, chair of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. "Specifically, China’s large-scale, state-sponsored theft of intellectual property and proprietary information through cyber espionage has helped fill knowledge gaps in its space R&D, provide insights into U.S. space plans and capabilities, and identify vulnerabilities in U.S. space systems . . . ." Shea testified at a congressional hearing entitled “Are We Losing the Space Race to China?”

McKinsey reports: "As China ups its innovation game, CEOs globally will have to focus on faster, cheaper, and more global R&D with a stronger role for China. They should consider taking bigger bets on their China research platform and to accelerate their pace of project development to match local competitors. Leveraging Chinese talent will be a critical R&D success factor globally."

HONEYBEE ALGORITHM & THE GOLDEN GOOSE: Each year the Golden Goose Awards recognize obscure or seemingly off-the-wall scientific research that has had a major impact on society. Among this year’s recipients are John Hagood Vande Vate, John J. Bartholdi III, and Craig A. Tovey of Georgia Tech's School of Industrial & Systems Engineering; Atlanta-based data scientist Sunil Nakrani; and Cornell University biologist Thomas D. Seeley. Drawing inspiration from how honeybee colonies organize foraging and storage of nectar, they developed a resource-allocation algorithm that revolutionized the way web hosting servers deal with the variable flow of internet traffic. Their bio-inspired work, funded by the National Science Foundation and Office of Naval Research, is used by major web hosting companies in a $50 billion market. See a video and read a Washington Post op-ed.

'TAKE WOMEN SERIOUSLY': So advises Susan S. Silbey of MIT's Sloan School of Management, who for 13 years has been conducting a a longitudinal panel study of gender in engineering education and beyond. "Efforts focused only on changing the curriculum are insufficient because they simply reproduce the norms and practices of the profession," she writes. "In order to curb the high rates of women leaving the field, engineering programs need to address gendered tasking and expectations among teams, in class and at internship work sites." 


STUDENT BUSINESS PLAN COMPETITION: In preparation for the third Global Grand Challenges Summit, organizers have launched a Student Day business plan competition in which student teams develop a plan for a start-up based on an idea related to the National Academy of Engineering's Grand Challenges. The deadline for Student Day business plan proposals is October 24, 2016. The Student Day will precede the official opening of the summit, which will be held July 18–20, 2017, in Washington DC. Hosted by the NAE, it is being jointly organized by the NAE, the Chinese Academy of Engineering, and the Royal Academy of Engineering.


SAFE ZONE ALLY TRAINING WEBINAR SERIES – Level 2: Take part in creating a positive and inclusive environment for LGBTQ individuals in STEM by joining ASEE for three free Level 2 Safe Zone Ally Training webinars. Building upon the Level 1 webinars presented in Spring 2016, ASEE is offering a general two-hour Level 2 webinar (October 6), plus two one-hour “deep dives” on supporting transgender students and colleagues (October 27) and LGBTQ and engineering culture (December 6). Register today for all three – space is limited! Missed Level 1? View the slides and recording-on-demand here.

LIBERAL ARTS & ENGINEERING: The Teagle Foundation’s Liberal Arts and the Professions initiative aims to embed the liberal arts in undergraduate engineering education by forging curricular links between faculty in the disciplines and professional fields so students more fully appreciate the social, cultural, and ethical dimensions of their work. To be considered for a grant, please review Teagle’s application guidelines and submit a brief 3-5 page concept paper to proposals@teagle.org. If you have questions about the RFP, please contact Teagle program director Loni Bordoloi Pazich atbordoloi@teagle.org. See also: Liberal Arts and the Professions RFP: and Teagle Foundation Application Guidelines.

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS: The 2017 ASEE Annual Conference will include a cross-divisional session entitled, "Thinking Globally, Acting Locally: The Role of Engineering Education towards Attaining UN Sustainable Development Goals." The full Call for Papers can be found on the Conference website. 

NORTHEAST ENGINEERING GRADUATE STUDENT RECRUITING Mini-Symposium, hosted by Tufts University, October 28, 2016, noon-5 p.m. Searching for the right engineering graduate program? Looking to recruit high-quality graduate students? Register here.

CALL FOR PARTICIPATION: WORKSHOP ON BUILDING RESEARCH CAPACITY FOR STEM FACULTY DEVELOPMENT: Building Research Capacity for STEM Faculty Development is an NSF sponsored working conference that brings together experts from around the country to develop a national research agenda focused on faculty development in the STEM disciplines. February 16-18, 2017 at Clemson University. Apply here


Prize-winning eGFI:  Jump-start the semester with eGFI (Engineering, Go For It), ASEE's magazine for middle and high school students. Winner of the APEX Grand Award for Publication Excellence, eGFI aims to get teens fired up about engineering with engaging features, gorgeous graphics, and useful information about engineering colleges and careers, eGFI aims to get teens fired up about engineering. Click here to purchase copies, For bulk purchases or other inquiries, contact eGFI@asee.org or call 202-331-3500.