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                          September 28, 2019                                 




President Trump has signed a measure funding the government through November 21, buying time for congressional and White House negotiators to get past a partisan divide over the U.S.-Mexico barrier. Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), near right, says he warned Trump there could be two more shortterm continuing resolutions and then possibly one lasting until September 30, 2020. “I don’t think they want that,” Defense News quotes him as saying--apparently referring to the administration. Democrats oppose spending an additional $5 billion for the wall and want to block any further diversion of Treasury money for the border project.

SENATE PANEL BACKS 3% HIKE FOR NSF, 5.8% FOR NASA: The 30-0 Appropriations Committee vote would fund the National Science Foundation at $8.3 billion, NASA at $22.75 billion, the National Institute of Standards at $1.04 billion, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at $5.337 billion. The committee report was overseen by Commerce, Justice, Science subcommittee chair Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), far right photo. It rejects (the word appears 23 times) a number of the president's proposed cutbacks and program terminations. The panel supports NSF's Big Ideas "as a  focusing  tool," but wants funding  for  the  fundamental  scientific  disciplines to be maintained. It adds $1.2 billion for NASA's "ambitious" exploration goals, including a moon landing in 2024.

ASSESSMENT OF FOREIGN INFLUENCE: Appropriators would give the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy six months to convene science agencies and the FBI and come back with "a  clear  set  of  statements  outlining  current  risks  and  threats  to  research  integrity  from  foreign  influence."  The assessment should "examine,  develop,  and  clearly  describe  the  specific  aspects  of  foreign  talent  recruitment  program  contracts  and  other intellectual  property  risks  that  are  of  concern, . . . define  the  scope  and  scale  of  these  issues  and  findings (and) develop  guidance for government agencies, universities, and the broader research  community  on  indicators  of  risks  to  research  integrity  from  foreign  influence."  

MORE SPENDING ON COMPUTERS: The appropriations panel is concerned that NSF's investments in high-performance computing "fall short of scientific and engineering needs" and wants to see "additional high-end computational systems." Such systems "facilitate tremendous leaps in computational simulation including artificial  intelligence,  storage,  quantum  computing,  and  data  analyses  that enable a broad range of scientific research. Leading edge high- performance  computing  infrastructure  is  vital  for  continued  U.S.  world  leadership  and  international  scientific competitiveness," particularly given strides by other  nations,  "notably  China  and  Japan."

ELECTION INTERFERENCE: Appropriators want NSF to "help counter foreign influence efforts  from  our  adversaries,  like  Russia,  on  U.S.  social  media  platforms  designed  to  influence  U.S.  perspectives  and  undermine  confidence  in  U.S.  elections.  The  Committee  is  especially  supportive  of  research involving collaboration between scientists in disparate scientific fields to help identify and focus future research investments. To  the  extent  practicable,  NSF  should  engage  other  Federal  agencies  to  help  identify  areas  of  research  that  will  provide  insight  that  can mitigate influence in future elections."

QUANTUM, AI, AND MID-SCALE INFRASTRUCTURE: The senators recommend "at least    $106 million for  quantum  information  science  research," and fully fund artificial intelligence "across NSF at the request level." They also fulfill the request for mid-scale research instrumentation, encouraging at least one award in an Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) state.

MINORITY-SERVING INSTITUTIONS: The Senate bill would provide $15 million for Historically Black Colleges and Universities [HBCUs] Excellence in Research program; $35 million for the HBCU Undergraduate Program; $46 million for the Louis  Stokes  Alliances  for  Minority  Participation; $40 million for Hispanic-serving institutions; and $15 million for  the  Tribal  Colleges  and  Universities  Program. Another $8 million would go to the Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate; and $24 million to Centers  for  Research  Excellence  in  Science  and  Technology.

HIGH FLYERS: "[U]niversities  are  uniquely  suited  to  contributing  revolutionary  advances  in  aeronautical  technologies," appropriators say, commending NASA for its University Leadership Initiative. "This  is  especially  relevant  to  areas  where  multidisciplinary  convergent  research  is  needed  to  address  complex  technical  challenges  in  early  stage  technology  development." The panel provides a $58.9 million boost to aeronautics overall. The account funds, among other things, the Next Generation Air Transportation System. The panel also gives NASA $7 million more than the administration sought "to  advance  university-led  aeronautics  materials research" and provides the requested level of money for "ionic  liquid  based  technologies to aid in air revitalization systems." Such systems are used to remove carbon dioxide from the recirculating air supply aboard spacecraft.

QUANTUM, AGAIN: Appropriators commend NIST for  establishing  the  Quantum  Economic  Development  Consortium and recommending giving the agency a $10 million increase "to  further  implement  the  National  Quantum  Initiative Act." They also support university research  aimed at overcoming barriers to high-volume  additive  manufacturing  of  metals, recognizing that "major  technical  barriers  still  exist." 

DOWN-SIZING GOVERNMENT: It's gotten out of hand, Senate appropriators say, at least at the Commerce Department.  "The Committee is concerned that deficient staffing levels and slow hiring rates" across Commerce "are encumbering agency  performance." The panel directs the department "to  develop  a  renewed  human  capital  strategy."

Source: The American Association for the Advancement of Science. Click here to open links. 


NEW LEADER TAPPED FOR NSF CISE: Princeton University computer science professor Margaret Martonosi will take over the Computer Information Science and Engineering directorate Feb. 1, 2020. She's currently leading a $10 million NSF-funded multi-institution effort "to jump-start the development of quantum computing" and "attempt to reach goals in five years that were originally thought to be decades away," the university reported. According to the March, 2018 abstract:  "Quantum computing sits poised at the verge of a revolution. Quantum machines may soon be capable of performing calculations in machine learning, computer security, chemistry, and other fields that are extremely difficult or even impossible for today's computers." Among possibilities: better drug discovery, more efficient photovoltaics, new nanoscale materials, "and perhaps even more efficient food production." See NSF's announcement on Martonosi.

RED ALERT: NSF's Revolutionizing Engineering Departments program finds that while some innovation has been adopted in the freshman and senior years, "the middle two years remain largely untouched." The senior year ideal "has not yet been fully realized, because many of the competencies required in capstone design, or required of professional engineers, are only partially introduced in the first year and not carried forward with significant emphasis through the sophomore and junior years." In a new solicitation aimed at addressing this problem, RED anticipates making four to six awards, totalling up to $8 million, on two tracks: RED Innovation projects and RED Adaptation and Implementation projects. Learn more.

A 'CULTURE OF INTEGRITY': This is one of the aims of a NSF solicitation that asks: "What constitutes effective ethical STEM research and practice? Which cultural and institutional contexts promote ethical STEM research and practice and why? Are there specific vulnerabilities to fostering research integrity for research that is interdisciplinary, and cross-cutting domains? What additional ethics related issues arise in data intensive (e.g., big data) approaches? How are concerns about reproducibility evident in training in ethical STEM? Do certain labs have a 'culture of integrity'? What practices contribute establishing and maintaining cultures that foster research integrity and how can these practices be transferred, extended to, and integrated into other research and learning settings?" Learn more.

SPOTTING 'UNDUE' FOREIGN INFLUENCE: The National Institutes of Health "focuses on preventing undue influence generally, but not specifically undue foreign influence," the inspector general for the parent Health and Human Services Department says in a new report. "Neither [the Center for Scientific Review's] Nomination Slate Guidelines nor the Federal Advisory Committee Act address the circumstances in which foreign affiliation (e.g., persons employed by a foreign government or company, or who consult for a foreign government) could raise potential concerns of undue influence.  Although nearly all of CSR’s peer reviewers work at research institutions within the United States, they include both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals. CSR vets all of these reviewers in the same way." The report adds, "In fact, according to NIH, of the 250 scientists it has identified to date as individuals of possible concern, roughly 30 percent had served as a peer reviewer over the past 2 years, and NIH’s follow up continues." ScienceInsider reports that NIH thinks it knows how China's Thousand Talents Program works "to improperly reap the benefits of NIH-funded research."

MAKING IT: In fiscal 2018, Manufacturing USA institutes sponsored by the Departments of Commerce, Defense, and Energy "conducted nearly 500 major applied research and development projects of high priority to broad industry sectors," the National Institute of Standards and Technology says in a 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


'DREAMER' DEFENDER: Former solicitor general Theodore Olson will argue against President Trump's plan to eliminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program when the Supreme Court takes it up November 12, the New York Times reports. He says executive power must be asserted "in an orderly fashion" so that "people whose lives have depended on a governmental policy aren’t swept away arbitrarily and capriciously." In private practice, Olson, shown here in 2010, "argued for the winning sides in Bush v. Gore, which handed the presidency to Mr. Bush, and Citizens United, which amplified the role of money in politics," and successfully challenged California's ban on same-sex marriage. Photo: Wikipedia-David Shankbone


BLOCKCHAIN, INDUSTRY 4.0, WALKING ROBOTS: These were among topics this week at the Frontiers of Engineering symposium in North Charleston, S.C. Host Boeing had one of the first presentations--on how it's applying the Fourth Industrial Revolution. (See this and other abstracts here.)




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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