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August 14, 2015


RISKS TO U.S. STRENGTH IN I.T.:  Funding pressures and publication practices in IT-related disciplines are making it more difficult to sustain foundational longterm research. Yet such research "is essential for the application areas that build on it and for the future of the Nation’s robust IT industry." So states the President's Council of Advisers on Science Technology in a report out this week. PCAST notes that "[a]ll of the paradigm-shifting achievements in information technology that people enjoy today rest on years, and sometimes decades, of basic research." The report says that in some instances, academic research organizations compete with private-sector companies for skilled people. In health care, "many opportunities for research . . . are inhibited by significant barriers in gaining access to health data," and that "[t]ranslation of new technologies into health care settings has lagged other areas." It also recommends five key areas for cybersecurity R&D.

TECH DIVERSITY: U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith, right, opened a LGBTQ Tech & Innovation Summit at the White House this week, noting: “The trans community faces some of the greatest challenges for inclusion and economic inclusion.” The event drew 150 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community leaders, entrepreneurs and technologists, according to a Wall Street Journal blog.

THE FOOD TRINITY: The availability of nitrogen, phosphorus, and water is key to growing enough food for the planet, the National Science Foundation says. That's why it's a focus of NSF's "nexus of food, energy and water systems," or INFEWS. Solutions "cannot be premised on the assumption that energy, chemical feedstocks, and other required resources will be available in great abundance." Learn more. 

MORE THAN A FEW: NSF has made 17 grants for food, energy, water (FEW) workshops. 

NASA EARLY-CAREER AWARDS: The space agency has tapped  researchers at eight universities to work on high priority technologies. The awards, approximately $200,000 per year for up to three years, will fund such projects as "solar cell operations at high temperatures, atmospheric entry model development, synthetic biology applications for space exploration and dynamic tensegrity-based space structures." These last employ "continuous tension and discontinuous compression to produce exceptionally strong structures." See the winning projects. The petri dishes at left contain designer microbes that might make Venus and Mars more hospitable.

ENGINEERS TAPPED FOR SENIOR POSTS: President Obama has nominated Cherry Murray, a professor and former dean of Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, as director of the Department of Energy's Office of Science. She previously held a senior post at Energy's Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. Also, Richard Buckius, a mechanical engineering professor and former vice president for research at Purdue, has been nominated to be deputy director of NSF.


Capital Spending by U.S. Industry Sector

Source: U.S. Census Bureau


CONGRESSIONAL PRODUCTIVITY: "I think eventually the highway bill, the defense bill and the education reform bill will reach the president’s desk,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) chairman of the Senate Republic Conference, tells CQ. He didn't cite appropriations, currently stalled by disputes over abortion and race, which face a White House veto as long as they adhere to Budget Control Act spending caps. The Obama administration has increased pressure on the Hill regarding military spending by exempting military personnel from sequestration caps. A letter from the Office of Management and Budget says the action "would trigger a higher reduction in non-exempt accounts." 


The Wall Street Journal reports that the exponential growth in authors "has a number of causes, one of which is that experiments have gotten more complicated. But scientists say that mass authorship makes it harder to tell who did what and who deserves the real credit for a breakthrough—or blame for misconduct."

ALTERNATIVE CREDENTIALING: Seven prestigious universities are joining in a plan to offer online microcredentials as an alternative to degree programs, Inside Higher Ed reports. "Tentatively dubbed the University Learning Store, the project is a joint effort involving the Georgia Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, the University of Washington, the University of California’s Davis, Irvine and Los Angeles campuses, and the University of Wisconsin Extension. . . . Students will be able to use online content and assessments -- with pieces from different universities -- to prove what they know and can do." 


GETTING SERIOUS: The idea of curbing climate change through engineering is gradually gaining attention among scientists. Following up on reports addressing two approaches to climate intervention -- carbon dioxide removal and sequestration, and reflecting sunlight to cool the earth -- .the National Academies' Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable is holding a webinar August 19 to discuss them. It will feature Marcia McNutt, editor in chief of Science, and Ken Caldeira, senior climate scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science. 

PROFESSIONAL SOCIETIES AND UNDERGRADUATE ENGINEERING: The National Academy of Engineering, with NSF funding, is embarked on a 24-month project to "take an in-depth look at the extent and nature of professional engineering societies’ contributions to improving the quality and effectiveness of US undergraduate engineering education" and "provide opportunity for the societies and other stakeholders, such as universities and industry, to consider ways to broaden and improve the effectiveness of this work.


ETLI Registration is Open: The annual ASEE Engineering Technology Leadership Institute (ETLI) Conference will be held October 9, 2015 at the Westin Crystal City, Arlington, VA. ETLI's purpose is to bring engineering technology educators together to discuss topics of importance to the discipline and plan for the future, as well as to prepare young engineering technology faculty for a later career in administration. Click to register, find housing, and read the program


COMING SOON: An all-new 6th edition of eGFI (Engineering, Go For It), ASEE's award-winning magazine for middle and high school students. To purchase copies, go to https://store.asee.org/products/egfi-magazine. For bulk purchases or other inquiries, contact eGFI@asee.org or call 202-331-3500.