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August 5, 2017



A day after President Trump threw his support behind Senate legislation to cut legal immigration, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) pledged to introduce a House bill with the same intent. The chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee was interviewed on NPR. The Senate measure, introduced by Senate Republicans Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Purdue of Georgia, would shift legal immigration from a system that emphasizes family ties to a point system giving priority to "those immigrants who are best positioned to succeed in the United States and expand the economy" based on "education, English-language ability, high-paying job offers, age, record of extraordinary achievement, and entrepreneurial initiative." It would also end the so-called diversity lottery. The New York Times, citing sponsors' projections, reports that the bill would cut the number of green cards issued (now 1 million a year) by 41 percent in the first year. "The number of immigrants granted legal residency on the basis of job skills, about 140,000, would remain roughly the same." In the past, some lawmakers of both parties favored granting more green cards to those with advanced STEM degrees, but not slashing overall immigration levels.

COALESCING ON ENERGY: Bipartisan energy legislation that fell short of enactment in the last Congress has been reintroduced by Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.). Authorizing a broad range of research and development, the 891-page bill includes a "sense of Congress" that "a regional approach to innovation can bridge the gaps between local talent, institutions, and industries to identify opportunities and convert United States investment into domestic companies . . . ." See a section-by-section description. In an op-ed, former Sens. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who served as GOP leader, and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) hail the bill as an example of productive work underway in congressional committees.

WHITE HOUSE X-FACTOR: Specifically, the president's veto pen is the big uncertainty in the fall budget battle, writes AAAS budget expert Matt Hourihan. Congress returns in September facing demands to raise the debt ceiling and reconcile legally mandated budget caps with the cap-busting spending bills emerging from appropriators. If Congress reaches a budget deal that raises the caps, as happened up through 2017, "then odds are good many (R&D) programs will see some additional funding," he writes. "The last time Congress was in this position and reached a deal, nearly every science and technology program received a bit of extra funding." The president could veto any spending deals or appropriations that reach his desk. "The White House reaction may depend on how many policy victories they feel they've achieved elsewhere, and how much they want to stir the pot." AAAS graphics below give the state of play. Numerous organizations are appealing to Congress to reach a bipartisan budget deal. See their letter.

TRUMP GIVES DOD A BIGGER R&D SLICE: Citing a recent Congressional Research Service report, CQ reports that President Trump's budget would give the Pentagon 56 percent of the federal R&D total. "That’s an 18 percent increase above the fiscal 2016 enacted level. When military research at the National Nuclear Security Administration and other agencies is included, the defense share of the federal research budget is closer to 61 percent." 

DATA SCIENCE FOR ALL: "(T)he the fastest growing program in the history of Berkeley," says provost and engineering professor Paul Alivisatos (right), is a course entitled Foundations of Data Science. It invites students from any discipline to probe questions that interest them using data science tools. So far, students from over 60 majors have responded, and thousands will complete a minor in data science. This shows that "students readily excel at technical subjects of great difficulty, even ones that they previously shied away from, when they are personally engaged in asking questions they care about . . . ." The course is one Berkeley response to the fact that "even as computer science and technology and data science have permeated every aspect of our lives and the economy, the percentage of women and under-represented groups majoring in these disciplines has at best been holding steady and in many cases is actually declining." Alivisatos testified at a Science Committee hearing, "STEM and Computer Science Education: Preparing the 21st Century Workforce.”


PARTING SHOT FROM EPA ENGINEER: "Today the environmental field is suffering from the temporary triumph of myth over truth," Elizabeth Southerland writes in a farewell letter to colleagues at the Environmental Protection Agency. Southerland, who has a Ph.D. in environmental sciences and engineering from Virginia Tech, has been director of the Office of Science and Technology in the Office of Water. Her letter goes on: "The truth is there is NO war on coal, there is NO economic crisis caused by environmental protection, and climate change IS caused by man’s activities." In the photo at right, from 2011, she's giving out a citizen's award. Read more.

NEW FRONTIERS: The Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI) program (part of the National Science Foundation's Engineering Directorate) is soliciting proposals on Chromatin and Epigenetic Engineering (CEE) and Continuum, Compliant, and Configurable Soft Robotics Engineering (C3 SoRo). Letters of intent are due September 29. "EFRI seeks proposals with transformative ideas that represent an opportunity for a significant shift in fundamental engineering knowledge with a strong potential for long term impact on national needs or a grand challenge." Learn more.

THE NATIONAL SCIENCE BOARD meets Aug. 15 and 16. See the agenda and register for the webcast.

NEW MODELS TO TAP PRIVATE CAPITAL in support of energy innovation is the aim of a series of recent Department of Energy awards. They include one to Case Western Reserve University, which "will design a new tranched investment structure and test whether it can satisfy the requirements of several distinct investor types in terms of their individual risk, return, and payout needs. The new structure would relax the constraints of the one-size-fits-all venture capital model, enabling other investor types to provide the long-term capital needed to finance energy hardware companies." Learn more.

The University of California, Berkeley; University of Maryland; University of Virginia; and Stanford University, along with national labs and companies, will share up to $15.8 million from DOE for early-stage research and development for advanced building technologies and systems. Find out more.




The picture so far, with some distance to go

Source: AAAS, "Science Funding Holds as Congress Begins Recess: Where Are We and What's Left To Do?" by Matt Hourihan. Note: "Request" below refers to the president's budget.  





A BIOTECH TALENT GAP: The future of U.S. bioscience and biotechnology ought to be bright, but the industry faces a number of challenges, the Council on Competitiveness reports. "If the United States can manage to transcend persistent barriers including misinformation, regulatory hurdles, siloed research and development and underinvestment, biotechnology has the potential to advance scientific innovation and human knowledge in ways unimaginable." One challenge is a "persistent skills gap in areas like biomanufacturing and bioprocess engineering." In recent years "there have been few students trained in bioprocessing technology and even fewer experts in the field. Of the few who currently major in this area and move on to the profession, most of their career training takes place inside the companies they go on to work for, leaving significant gaps in this talent pool and a negative impact on development in biotechnology overall."


SKILLED TECHNICAL WORKERS: Occupations requiring a "high level of knowledge in a technical domain" but not a bachelor's degree "are a key component of the U.S. economy. . . . However, employer surveys and industry and government reports have raised concerns that the nation may not have an adequate supply." A panel led by former Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), right, has come up with "action-oriented recommendations for improving the American system of technical education, training, and certification."

NOT BROKEN, BUT . . . A National Academies examination of research misconduct concludes that the enterprise "faces serious challenges in creating the appropriate conditions to foster and sustain the highest standards of integrity." Among its recommendations: Researchers, research institutions, research sponsors, journals, and societies "should significantly improve and update their practices and policies." Research institutions "should maintain the highest standards for research conduct, going beyond simple compliance with federal regulations." Goodfaith whistleblowers should be protected and their concerns addressed in a fair, thorough, and timely manner.

FOLLOW-UP ON RESEARCH UNIVERSITIES: A convocation on November 15, 2017 at the National Academy of Sciences will call attention to several recommendations left unimplemented from the Academies' report of five years ago, Research Universities and the Future of America.


NOMINATE A YOUNG SUPERSTAR: Prism magazine plans a repeat of its widely read "20 Under 40" issue, highlighting especially talented engineering and engineering technology teachers and researchers. Please send your nominations and a brief description of the nominees' achievements to m.matthews@asee.org with "20 under 40" in the message line. Note: Choices will be based on both accomplishments and variety.

STUDENT COLUMNIST SOUGHT: Prism's current millennial voice, Mel Chua, has earned a Ph.D. and so is no longer a student. She leaves big shoes to fill. We're looking for an engineering student who writes with skill, flair, and attitude, and who can back up a point of view with evidence. We pay a modest honorarium. Students should send a resume and writing samples to m.matthews@asee.org.

FIRE UP THE FUTURE WITH eGFI: Filled with engaging features, gorgeous graphics, and useful information about engineering colleges and careers, the latest edition of ASEE's award-winning Engineering, Go For It is sure to get your students excited about learning - and doing - engineering!

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