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July 1, 2017

Note to readers: Capitol Shorts will not be published next week.



Appropriators ignored President Trump's proposed double-digit cuts to various science agencies while imposing a big reduction at the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and defunding the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. That latter move may have been a negotiating tactic. ARPA-E is popular with Senate appropriators. The American Institute of Physics' FYI blog predicts a "possible standoff between the chambers" over energy research. The House bill covering the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, meanwhile, doesn't differ too much from current spending levels. Exceptions are an 11 percent cut to NASA’s earth science budget and a 19 percent cut to climate science at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), ScienceInsider reports. While a House panel turned down a $105 million request to start building two research ships, "Senate appropriators are almost certain to restore the money," according to ScienceInsider.


While the overall Defense Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation budget looks generous, appropriators directed most of the increase to late-stage development. The budget lines that fund university research stay flat or dip slightly. (The figures above were provided by the Coalition for National Security Research. Check out a comprehensive defense funding chart prepared by the Association of American Universities.) A winner in R&D is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, wnich would get a six percent boost.

HBCUs, HSIs, AND CYBER: The defense appropriators' report "encourages initiatives to specifically reach out to minority-serving public institutions, including Hispanic Serving Institutions and Historically Black Colleges and Universities, to build a pipeline for scientists and engineers from minority communities to enter the cyber workforce upon graduation. . . . The Committee supports Army Reserve efforts to engage with universities and the private sector to develop formal cyber public-private partnerships to further cyber training and employment."

LIGHTWEIGHT ARMOR: Elsewhere in their report, appropriators see a need "to provide soldiers with advanced lightweight transparent armor made of laminated films to improve face and eye protection. The Committee encourages the Secretary of the Army to ensure that a secure, domestic
source of high performance, strong, transparent polymer films exists for the production of a new generation of lightweight transparent armor that provides superior ballistic protection, optical properties, and operational capabilities."

OPEN CAMPUS: Appropriators are encouraging the Army Research Lab "to create additional opportunities for the United States academic research and development community to contribute to Department of Defense science and technology efforts. The Committee recommendation includes $4,000,000 to support the hiring of university faculty under joint appointments with the laboratory at ARL extended campuses across the country to increase access to infrastructure, research staff, equipment, concepts, and results."

ENERGY STORAGE AND ACCOUSTICS: "The Committee believes that the development and qualification of materials technologies, such as non-flammable electrolytes, aimed at improving lithium ion battery safety and performance should be a research priority." Recognizing the importance of the littoral region, "[t]he Committee believes that additional research of the magnetic, electric, and acoustic ambient fields in the coastal ocean regions and the development of predictive techniques to distinguish ships and submarines from naturally occurring background features would be beneficial for littoral operations." .

ANTENNA RESEARCH:  Appropriators want the Air Force Office of Scientific Research "to partner with academic institutions capable of advancing technologies with a potentially transformational impact on important applications for military use, such as expandable antennas for satellite communications and collapsible antennas that can benefit ground personnel by reducing the weight and footprint of antennas."

EXTREME ENVIRONMENTS: Air Force research oncomplex materials and structures for use on weapon systems operating in extreme environments should expand to include "two-dimensional materials beyond graphene, including oxide materials that are suitable for operationally relevant
extreme environments."

ZERO SUM: Medicaid cuts in Senate Republicans' healthcare legislation would have "substantial negative impacts on state budgets and force state governments to make difficult funding decisions," the Association of American Universities cautions in a letter to Senate leaders.


DAMAGE ALREADY DONE? While some university officials responded positively to the Supreme Court decision this week on President Trump's travel ban, a headline in the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette captured continued worry in academe. "Renewed travel ban appears to exclude university students, but apprehension remains; Politics already may have chilled interest from abroad." The article goes on to note that Iowa State expects this fall’s incoming class of international students to be smaller than in recent years. "At the graduate level, international applications were down about 15 percent as of June 1." In a statement, AAU President Mary Sue Coleman said "the Court has rightly recognized that students, faculty, and lecturers from the designated countries have a bona fide relationship with an American entity and should not be barred from entering the United States.  This should help make clear to the world that the United States continues to welcome the most talented individuals from all countries to study, teach, and carry out research and scholarship at our universities."

HOT TOPIC: The Department of Energy has announced up to $4 million in funding "for six geothermal Deep Direct-Use (DDU) research projects . . . (that) will extend the reach of geothermal energy into previously untapped regions of the country: the Appalachian Basin, the Illinois Basin, the Wassuk Range, the Columbia River Basalt Group, the Walker Lake Valley, and the Gulf Coast region of Texas." The institutions named are Cornell University, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Portland State University, Sandia National Laboratories, University of Illinois, and West Virginia University. Learn more


Source: National Science and Engineering Statistics (NSF). Also see a state-by-state collection of graduate education data by the Council of Graduate Schools.

Widening Budget Deficit

The Congressional Budget Office says that "over the next decade, outlays are projected to grow more quickly than revenues, thereby increasing the debt." Projections are based on current law.

Source: Congressional Budget Office


WHAT WORKS IN SCIENCE TEACHING: Carl Wieman, the Nobel pnysicist who served in the Obama administration's Office of Science and Technology Policy, recounts his experiences leading the Science Education Initiative at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of British Columbia. Read more here and here


A MATTER OF ETHICS: ASEE was well represented at an Academies workshop on Infusing Ethics into the Development of Engineers by, among others, Executive Director Norman Fortenberry, retired Public Affairs Director Bill Kelly, and Advances in Engineering Education Editor Larry Shuman. According to the report, "Fortenberry summarized many of the theoretical and practical conclusions of the workshop and identified many lingering questions. . . . .'I think we’re spending too much time tinkering around the edges, when what we need is a movement toward much more radical change,' Fortenberry said. 'We need to move engineering departments to a team concept, no longer requiring each individual faculty member to be expert at an ever-expanding number of expectations. . . . We need to more broadly hire engineering faculty for their specialized knowledge of ethics and communication and other professional skills.'"

BODY PARTS: "Regenerative medicine holds the potential to create living, functional cells and tissues that can be used to repair or replace those that have suffered potentially irreparable damage due to disease, age, traumatic injury, or genetic and congenital defects," a new Academies report says. "Although regenerative medicine has the potential to improve health and deliver economic benefits, this relatively new field faces challenges to developing policies and procedures to support the development of novel therapies (that) are both safe and effective."..