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                         November 17, 2019                             




In a sign the White House is serious about a spending deal with Congrerss, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is once again the administration's point man. Mnuchin spoke with Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby, (R-Ala.), and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, (D-Calif.), on Wednesday night, CQ reports. Until now, the administration and Democrats have been at an impasse--mostly over money for the president's border wall. Sources tell CQ the White House "might accept less than the $5 billion President Donald Trump has demanded for Department of Homeland Security border wall construction." To buy more time for negotiations, the House and Senate next week will take up a continuing resolution, which congressional leaders say will run through Dec. 20. "White House officials say Trump will sign the latest stopgap bill, though the president himself hasn't given a firm commitment. The current CR lapses Nov. 21," CQ says. 

$20 BILLION A YEAR FOR AI RESEARCH: That's what Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is proposing to "keep pace with China and Russia in a critical research arena and plug gaps in what U.S. companies are unwilling to finance," ScienceInsider reports. "Schumer wants to create a new national science tech fund that would pour $100 billion [over five years] into 'fundamental research related to AI and some other cutting-edge areas.' His list includes quantum computing, 5G networks, robotics, cybersecurity, and biotechnology. The money would fuel research at U.S. universities, companies, and other federal agencies, he explained, as well as paying for 'testbed facilities.'"

GREEN CHEMISTRY: Bipartisan legislation in both the House and Senate "is intended to improve coordination of federal activities, including research and development, of more sustainable chemicals, processes, and systems by establishing a coordinating entity under the National Science and Technology Council within the Office of Science and Technology Policy," reports the National Law Review. Federal research agencies would incorporate sustainable chemistry into grant programs. The bill, entitled  the Sustainable Chemistry Research and Development Act (H.R. 2051), cleared the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee by voice vote Oct. 17. As to what, exactly, sustainable chemistry is, that's one of the things the coordinating entity is supposed to figure out. Endorsing the bill, the American Chemical Society and similar groups wrote that "Innovation in sustainable chemistry is a core growth driver throughout the US manufacturing sector."


PCAST ADDS TWO ENGINEERS: The revived President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology now includes Dorota Grejner-Brzezinska, a professor of civil, environmental and geodetic engineering who is also associate dean of engineering for research at Ohio State, and Shannon Blunt, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Kansas. He's on the faculty of KU's Information and Telecommunication Technology Center, Grejner-Brzezinska is a member of the National Academy of Engineering. Blunt is an IEEE fellow. PCAST holds its first meeting under the Trump administration Monday. (See the agenda; view the webcast). Among speakers will be Chris Fall, director of the Energy Department's Office of Science.

HARASSMENT, RESEARCH INTEGRITY, AND SECURITY: Each of these topics appears to have generated lively discussion during a recent White House Summit. Its focus was issues being addressed by the Joint Committee on the Research Environment. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy's summary says: "As a major objective, the research enterprise should work to maximize reporting of harassment and other inappropriate behaviors. This requires addressing fears of retaliation that often prevent individuals from coming forward.•Efforts to address harassment, research security threats, and research rigor and integrity should address the issue of confidentiality. Other points: "The Federal Government should partner with research institutions to build a transparent and bidirectional system for communication regarding security concerns. This system should facilitate access to educational resources (such as FBI threat briefs), and should seek to promote sound and risk-informed deliberations and decisions within institutions.•The Federal government should provide examples and case studies related to research security and inappropriate behaviors, as well as information regarding numbers of actual cases."

NO HOLDING BACK: A draft National Institutes of Health policy "will require all investigators with NIH funding to make their data sets available to colleagues. For the first time, grantees holding any NIH-funded grant—not just those above a $500,000 threshold in direct costs—will need to submit a detailed plan for sharing data, including steps to protect the privacy of research subjects," ScienceInsider reports.

CONVERGING ON THE ENVIRONMENT: "Creating solutions to pressing environmental and sustainability challenges will require input and imaginative approaches from various fields, perspectives, and disciplines," the National Science Foundation says in explaining the Environmental Convergence Opportunities in Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems (ECO-CBET).program. It cites five critical challenges mentioned by the National Academies: Sustainably supply food, water, and energy; Curb climate change and adapt to its impacts; Design a future without pollution and waste; Create efficient, healthy, and resilient cities; and Foster informed decisions and actions. See the solicitation.

TIME IS RUNNING OUT: Geopolitical Forecasting Challenge 2, sponsored by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), closes Nov. 29. Now it's nearing the end of Milestone Period 3 – Sep 19 – Nov 29. The contest "encourages novel approaches that embrace non-traditional methods and harnesses the collective community, while offering solvers the chance to win a share of $250,000 in prize money." The agency hopes for breakthroughs in the science of forecasting, "leading to greater strategic advantages for maintaining global security, predicting economic trends, and directing the need for humanitarian efforts." Image: The Crystal Ball (1902) by John William Waterhouse (Wikimedia).

$43 MILLION FOR NEW CCS TECHNOLOGIES: The  Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) "seeks to develop technologies that address difficulties in decarbonization of electricity systems, focusing specifically on complications in CCS design, operations, and commercialization potential with the increasing penetration of high VRE [variable renewable energy] sources such as wind and solar power." See the announcement of the The FLExible Carbon Capture and Storage (FLECCS) program.

IT DOESN'T LOOK GOOD FOR DACA: "Judging from Tuesday’s oral arguments, five justices appear poised to uphold the administration’s decision to end the program," Slate reports. Headlines in the New York Times and Washington Post delivered similarly discouraging news to the 700,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program recipients, including many college students. Chief Justice John Roberts, left, who has emerged as the court's pivotal figure, was perceived by Slate to "tip his hand" in favor of the White House. For the record, 44 higher ed groups joined in a brief urging that DACA be kept. They argue that rescission "will inflict profound harms on colleges and universities, their students, and the country as a whole.".


Source: National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics Infobrief by Michael Gibbons. "Higher education R&D funded from federal government sources and from state and local government sources each increased about 4% in current dollars between FY 2017 and FY 2018 and by 11% and 12%, respectively, since FY 2015. Business funding grew 18% in the past three years. R&D funding from nonprofit organizations (29%), institutions’ own sources (23%), and all other sources (22%) had the largest percentage increases since FY 2015."


COLLEGES RANKED ON COST vs. GRADUATE EARNINGS: A new interactive report from the Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce "ranks 4,500 colleges and universities by return on investment. A First Try at ROI: Ranking 4,500 Colleges finds that bachelor’s degrees from private colleges, on average, have higher ROI than degrees from public colleges 40 years after enrollment. Community colleges and many certificate programs have the highest returns in the short term, 10 years after enrollment, though returns from bachelor’s degrees eventually overtake those of most two-year credentials."


TOO BROAD, LACKS SPECIFICITY, OUTDATED: A National Academies panel is underwhelmed by NASA's Science Activation (SciAct) program, created in 2015 with four objectives: Enable STEM education; Improve U.S. scientific literacy; Advance national education goals; and Leverage efforts through partnerships. "NASA has a unique role to play in the STEM education landscape," the panel says, "but the current four objectives for SciAct are too broad and do not appropriately reflect that role." The objectives "lack specific, actionable targets. As currently stated, the objectives are so broad that they obscure a clear understanding of how awardees’ contributions aggregate towards desired outcomes." The "approach to measuring science literacy at the national level that SciAct is currently using reflects one approach to measuring science literacy, [but] it does not fully reflect the most up-to-date conceptualizations of science literacy." Read the report.


ELEVATOR ELOQUENCE: See a video of the 2019 NSF Engineering Research Centers' Perfect Pitch Competition and try to guess the winner.


Dec. 2019 Webinar – Insights from NSF GOLD on Increasing Underrepresented Minority Recruitment and Retention: Tune in for a free webinar on Dec. 10 at 1:00 PM, ET, during which GeoDES and Sparks for Change teams supported by NSF GOLD (GEO Opportunities for Leadership in Diversity) will share insights and lessons learned from their innovative professional development projects developed to increase the engagement, recruitment, and retention of URM faculty in the sciences. Register now: http://bit.ly/31nQjPL

NOMINATE A ROLE MODEL . . . or a colleague for a 2020 Golden Goose Award.​ The prize "honors federally funded researchers whose work may sound silly, odd, obscure, wasteful of taxpayer funding, or serendipitous, but has had a major, if not unintended, positive impact on society." This year, nominators of selected awardees will be recognized and receive travel support to attend the September 2020 GGA luncheon and award ceremony. Find out more.


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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