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                                    April 20, 2019




The Senate Finance Committee chairman has asked National Science Foundation Director France Córdova for years' worth of detailed information about any suspected foreign efforts to influence NSF-funded researchers or obtain results of their work. The demand by Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) marks an expansion of congressional inquiries into alleged foreign penetration of the U.S. research establishment. Meanwhile, the Houston Chronicle reports that M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, part of the University of Texas system, is ousting three scientists "in connection with concerns China is trying to steal U.S. scientific research." The institution "took the actions after receiving e-mails last year from the National Institutes of Health, the nation’s largest public funder of biomedical research, describing conflicts of interest or unreported foreign income by five faculty members." NIH Director Francis Collins, whose agency has been working with the FBI, recently predicted some faculty firings, but did not say where. Grassley said he had written to NIH and the Department of Defense "regarding threats to taxpayer-funded research." Read ScienceInsider's account.

WHAT'S NEW IN PLASTICS RECYCLING? The House Science Committee's research and technology subcommittee will explore this question at a hearing April 30. (See NSF's new effort on the topic below.) The Energy subcommittee holds a field hearing May 3 in Shippingport, Pa. with the title "How the Domestic Nuclear Industry Boosts Local Economies, Curbs Emissions, and Strengthens National Security." The hearing comes as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission sets out to collect information "on the use [of] local community advisory boards during decommissioning activities."  


VISA PETITIONS, DENIALS BOTH ON THE RISE: Bloomberg reports that the number of H-1B petitions submitted for this year reached 201,011, about a 6 percent increase from last year "despite a dramatic uptick" in denials. "Employers such as Amazon Inc., Microsoft Corp., and Alphabet Inc.'s Google. . . continue to request the visas in massive numbers despite H-1B supply remaining at 85,000 visas per year." A AAAS Policy Alert, citing the National Foundation for American Policy, says the denial rate for H-1B visas quadrupled from 6 percent in FY 2015 to 24 percent in FY 2018. The denial rate in the first quarter of FY 2019 increased to 32 percent.

SHOULDER TO SHOULDER: Research universities are pretty much in step with both the Trump administration and pharmaceutical companies on the question of "march-in rights," which allow the government to circumvent patent protection of a drug in the public interest,  the Washington Post reports. "The industry and academic institutions argue that march-in rights, or even the threat of march-in rights, raise the specter of price controls and will discourage private investors from backing new discoveries." The Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM), which advocates for research institutions over patents and licensing, has "found a friendly audience in Trump’s Department of Commerce, where the president’s populist political rhetoric is colliding with his equally strong desire for industry-friendly deregulation." 

GOING SALT-FREE: A White House desalination strategy offers a framework to combat the risk of future fresh-water scarcity in communities and industry. Among other things, it calls for early-stage research and development, reduction of technical and economic barriers to the use of desalination technolgy, and cooperation with international partners on innovations. More  options  to  improve  access  are needed, it says, such  as small scale modular desalination systems for underserved and disadvantaged populations. Research on produced water (a  byproduct of oil and gas production) and extracted water (from  carbon  dioxide  injections  into  deep  saline  aquifers) could yield more water for industry.

GOOD RIDDANCE: So-called end-of-use plastics "pose an urgent global environmental problem," the National Science Foundation recognizes. But effective management "will require transformative strategies for capture and sorting, efficient chemical and/or biological degradation and valorization, and integration of new approaches within existing plastics manufacturing and recycling frameworks," the agency says. This is one of two new Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation topics. Another is research in distributed chemical manufacturing--"modular process plants that can take advantage of distributed resources and/or address distributed environmental remediation needs." This could revolutionize chemical process industries, NSF says.

A CULTURE CHANGE: This is needed to combat sexual harassment in science and engineering, according to a consensus developing among institutions, faculty, and government agencies. Steps to make that happen were a major topic of discussion at this week's meeting of the NSF Engineering Directorate Advisory Committee, according to attendees from Lewis-Burke Associates. Advocates of a tough approach urged a stronger stance by professional societies, such as revoking Fellow designations or other honors. Also suggested were efforts to empower students to act against harassers and make them aware that the university has their back.

EUROPE'S TECHNICAL TRAINING MODEL: Recipients of Advanced Technological Education (ATE) awards "can apply for supplemental funding to support international short-term visits by U.S. faculty and students at two-year Institutions of Higher Education (IHE) to vocational/technical schools and industrial institutions in Austria, France, Germany, Netherlands and Spain." Visits "will help foster collaborations between U.S. institutions and their foreign counterparts." Learn more.

YOU CAN'T (NECESSARILY) TAKE IT WITH YOU: A recent National Science Foundation performance audit serves as a warning that when a researcher transfers from one university to another, his or her grant doesn't automatically transfer as well. When a principal investigor left Arizona State University for Georgia Tech and a co-PI went to the University of Georgia, ASU awarded those two institutions, together, 39 percent of the researchers' grant. ASU says it "had the concurrence" of the NSF program director and was "unequivovally acting with the understanding that we had the full support and approval of NSF" in shifting the money. But the auditors say "only NSF Grants and Agreements Officers are able to make commitments, obligations, or awards, or to authorize the expenditure of funds on behalf of NSF." ASU says it will review its subaward process and make sure proper controls are in place.


R&D spending at large companies generally rebounded after the Great Recession, according to statisticians at the National Science Foundation. Smaller companies? Not so much. "From 2009, when the economy began to recover from the Great Recession, until 2015, micro, small, and medium companies showed decreased R&D performance and employment, whereas large companies demonstrated a return to growth." See the survey


WORTHWHILE HALFWAY MEASURE: New research from Harvard, MIT, and Princeton, published in Nature Climate Change  "finds that if solar geoengineering is used to cut global temperature increases in half, there could be worldwide benefits without exacerbating change in any large geographic area," Science Daily reports. David Keith of Harvard says "This study takes a big step towards using climate variables most relevant for human impacts and finds that no IPCC-defined region is made worse off in any of the major climate impact indicators." Science, meanwhile, reports: "A host of global climate models developed for the United Nations's next major assessment of global warming, due in 2021, are now showing a puzzling but undeniable trend: They are running hotter than they have in the past."

CARVING UP THE GI BILL PIE: Veterans Education Success says that "by analyzing US Education Department data on college expenditures and student outcomes,it is possible to report how much or how little colleges are spending on student instruction and whether students are benefitting." Among its findings: "Of the 10 colleges charging taxpayers the most overall Post-9/11 GI Bill tuition and fee payments from FY 2009-17, totaling $5.4 billion, seven spent less than one-third of students’ gross tuition and fees on instruction in 2017 and struggled with outcomes: Less than 28% of their students completed an award or degree and only half (52%) earned more than a high school graduate." The group was founded in 2013 "to ensure effective implementation" of an executive order and legislation to protect veterans.  


'GAME-CHANGING CATALYSTS': A National Academies panel fully supports the goals of the Pentagon's Manufacturing USA strategy and recommends ways to expand the institutes' reach, impact and utilization. These would mean "a significant addition to the functions of the [Office of the Secretary of Defense] ManTech office, in conjunction with other DoD organizations, to assist the institutes in connections with DoD customers in the ManTech, science and technology, and acquisition and sustainment communities."



Apply Today: Challenging Implicit Bias Train the Trainer Program

Receive the tools and training needed to prepare and deliver implicit bias workshops at your institution with the new train the trainer program Training for Action: Challenging Implicit Bias. This three-part program will commence with a full-day workshop on June 15th in conjunction with the 2019 ASEE Annual Conference. Applications open now! Learn more and apply: https://goo.gl/NSQMwF

New Two-Part Webinar Event: Engineering Inclusive Classrooms

Join us for a new two-part webinar event to learn actionable strategies for engineering inclusive classrooms. During this event, Dr. Tershia Pinder-Grover (University of Michigan, Center for Research on Learning and Teaching in Engineering) will explore classroom climate, discuss key principles behind inclusive teaching, and provide attendees with techniques for engineering inclusive classrooms. Registration is free for ASEE members! Learn more and register for Parts 1 and 2 at http://www.asee.org/webinars

Department Chairs' Best Practices

Register for the 2019 Chairs Conclave–taking place June 16th in Tampa, FL–to connect with department chairs and learn the best practices of successful chairs. Topics covered include leadership skills, department culture, faculty evaluations, and entrepreneurship for chairs. The Chairs Conclave is an exclusive forum for engineering and engineering technology department chairs to exchange ideas, talk through challenges, and build working relationships. Learn more and register today–seating is limited–at https://chairsconclave.asee.org.


The Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity (CoNECD) conference will be back next year. See this year's program. 



Check out scores of listings geared to engineering educators on ASEE’s Classifieds Website.

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