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August 6, 2016



The National Science Foundation says it has committed $35 million over five years altogether. Virginia Tech's Molecular Sciences Software Institute, which will "develop software frameworks, collaborate with code developers and cyberinfrastructure centers, and partner with industry" to support computational molecular sciences. In California, the money will establish "the Science Gateways Community Institute, a multi-institutional consortium that will increase the capabilities, number and sustainability of science gateways. Gateways are mobile or web-based applications that provide broad access to the nation's shared cyberinfrastructure to scientists and citizens." See the press release.

Image by Matthew Harrigan and Vijay S. Pande, Stanford University

LEGACY TIME AT OSTP: In the sunset of the Obama presidency, the Office of Science and Technology Policy is actively reporting evidence of successful initiatives while setting an R&D course that could last well into the next administration: Examples this week: a "selection of accomplishments and technical successes" over five years of the Materials Genome Initiative, which the office says "has already sparked a paradigm shift in how new materials are discovered, developed, and deployed." New MGI developments  include NASA's plan "to fund a university-led institute to develop ultra-high strength, lightweight structural materials needed for the journey to Mars," and a High-Throughput Experimental Materials Science Virtual Laboratory launched by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The latter's purpose: "to accelerate the generation of the huge volumes of additional data needed to validate existing materials models, and to develop future models." 

TOPSOIL CRISIS: OSTP says that "without coordinated action, the United States is on track to run out of topsoil . . . before the end of the 21st century." What's left is contaminated in some places. So the White House is seeking "innovative actions from Federal agencies, academic scientists and engineers, farmers, entrepreneurs, businesses, advocates, and members of the public in a nationwide effort" aimed at "rapidly generating healthy soil or restoring degraded or contaminated soil"; "increasing soil carbon content and sequestration"; and "reducing pressure on agricultural soil that is particularly vulnerable to erosion."

GREENER JET FUEL: The White House-based National Science and Technology Council has put together an R&D strategy to develop an alternative to fossil-based jet fuel that won't require modification of aircraft engines. It addresses "scientific and technical challenges that inhibit development, production, and use of economically viable" alternative jet fuels. "Cooperation between the Federal government and the private sector, including industry, nongovernmental organizations, and academia, is crucial to addressing key scientific and technical challenges." 

AMONG THE TECH TITANS: There appears to be just one  engineering academic on Defense Secretary Ashton Carter's Defense Innovation Advisory Board (DIAB). He's Richard Murray, (left) professor of control & dynamical systems and bioengineering at Caltech. He'll serve alongside Chair Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet (formerly Google); Amazon's Jeff Bezos; astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, and 11 others, including three women. Carter "has asked the board to identify innovative private-sector practices and technological solutions that the DoD could employ in the future."

WHAT'S UP WITH . . . the other Pentagon advisory group on science and technology? The DIAB and Carter's bicoastal high-tech thrust have lately overshadowed the Defense Science Board, created in 1956 to "provide independent advice and recommendations on matters relating to the Department of Defense's (DoD) scientific and technical enterprise." But the DSB is not idle. It currently has a challenging congressional assignment: to "assess the condition of the Department of Defense research and development enterprise" - 62 labs employing 65,000. Among the questions: "How well does the department attract, recruit, retain, and train its workforce to remain technically current and flexible to respond to emerging national requirements?"

LACK OF INTEREST: A second government panel looked at recruitment and retention from the standpoint of the entire federal S&T workforce. Its report notes fierce global competition for top talent, with at best 17 percent of students saying they will consider federal service. Further, it says: "The federal government struggles to effectively engage the current Federal S&T workforce and apply its contributions to federal S&T missions. Creating a work environment that enables innovative solutions to national challenges requires an awareness within the federal leadership of the federal S&T workforce and the varied roles its members play in achieving federal missions."

A NEW MANUFACTURING INSTITUTE IS COMING: Full applications are due August 17 for the Department of Energy's fourth contribution to the National Network of Manufacturing Institutes. Called the Modular Chemical Process Intensification Institute for Clean Energy Manufacturing, this $70 million public-private partnership "presents significant opportunities to advance technologies to improve energy productivity, increase energy efficiency, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in energy-related manufacturing industries," DOE says. 

DUAL CRITERIA FOR GRANTS: The National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) is starting a selective funding process for R21 applications received through the NIH Exploratory/Developmental Research Grant Program (Parent R21) and the Exploratory/Developmental Bioengineering Research Grants (EBRG R21). NIBIB will make funding decisions on these applications "based on both technical merit and alignment of the proposed research with the exploratory, developmental, and high-risk/high-reward goals of the R21 grant mechanism."  

NOMINATIONS SOUGHT: The National Science Board will be receiving nominations through Oct. 3, 2016 for the Vannevar Bush Award, which honors "life-long leaders who have made exceptional contributions toward the welfare of humankind and the nation through public service activities in science, technology, and public policy," and the Public Service Award, which recognizes "people and groups (company, corporation, organization) that have increased the public understanding of science or engineering." Learn more

TUNE IN to the next NSB meeting August 9 and 10. The agenda includes the NSF FY 2015 Annual Report on Merit Review; Impact of Brexit Regarding Science Cooperation; the Intergovernmental Personnel Act Program Review; and a National Academy of Public Administration Report; and NSF’s Ideas for Future Investment.


Graphic by Jennifer Pocock. To see a larger, interactive version with the actual numbers, click here


COMMUNITY COLLEGE-MANUFACTURING LINKS could be strengthened under the NIST Improvement Act (HR 5639), which sailed through the House July 11 with bipartisan support. According to a summary: "The bill revises requirements for the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership and Hollings Manufacturing Extension Centers. One objective of the Centers shall be the promotion and expansion of certification systems offered through industry, associations, and local colleges." Center activities shall "include facilitation of collaborations and partnerships between small and medium-sized manufacturing companies and community colleges and area career and technical education schools to help: (1) the colleges and schools better understand the specific needs of manufacturers, and (2) manufacturers better understand the skill sets that students learn in the programs offered by those institutions."

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS: In a Congress where Republicans have repeatedly tried to repeal Obamacare, agreement between the White House and GOP on any healthcare legislation would seem unlikely. But that's the case with the 21st Century Cures Act, which passed the House by an overwhelming margin more than a year ago. CQ reports that the administration is in discussion "with House and Senate lawmakers from both parties on a deal" to revive Senate consideration of the bill. One thing the bill seeks to do is encourage young biomedical researchers by nudging their elders out of the way. According to the House report, it would create a final "Capstone Award" at the National Institutes of Health to help senior researchers "transition their research to pursue other opportunities."  

Check out an updated Congressional Research Service report on federally funded R&D, provided by the Federation of American Scientists. 


ADVANCED INDUSTRY GROWTH - NARROW AND UNEVEN:  A Brookings Institution analysis finds that the advanced industries sector "continued to expand between 2013 and 2015 despite global headwinds, and it now employs 500,000 more workers than before the recession." This growth, however, "emanated from a narrower set of auto manufacturing and 'tech' service industries in the last two years than in the previous three," and "grew more uneven across the country" shifting "more growth to states in the West and Northeast."

ACCOUNTABILITY FOR LOAN DEFAULTS: "Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have introduced legislative proposals to introduce risk-sharing measures that would hold institutions accountable for student outcomes," Inside Higher Ed reports. The idea is that colleges and universities should have a greater stake in the outcomes of the student borrowers they graduate -- if large numbers of students graduate and are unable to pay back their student debt, their institutions could see access to federal programs restricted."  


ABET 3&5 PROPOSAL MODIFIED: The Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC) Criteria Committee met in Baltimore last month to continue reviewing the EAC Criteria 3 and 5 Proposal. After spending months categorizing, summarizing and evaluating each one of the hundreds of comments, the committee has taken that feedback into consideration and made a number of modifications to the content of the proposal. The Engineering Area Delegation will review the proposal in late October, as it has the final approval authority for these proposed changes. The Delegation has three options: approve the proposed criteria as written and implement, delay final approval for one year and seek additional public comment, or reject the proposal. Click here for more details.

Look for ABET Alerts on the ASEE website. 

PROCEEDINGS of ASEE's 2016 Annual Conference and International Forum are available online.

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