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                                                               April 4, 2020  



When Congress returns from recess--at the earliest in late April--members are expected to pursue additional stimulus measures before turning their attention to the regular appropriations process. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D, Calif.), who had proposed a major infrastructure package in a new round of coronavirus-related economic aid, has lately backed away from that, CQ reports. She now seeks a measure that would double the nearly $350 billion in small business lending provided by the $2.3 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act signed last week. Pelosi is also calling for enhanced unemployment insurance benefits to last through September. House and Senate Republicans are in less of a hurry than Democrats to pursue an infrastructure package, Lewis-Burke Associates reports, "until the CARES Act and another potential stimulus bill is fully implemented and there is time to evaluate the state of the economy." Democrats have discussed a wide range of infrastructure ideas for future legislation, including not just traditional road and bridge building but also water and sanitation projects and accelerated construction of world-leading research facilities. Lewis-Burke, meanwhile, "is actively working with congressional committees and community partners to identify academic, health, and research infrastructure needs that could receive funding in a future package." See L-B's Policy Update.

RENEWED PUSH FOR DEFENSE BASIC RESEARCH: University representatives have a list of specific programs they want Hill appropriators to increase. These include Defense Research Sciences and University Research Initiatives in the Army, Navy, and Air Force; Basic Research Initiatives both department-wide and at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency; Defense-wide Manufacturing S&T, which supports the Manufacturing USA Network and Manufacturing Engineering Education Program (MEEP); and the National Defense Education Program. The academia reps argue in particular that the Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) and Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP) are short of money to meet demand.

DELAYED BUT NOT FORGOTTEN: The House Armed Services Committee has put off votes on the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, originally set for late April, but plans to have a bill ready for debate by May 1, Politico reports. "In a letter to committee members, Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and ranking Republican Mac Thornberry of Texas also said the committee plans to hold 'informal events' via video or conference calls while the panel is unable to convene in-person hearings or conduct classified briefings in April."

MORE NON-DEFENSE AI SPENDING: That's the recommendation of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, a congressionally mandated, independent federal panel led by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, chair, and former Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, vice chair. "The Commission recommends that Congress roughly double the funding level of non-defense AI R&D for FY 2021." Before recommending additional sums for the Pentagon, "the Commission wants time to assess the Department’s prioritization of AI across its R&D portfolio." Instead, it says Congress should direct new money to the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), National Institutes of Health, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. "This funding should increase agency topline levels, not repurpose funds from within existing agency budgets, and be used by agencies to fund new research and initiatives, not to support re-labeled existing efforts." Find the report here.

'PAPER HEARING'-BIG DATA AND COVID 19: The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will "examine recent uses of aggregate and anonymized consumer data to identify potential hotspots of coronavirus transmission and to help accelerate the development of treatments. The committee will also examine how consumers’ privacy rights are being protected and what the U.S. government plans to do with COVID-related data collected at the end of this national emergency." For this April 9 "paper hearing," statements by the chairman, ranking member and witnesses will be posted on the committee website at 10 a.m. on April 9. Member questions will be sent to witnesses by close of business on the day of the hearing. Witnesses will have a 96-business-hour turnaround time to answer member questions. 


COVID 360: Scroll further down to find a special award from the Pentagon's Office of Basic Research. Meanwhile, various other agencies are funding coronavirus initiatives, including:

  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) "has opened a funding opportunity for rapid, high-impact projects that support the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Using funds appropriated by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, NIST will award these grants through the NIST Manufacturing USA National Emergency Assistance Program with no requirements for cost matching. Funding will be awarded to eligible Manufacturing USA® institutes." Projects may include medical countermeasures; non-medical countermeasures; leveraging institute capabilities to strengthen state and community resilience; grants to companies and technical support to accelerate productions of critical materials, equipment, and supplies; creation of additional production facilities; technology roadmapping for pandemic response and recovery; reshoring the manufacture of critical conventional drugs and ensuring supply chain for critical materials related to pandemic response; or workforce development and training for a skilled advanced manufacturing workforce. The more than 2,000 Manufacturing USA member institutions include "nearly every top ranked research and engineering university in the United States." Learn more. Also: See NIST Director Walter Copan's March 11 testimony before the House Science Research and Technology subcommittee. 
  • The Air Force Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program released an out-of-cycle Direct-to-Phase-2 Commercial Solutions Opening (CSO) calling for small businesses with the ability to conduct research and development (R&D) related to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Focus areas include: Decision Support to Combat the Virus (including big data and predictive analytics); Technologies to address personnel needs such as tele-health, tele-ministry, and tele-counseling; Technologies to enable telework at scale; Deployment of AI to enable forecasting and situational awareness to address shortfalls and needs for critical medical supplies; New Medical technologies including antiviral surface coatings, field deployable COVID-19 tests, and dual-patient ventilators; "Blue-Sky” solutions to the COVID-19 outbreak not addressed in the areas above. The solicitation can be found at https://beta.sam.gov under solicitation number “AF20R-DCSO1.”
  • The Department of Energy is participating in the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium.  Currently, the six leading DOE National Labs with high performance computing capabilities are involved in the Consortium—Argonne, Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, and Sandia National Laboratories.  The purpose is to leverage the country’s leading supercomputing capabilities to perform complex simulations employing machine learning and artificial intelligence to help address COVID-19.  Researchers should submit COVID-19 related research proposals to the Consortium via an online portal (https://www.xsede.org/covid19-hpc-consortium), which will then be reviewed for matching with computing resources from one of the participating national laboratories.
  • Related: On April 1, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) proposed new rules on distance learning for higher education.  The rules emerged from negotiated rulemaking that reached consensus in 2019.  The proposed rules, “Distance Learning and Innovation,” address a wide range of policies including the definitions of “credit hour,” “distance education,” and clarify the requirements around “regular and substantive interaction,” among other changes.  The proposed rules are open for a 30-day comment period, with ED intending to publish a final regulation prior to Nov. 1, 2020.  Learn more.

A SECOND HAT: Kelvin Droegemeier, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and science adviser to President  Trump, has been named acting director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) pending Senate confirmation of Sethuraman Panchanathan to succeed France Córdova, whose term ended March 30. ScienceInsider says the nomination of Panchanathan, now executive vice president at Arizona State University, is not controversial, but there's no telling when the Senate will act. See Droegemeier's testimony in February before the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.

LATE SUMMER FOR MID-SCALE AWARDS: "NSF is currently reviewing the full proposals and expects to award its first portfolio of mid-scale projects in August 2020, according to NSF documentation. NSF’s solicitation anticipated that $150 million will be available over five years to fund its first batch of mid-scale projects. According to NSF officials, NSF plans to award subsequent sets of mid-scale projects biennially, depending on the availability of funds." See a Government Accountability Office report, which mainly concerns large-scale construction projects. 

CLOSE, BUT NO CIGAR: In 2018, 1,835 proposals that received ratings higher than “Very Good” had to be declined due to insufficient funding. These requests amounted to about $1.5 billion, the National Science Board reports in its latest Merit Review Digest. Also: "The funding rate for research proposals was 22% overall, with directorate rates ranging from 35% in Geosciences to 15% in Education and Human Resources. The funding rate for research proposals from early-career Principal Investigators (PIs) was 19%, compared to 24% for other PIs. The funding rates for research proposals from men and women were similar, 23% and 25%, respectively. Overall, the funding rate for research proposals from White PIs was 26%, while rates for proposals from Hispanic or Latino PIs, Black/African-American PIs, and Asian PIs were 23%, 19%, and 17%, respectively."

Research Grants Awarded to PIs in Early and Later Stages of Career and Research Proposal Funding Rates

Source: National Science Board. Merit Review Process Digest

WHO IS THE ISAAC NEWTON OF OUR TIME? The 1665-1666 Great Plague of London shuttered Trinity College, Cambridge, sending young Isaac Newton, then a student, on "a year of isolated study and reflection" -- during which he "developed the basis for calculus, as well as foundational theories in gravitation, motion, and optics," says Department of Defense Basic Research Office. To "help stimulate scientific thought and encourage efforts and advancements" during a time when labs and universities are closed, the office has announced the Newton Award for Transformative Ideas during the COVID-19 Pandemic. "This award will be presented to a single investigator or team of up to two investigators that develops a “transformative idea” to resolve challenges, advance frontiers, and set new paradigms in areas of immense potential benefit to DoD and the nation at large." Learn more.


Graduate enrollment, by degree level and enrollment intensity: 2017–18

Enrollment, by degree level and enrollment intensity: 2018

Source for the graphics and tables above: National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, "Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering"


SURGE IN COLLABORATION: "While political leaders have locked their borders, scientists have been shattering theirs, creating a global collaboration unlike any in history. Never before, researchers say, have so many experts in so many countries focused simultaneously on a single topic and with such urgency. Nearly all other research has ground to a halt," reports the New York Times.

WHAT'S ON STUDENTS' MINDS? Wiley Education   Services conducted a comprehensive  research study  in  2018  to  better  understand the breadth of individuals considering graduate-level  studies. These  research  findings provide  insights on who  potential graduate students are, what they care about, and what their communication preferences are." See the results.


GOOD FOR R&D; FOR BUSINESS? NOT SO MUCH: The Department of Energy's Small Business Innovation Research-Technology Transfer programs "stimulate technological innovation and contribute to DOE R&D needs," a National Academies panel finds. Awardees' research "is usually distant from commercialization but closely connected to DOE R&D needs." Management teams "tend to have technical rather than commercial backgrounds." While a small number of awardees "ultimately achieve significant employment growth," the panel found no statistically significant difference in employment growth between companies that got the awards and those that didn't. Moreover, the programs "attract only a small number of successful applications" from woman- and minority-owned firms. Neither the programs nor review and solicitation processes "have made a measurable impact in increasing the incidence of successful applicants from these groups since 2012." Read the report.



Training Tomorrow’s Engineers to Combat Climate Change

April 15 at 1 PM, ET: In support of Earth Day 2020, tune in for a new webinar and learn how two NSF-funded projects, RISE-UP and ReNUWIt, are training tomorrow’s engineers to build resilience and combat the effects of climate change through robust interdisciplinary initiatives. Register today: http://bit.ly/2Tlt4F9

Storytelling to Advance Research and Teaching - 

April 9 at 1 PM, ET: What’s your story? Tune in to learn how storytelling techniques can be used to propel your research and teaching, helping you communicate research impacts, write proposals, share best teaching practices, and teach difficult concepts. Learn more and register at http://bit.ly/3c99jba.

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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