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July 31, 2015



A sweeping energy package that cleared the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee 18-4 Thursday adopts the COMPETES research and innovation provisions previously proposed by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). These would reauthorize the Department of Energy's Office of Science and ARPA-E -- each for five years, through 2020. The Office of Science would go from $5.27 billion in FY 2016 to $6.17 billion in 2020. ARPA-E would climb from $291 million to $340 million over the same period. Read a summary.

UNCERTAINTIES AHEAD: The bipartisan bill needs floor time in the slow-moving Senate and then must be merged with the House version. This contains just a two-year authorization, though the amount for the Office of Science starts higher -- $5,33 billion. The House would provide just $140 million each year for ARPA-E. Recent history suggests the two chambers might settle on a three-year authorization.

THE REST OF 'COMPETES'? The Senate energy bill splits what had been a unified package putting the DOE Office of Science, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology on a path toward eventual doubling. While Thursday's action could be a prod to the Senate Commerce Committee to act on the NSF and NIST provisions, a lot depends on whether chair John Thune (R-S.D.) makes it a priority.

DIVERSITY LANGUAGE: By voice vote, the Senate panel OKd an amendment to the energy bill making it a Department of Energy priority to provide "education and job training to underrepresented groups, including ethnic minorities, Indian tribes . . . women, veterans, and socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals." The same intent is reflected in several other passages, including one putting the Office of Science in charge of coordinating STEM programs across the department. The office should "seek to increase the participation and advancement of women and underrepresented minorities at every level" of STEM education. Click here for more information on the bill and to watch committee hearings. Also see related House-passed energy legislation.

OPENING THE BOOKS: A pending Senate bill would write into law a 2013 White House directive on open access to results of federally funded research. It calls for "free online public access to such final peer-reviewed manuscripts or published versions within a time period that is appropriate for each type of research" but not later than 12 months after publication in peer-reviewed journals . . . or as adjusted under established mechanisms."

UNDER INDICTMENT: Rep. Chaka Fattah, the west Philadelphia Democrat known as a strong supporter of science research funding, gave up his post as ranking member on the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee within hours of being slapped with 29 counts, including racketeering conspiracy, bribery and wire fraud, CQ reports. He intends to remain in the House. A champion of brain research, Fattah pointed this year to his role in securing increased funding for neuroscience, including money for a National Brain Observatory.


Graphic by Jennifer Pocock; Source: National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NSF)


POWER ELECTRONICS GRADUATE TRAINING: The Department of Energy has announced it has "up to $10 million available to establish one or more graduate-level training programs at colleges and universities for engineers in power electronics." The department contemplates five-year traineeships  beginning in the fall of 2016 and "concentrated on advanced power electronic equipment engineering, design and manufacturing." Learn More

AFFORDABLE CANCER TREATMENT: The National Institute National Cancer Institute and National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering are encouraging U.S.-Turkish research partnerships to develop medical technologies that can have a significant impact on cancer among  underserved populations within the United States and/or Turkey and potentially populations in Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs), particularly in Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

NEW GUIDANCE ON RESEARCH INFRASTRUCTURE: The National Science Foundation's  Computer & Information Science & Engineering directorate has revised the CISE Research Infrastructure program, which has  some $18 million annually to disburse. See the revisions, including new due dates.

TILES TO GO: Thermal protective tiles from the now-retired U.S. Space Shuttle are being offered by NASA to educational institutions on a first-come, first-served basis. Find out how to get them.


ENGINEERING PEACE: Drexel University's engineering school is partnering with PeaceTech Lab, an entity of the U.S. Institute of Peace that develops technology to prevent violent global conflicts, the Philadelphia Business Journal reports. "[E]ngineers would home in on building improved infrastructure technology, such as communications networks, power grids, and water treatment. Eventually, cyber-security may also become an important component." Drexel hopes to fully integrate the relationship into its curriculum by the 2016-17 academic year. The goal is to form a master's program.

PELL FOR PRISONERS: Colleges and universities can apply to participate in the Obama administration's experiment to provide federal Pell grants to "otherwise eligible students who are incarcerated in Federal or State penal institutions." Prisoners are currently barred by law from obtaining Pell grants, but the administration is using waiver authority under the Higher Education Act. A Federal Register announcement  notes that only about 40 percent offer postsecondary education programs. As a result of the ban, roughly 1.5 million prisoners are denied the chance to be considered for Pell grants. Institutions participating in the experiment must "enroll students in postsecondary education and training programs that prepare them for high-demand occupations from which they are not legally barred."


ENGINEER'S WINNING SCRIPT: Beth Keser, who earned a B.S. in materials science and engineering from Cornell and a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, was among five winners in the National Academy of Engineering - University of Southern California Next MacGyver contest. Her made-for-TV idea: "A young and beautiful engineering and science prodigy decides to forego corporate life to pursue a career as an expert witness. She spends her new life traveling across the country to testify in torn-from-the-headlines cases, but in each case she finds a mystery that requires a keen mind and scientific investigation to find the truth."


ASEE LAUNCHES A DIGITAL DOCUMENT REPOSITORY: This searchable, easy-to-use database contains Annual Conference papers going back to 1996, along with International Forum papers, all arranged by collection, date, and  (alphabetically listed) author.