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January 6, 2017



A rules change pushed through by House Republicans adds new uncertainty to the appropriations process, which research institutions have come to depend on to sustain federal support for R&D. House members can now offer amendments on the floor during debate that would downsize federal agencies or target individual federal employees' salaries, CQ reports. While a House GOP aide tells CQ the rule change is only temporary, experimental, and “unlikely to have any practical mpact,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) left, calls it "a good 'pilot program' to explore different procedural options for lawmakers to make spending changes," according to CQ. Rep. Nita M. Lowey (R-N.Y.) ranking Democrat on Appropriations, calls it a "reckless, immoral" idea.

MORE CYBERSECURITY OVERSIGHT: A new subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee will focus exclusively on cybersecurity, CQ reports. The Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee, which had been overseeing cybersecurity, has too broad a mandate, in the view of full committee chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) The new panel will be chaired by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)

COMMERCE CONFIRMATION HEARING: Wilbur Ross, the private equity billionaire nominated by Donald Trump as secretary of commerce, will come before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Jan. 12. Although trade is likely to be a dominant issue at the hearing - Ross is a harsh critic of the North American Free Trade Agreement - the sprawling department Ross would lead contains the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Small Business Administration, which administers the Small Business Innovation Research-Technology Transfer (SBIR-STTR) programs. Commerce also recently announced a multi-institution advanced manufacturing center headquartered at the University of Delaware. 

'A GAME CHANGER, IF DONE CORRECTLY': That's Babatunde Ogunnaike's reaction to the prospect of a Pentagon-led manufacturing engineering education program as called for in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. The University of Delaware engineering dean (right), "has been an advocate for the program ever since two Washington, D.C.–based think tanks first floated it four years ago as a network of manufacturing universities," Jeff Mervis reports in Science. Read more.


WORTH WATCHING: Tucked into Carlos E. Díaz Rosillo's resume is a bachelor's in civil engineering from Tufts University, where he graduated summa cum laude (with an additional degree in international relations). He went on to earn a master's in public policy and an M.A. and Ph.D. in government from Harvard, where he has beern a lecturer on government, assistant dean, and director of transfer advising. Soon he'll be in the Trump White House as director of policy and interagency coordination. A Transition Team statement says Díaz Rosillo, who's fluent in Spanish, "brings a wealth of experience on presidential power, administrative action, executive leadership and the policymaking and executive action process." 


A FINAL PITCH FOR BASIC RESEARCH: The government "should increase its R&D spending, focusing in particular on collaborative pre-competitive R&D in science and technology areas outside the health sciences," urges a report on the semi-conductor industry by President Obama's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology. Basic research, it says, "will often not be specific to semiconductors, but rather build a broader foundation for innovation. For example, support for basic science related to carbon nanotubes was never aimed at any one particular application but has now led to advances that applied researchers are translating into cutting edge commercial applications to semiconductors and other technologies." Semiconductor innovation "is already slowing as industry faces fundamental technological limits and rapidly evolving markets. Now a concerted push by China to reshape the market in its favor, using industrial policies backed by over $100 billion . . . threatens the competitiveness of U.S. industry."

. . . AND CLEAN ELECTRICITY: "The current scale and speed of clean electricity innovation is well short of what is needed for meeting the nation’s clean energy and climate goals," says a new report from the Energy Department, urging a significant increase in research, development, and demonstration projects. Should the incoming Trump administration and its energy secretary nominee, Rick Perry, come to share those goals, the report offers a nearly 500-page roadmap. It describes five trends: "[G]rowing interdependencies between critical infrastructures and electricity; the creation of economic value through electrification of systems; new challenges to management of the electricity system; the increasing decarbonization of electricity; and national security vulnerabilities related to electricity dependency."  

A CRITICAL LOOK AT NIST: A National Academies panel came away impressed with the equipment and "extremely competent research and technical staff," but less than thrilled with the management of the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, judging from its report. "Some projects . . . are in fields that are led by other organizations . . . and this introduces the question as to why these CNST projects were brought into existence. Additionally, more effort needs to be put into improved strategic planning. [S]ome projects are not placed logically . . . . Some projects do not have sufficient synergy between objectives and resources." Revenues account for "less than 3 percent of the total budget. This appears to be very low given that the CNST is primarily a user facility." Read the report.

WHEN FRACKING IS A PROBLEM: An Environmental Protection Agency report spells out conditions where hydraulic fracturing can have a "more frequent or severe" impact on drinking water. They include "water withdrawals for hydraulic fracturing in times or areas of low water availability, particularly in areas with limited or declining groundwater resources; spills during the handling of hydraulic fracturing fluids and chemicals or produced water that result in large volumes or high concentrations of chemicals reaching groundwater resources; injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids into wells with inadequate mechanical integrity, allowing gases or liquids to move to groundwater resources; injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids directly into groundwater resources; discharge of inadequately treated hydraulic fracturing wastewater to surface water; and disposal or storage of hydraulic fracturing wastewater in unlined pits, resulting in contamination of groundwater resources." See EPA's presentation; fact sheet


'WHOLE BRAIN' PARADIGM: Julio M. Ottino, engineering dean at Northwestern University, has won the National Academy of Engineering's Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education. He was recognized for leading the development of Whole-Brain Engineering, a guiding strategy for the school that "focuses on integrating the analytical and technical components of engineering with creativity, design, and divergent thinking through programs that span and connect students at both the undergraduate and graduate level.“ Photo by Andrew Campbell

'AN OVERWHELMING PACE' . . . is how an Academies panel describes data gathering on the effects of chemicals or other stressors that could potentially affect human health. "The emerging technologies and data streams offer great promise for advancing exposure science and improving and refining exposure measurements and assessment." Challenges that need to be addressed include expanding and coordinating exposure-science infrastructure; aligning environmental and test-system exposures; and integrating exposure information. Read the report

SOCIETIES AND ENGINEERING EDUCATION: The National Academy of Engineering is holding an invitation-only workshop, Engagement of Engineering Societies in Undergraduate Engineering Education, on January 26–27. "Participants will consider a range of practical topics: What are the best ways to establish effective intersociety collaborations to support engineering education? What kinds of educational activities raise students’ awareness of engineering disciplines? How can societies promote diversity in engineering?" A video recording will be made available. 


FELLOWSHIPS WEBINAR: ASEE administers a number of fellowship and research opportunities with funding provided by federal agencies. In this webinar, learn more about the importance of fellowships and the application process, and explore several fellowships offered by ASEE. January 25, 2017, 1 - 2 PM, ET. Learn more

INTRODUCING PRISM PODCASTS: This new feature, produced by Nathan Kahl, debuted with a report on the Mobile Virtual Player, developed by students at Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering. Listen to this and subsequent podcasts here.

ASEE Mid-Atlantic Spring Conference: Members are invited to submit papers and attend the event April 8-9, 2017, at Morgan State University in Baltimore. Full paper submission deadline is February 10, 2017.

Prize-winning eGFI:  Get teens fired up about engineering with eGFI (Engineering, Go For It), ASEE's magazine for middle and high school students. Winner of the APEX Grand Award for Publication Excellence, eGFI combines engaging features, gorgeous graphics, and useful information about engineering colleges and careers. Click here to purchase copies, For bulk purchases or other inquiries, contact eGFI@asee.org or call 202-331-3500.