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June 9, 2017



The House appropriations panel responsible for the National Science Foundation seems to be "preparing to break away from the White House on NSF funding," CQ reports. "And while a reduction is still possible, subcommittee Chairman John Culberson does not appear inclined to significantly cut" the agency, which the White House proposed to slash by 11 percent. After Director France Córdova enthusiastically described cosmic explorations like the first-ever detection of gravitational waves, the Texas Republican spoke of "how vital it is for the Congress, for the country to stand behind NSF and make sure that you’ve got the support, the financial backing over a sustained period of time to continue to unlock the mysteries of the universe." For her part, Córdova said, "We very much understand that Congress is in the driver's seat on the FY 18 budget." See a video of the hearing.

NASA EDUCATION LIKELY TO SURVIVE: The Capitol's negative response to the White House's draconian domestic budget was evident in several hearings before House spending panels. CQ reports that at a hearing on the space agency, Democrats and Republicans voiced concern about the administration’s proposal to eliminate NASA's Office of Education, something Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) said he “can’t understand.” A similar reaction greeted proposed deep cuts in the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology budget. according to the website Homeland Security Today.

BUDGET'S AN OPEN QUESTION: The government's R&D spending may ultimately depend on the overall fiscal picture and how true congressional Republicans are to their pledges of deficit reduction. Signals are mixed. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) "said Thursday that he's keeping all of his options on the table as Congress moves forward with the fiscal 2018 budget and appropriations process, as well as a needed vote on the debt limit.,"  according to CQ, which quotes Freedom Caucus member Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) as saying, "Right now a budget cannot pass in the House of Representatives," 


FUEL CELL MATERIALS R&D: Carnegie Mellon has been awarded $2 million by the Department of Energy for "discovery and development of novel, low-cost materials necessary for hydrogen production and storage and for fuel cells onboard light-duty vehicles." This was among 30 awards announced this week. See the full list. Meanwhile, "a team of scientists from Penn State and Florida State University have come one step closer to inexpensive, clean hydrogen fuel with a lower cost and industrially scalable catalyst that produces pure hydrogen through a low-energy water-splitting process." Read more

FUTURE OF FUSION RESEARCH: The American Institute of Physics reports that the Department of Energy’s Office of Fusion Energy Sciences (FES) has asked the National Academies to develop a multi-decade strategy for the U.S. magnetically confined burning plasma research program. The head of DOE's fusion energy sciences program "urged the panel to 'be bold' in its report, which will consider scenarios in which the U.S. remains in or withdraws from the long-delayed ITER fusion project." Read more

ARPA-E ASSESSED: On June 13, the National Academies Board on Science, Technology, and Economic Policy will release a report appraising "the appropriateness and effectiveness of ARPA-E’s processes and operations to achieve its mission and goals," and presenting "a retrospective and technical assessment."

NSF OIG QUESTIONS $3 MILLION: In its latest semi-annual report to Congress, the National Science Foundation's internal watchdog says it has recommended that NSF recover $2.3 million from the University of California-Davis; $283,800 from the University of California-San Diego; $135,700 from Pennsylvania State University; $111,500 from Scripps Institution of Oceanography ($111,500), and $91,300 from Purdue University. The report says the inspector general's office is investigating a program officer who ignored guidance "regarding the management of a cooperative agreement on which her home institution was a subawardee," and continues to "focus resources on areas of high risk — including the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)/Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs." 


Graphic by Jennifer Pocock. Click here for a larger version.


AGE BIAS AGAINST YOUNG RESEARCHERS? That's what is suggested by a new analysis published in the Proceedings if the National Academy of Sciences. "Since 1982, we find a steady drop in the number of grant-eligible basic-science faculty [principal investigators (PIs)] younger than 46. This fall occurred over a 32-year period when inflation-corrected congressional funds for NIH almost tripled." The authors "also find a large number of postdoctoral scholars and research associates, a rapid rise in number of PIs over 71, and a steady shift of NIH funds away from R01 grants." They say that "[t]o prepare young scientists for increased demand, additional resources should be devoted to transitional postdoctoral fellowships already offered by NIH."

WORRY OVER QATAR CAMPUSES: A regional expert warns in the Times Higher Education supplement  the ongoing diplomatic crisis in Qatar may cause “irreparable reputational damage” to the Gulf as a location for university branch campuses. Qatar hosts overseas outposts of 12 international universities, but faces mounting uncertainty after four Arab states – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain – cut diplomatic ties. 


'STRATEGIC NEW DIRECTION' FOR ERCs: Today’s National Science Foundation-backed Engineering Research Centers "are intensely focused on early-stage development of promising new technologies with broad application," a National Academies panel finds. It proposes instead a "a strategic new direction for the program focused on tackling larger, grand-challenge-like problems whose solutions offer the greatest benefits for society. Moving in this direction raises new challenges associated with leading and managing the diverse research teams needed, and it will require a disciplined, systematic effort to ensure that the teams work in concert to maximize the value created for society." Read the report. 


THE SIXTH ANNUAL ASEE INTERNATIONAL FORUM will be held on Wednesday, June 28th, 2017 on the final day of ASEE’s Annual Conference in Columbus, OH. The International Forum brings together engineering professionals from academia and industry from around the globe who are engaged in novel engineering education initiatives to share information on successful models, experiences and best practices. The keynote speaker will be Dr. Mike Murphy, dean of the College of Engineering and Built Environment, Dublin Institute of Technology.  Click here for more information.

NEW PODCAST: Prism's Jennifer Pocock offers a tasty tour of Columbus. Listen here.

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.