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November 4, 2017



Private college endowments worth $50 million or more would be taxed 1.4 percent on net investment income under the Republican-backed tax bill proposed by Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.), right, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Bloomberg reports the provision would increase revenue by $3 billion between 2018 to 2027. The Association of American Universities (AAU) calls the move "short-sighted," saying it "will only harm students and their families. Endowments support substantial student aid and student service programs, and provide funding for instruction, research, and for building and maintaining classrooms, labs, libraries, and other facilities."

The tax plan "would also do away with a tuition tax break for university employees and their families," according to the Washington Post. "As it stands, tuition discounts provided to that group are excluded from income, under what are known as qualified tuition reductions."

DONATIONS WOULD DECLINE: A proposed doubling of the standard deduction for individuals and couples "will reduce the number of taxpayers who itemize," AAU reports. Not itemizing would cut the value of the charitable deduction "and lead to a drop in donations to colleges and universities." AAU lists a number of other provisions it says could have a negative effect on higher education. 

HOUSE SCIENCE CHAIR TO RETIRE: Long-serving Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) who "has fought acrimonious battles with scientists over peer review, climate change, and the role of the federal government in supporting basic research since becoming chairperson in January 2013." plans to leave Congress at the end of his current term, ScienceInsider reports. His departure "could give the U.S. scientific community a chance to recalibrate a rocky five-year relationship" with the committee. While it's too early to speculate on a successor, "Rep. Frank Lucas (R–Okla.) would be next in line by seniority." Like Smith, he has taken "a hard line against government action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases." Other possible contenders:  Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R–Calif.), Rep. Mo Brooks (R–Ala.), and Rep. Randy Hultgren (R–Ill.). The latter is probably a "favorite among science lobbyists for the job." See a video of Smith's annoucement.

DANGER TO FARMS AND CITIZENS: "The range of biological threats facing the agricultural industry continues to grow," Daniel Gerstein of the RAND Corp. told a House hearing on biodefense research and development. "Emerging infectious diseases . . . have continued to spread across the globe, and the number of diseases becoming endemic in the United States has continued to increase. . . . Global travel and an increasingly mobile population . . . highlight the potential for foreign animal disease to rapidly spread . . . ." For example, Foot and Mouth Disease, eradicated here in 1929, "is endemic in parts of Asia, most of Africa, and the Middle East." Stephen Higgs, associate vice president for research at Kansas State University, spoke of "the impact that readily available biological agents would have if they were used against us," warning that "modern technologies make such an event increasingly feasible and increasingly likely." 

EARLY CAREER INVESTIGATORS funded by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will describe their research on the brain and behavior next week at a congressional briefing. They include industrial engineer Ayse Gurses, a Johns Hopkins associate professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine. 


GLOBAL WARMING IS 'UNAMBIGUOUS': So states the Climate Science Special Report, a legally mandated document prepared by 13 federal agencies and approved for release by the White House. It says "humans are the dominant cause of the global temperature rise that has created the warmest period in the history of civilization," the New York Times reports. According to the Atlantic, the report’s conclusions do not break new ground, but  "simply by affirming the science of climate change, the authors—and the interagency bureaucrats who shepherded the writing of the document—provide a contrast to the actions and statements of political figures in the Trump administration."

EPA GRANTEES ARE BARRED . . . from the Environmental Protection Agency's advisory boards because Administrator Scott Pruit says they "inevitably are conflicted because of the money they receive from the agency," Science magazine reports. The Hill adds that "[a]mong the dozens of new members to the Science Advisory Board, Clean Air Safety Advisory Committee and Board of Scientific Counselors are representatives of Phillips 66 Co., Southern Co. and the North Dakota Petroleum Council. Some of the new advisers have controversial scientific views, including one who believes air quality is too clean for children, while the new members include multiple climate change skeptics." 

PENTAGON TAPS EX-NASA CHIEF: Former Administrator Mike Griffin would become the first under secretary of defense for research and engineering since 1986, the American Institute of Physics' FYI newsletter reports. "Griffin was NASA administrator from 2005 to 2009 and has extensive experience in government and private industry. If confirmed, he will be tasked with instilling the Defense Department’s science and technology activities with a more innovative, risk-tolerant culture."

SOLAR DESALINATION: The Department of Energy is inviting concept papers on developing "novel technologies or concepts using solar thermal energy to assist in creating freshwater from otherwise unusable waters. Thermal desalination is a potential solution to increase water supplies for municipal water and agriculture, and is an important technology to purify water produced from various industrial processes, including oil and gas production. Advancing state-of-the-art thermal technologies and energy-efficient desalination systems will reduce the levelized cost of water by reducing the levelized cost of heat, resulting in more efficient thermal desalination processes and lower overall capital and integration costs for solar thermal desalination." Learn more.

BRAIN DATA CRUNCH: A solicitation from the National Institutes of Health seeks "new theories, computational models, and statistical tools to derive understanding of brain function from complex neuroscience data. Proposed tools could include the creation of new theories, ideas, and conceptual frameworks to organize/unify data and infer general principles of brain function; new computational models to develop testable hypotheses and design/drive experiments; and new mathematical and statistical methods to support or refute a stated hypothesis about brain function, and/or assist in detecting dynamical features and patterns in complex brain data." Learn more. See other recent funding opportunities.

RISE AND CREST: The National Science Foundation has a new solicitation for programs that boost research capacity at minority serving institutions.


Source: National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NSF) Infobrief, "Science and Engineering Publication Output Trends: 2014 Shows Rise of Developing Country Output while Developed Countries Dominate Highly Cited Publications"

Potential Climate Surprises: 'Compound
Extremes and Tipping Elements'

LEFT: Potential climatic tipping elements affecting the Americas (Figure source: adapted from Lenton et al. 2008 ). RIGHT: Wildfire and drought events from the NOAA Billion Dollar Weather Events list (1980–2016), and associated temperature and precipitation anomalies. Dot size scales with the magnitude of impact, as reflected by the cost of the event. These high-impact events occur preferentially under hot, dry conditions. Source: Chapter 15, "Potential Surprises: Compound Extremes and Tipping Elements," from the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4).


ACROSS THE POND: "The European Commission is seeking U.S. research community engagement as it launches the final phase of the Horizon 2020 research funding program," the American Institute of Physics FYI newsletter reports. "At the kickoff event, EU and U.S. officials identified collaboration opportunities and said they intend to renew a long-standing agreement governing U.S.-European science and technology cooperation."



Applications are now being accepted for the first-of-its-kind GEM-ASEE Doctoral Engineering Research Showcase sponsored by The National GEM Consortium (GEM) and the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) January 22-23, 2018, at the Mayflower Hotel, Washington, DC.  Doctoral students, postdoctoral fellows, and new faculty are invited to display their leading-edge technical research and connect with potential agency sponsors and academic employers.Registration fees: $50 for doctoral students and postdocs; $150 for new faculty. The deadline for applications is Friday, November 17. Find out more. Watch a video.

GOFLY COMPETITION: In partnership with Boeing, ASEE is calling on the world’s greatest thinkers, designers, engineers, and builders to challenge themselves and change the future. Registration for the competition is now open and all details are available here

ASEE IS CO-HOSTING the First Annual CoNECD (Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity - pronounced “connected”) Conference next April 29 to May 1. It will be a forum on enhancing diversity and inclusion of underrepresented groups in engineering and computing. CoNECD will encompass many diverse groups, including those based on gender (including gender identity and gender expression), race and ethnicity, disability, veterans, LGBTQ+, 1st generation and socio-economic status. It's a collaboration of ASEE's Minorities in Engineering and Women in Engineering divisions and several outside groups. ASEE members can submit an abstract here (login required.) 

ASEE Board Reorganization - Feedback Needed

ASEE ED Norman Fortenberry presents rationale on a proposed reorganization of the ASEE Board of Directors. Watch a video and  leave your feedback (ASEE member login required; Firefox works best.).

THE ACCELERATOR RETURNS: Beginning this month, ASEE's free monthly newsletter for undergraduate and graduate students will resume publication with a wide array of resources:  scholarship and internship/co-op listings, student news and essays, podcasts, professional development resources (e.g., advice on how to get an internship and how to make the most of it), and academic advice - plus entertaining engineering videos. Tell your students! Click here to sign up. Click here to advertise. Send content to Jennifer Pocock at j.pocock@asee.org.


ASEE is offering two two-week courses in the spring of 2018 for researchers and innovators who want to take their STEM education vision to the next level. The application period is now open.  For more information click here.

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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