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July 2, 2016

CONGRESS AND THE BUDGET

'COMPETES' RENEWAL CLEARS SENATE COMMITTEE

The American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (S 3084) would authorize a four percent increase in fiscal 2018 for the National Science Foundation and National Institute of Standards and Technology. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), left, chair of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, "said the bill may go through further changes before a Senate vote," CQ reports. Although approved by a bipartisan voice vote, the bill drew opposition from Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.). CQ quotes her as saying she's "very concerned" about the "substantial increases" for NSF and NIST. The Association of Public and Land Grant Universities calls these increases "a positive step, but lagging at a time when our global competitors are doubling down on their investment in basic and applied research."

Amendments approved would: provide support for designated "manufacturing communities"; increase attention to institutions serving underrepresented populations; bolster K-12 computer science; monitor pass-though grants; increase funding to the Commerce Department's Regional Innovation Strategies program; fund establishment of proof-of-concept centers; explore the value of "registered apprenticeships"; and support national partnerships in informal STEM learning.  

The Association of American Universities, which represents leading research institutions, says the bill "contains several provisions we support." For one thing, it "clarifies that a legitimate means to achieve broader impacts on NSF grant proposals is for researchers to focus on improving in-class instruction of undergraduate classes in the scientific disciplines that relate to their NSF-funded research."

APPEAL TO CONFEREES: Now that both the House and Senate have approved FY 2017 defense authorization bills, a conference committee offers the last hope for reversing cuts to basic research, university representatives fear. Both chambers set basic research funding below FY 2016 enacted levels. This means less money for the Army Research Laboratory, Army Research Office, Office of Naval Research, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the Multidisciplinary University Research Initiatives. 

TAKING AIM AT GUNS: Gun policy disputes have roiled the appropriations process, CQ reports, including Senate progress on the Commerce-Justice-Science bill, which funds NSF and other research agencies. Amid Democrats' clamor for tougher gun-control measures, various groups, including the American Medical Association, want Congress to lift its 20-year ban on research by the Centers for Disease Control on gun violence. That ban has not entirely eliminated federally funded research on the topic. See below.  

MOVING TARGET: A hearing on how the Internet of Things can transform transportation drew testimony from, among others, Los Angeles's Seleta Reynolds, right, who spoke of launching "electric vehicle car sharing (in) the heart of our city . . . accessible to people who stand to benefit the most." Intel senior vice president Doug Davis said more than half of Americans aspire "to live in a driverless city where cars, buses, and trains operate intelligently and automatically without people driving them, and over one-third expect a driverless city by 2024." Robert Edelstein, a senior vice president of AECOM and an intelligent transportation systems expert, urged expansion of “Smart City” grants, noting that 78 cities competed for the grant recently won by Columbus, Ohio. 

DATABYTES

THE ADMINISTRATION AND RESEARCH AGENCIES

THE RIGHT STUFF: Advances in information and communication and technology ought to help fix societal problems, but "identifying effective technology and successfully deploying it broadly remains a challenge," NSF says. So two directorates, Computer and Information Science and Engineering and Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences, have teamed up to "to explore new models for maximizing the societal, psychological, and behavioral impact" of ICT, "particularly for low-income and disadvantaged individuals, families, and communities." Learn more.

OUT OF CONTROL? Five years into the National Robotics Initiative (see a brief report and infographics), ethical questions are mounting and researchers are trying to come up with answers.  

TREAT IT LIKE AN EPIDEMIC: NSF-funded research by Yale sociologist Andrew Papachristos on populations that face persistent threats of gun-related attacks and homicides finds parallels between gun violence and epidemics. "[A]s an individual becomes exposed to more gunshot victims, his or her own chance of victimization increases," reports an online article about his work. Violence, he says, "moves in epidemic-like patterns throughout populations." And as with some disease outbreaks, community-based interventions may be most effective.

'LIFE, LIBERTY, AND THE PURSUIT OF BIOMASS': That's the title of the first plenary session at the Department of Energy's upcoming Bioenergy 2016 conference in Washington.  The gathering will feature the rollout of an updated Billion Ton Bioeconomy study and speakers from DOE, Congress, See current funding opportunities. Check out DOE's Sustainable Transportation Summit.

THE LATEST ON FUEL CELLS: Researchers presented status reports on hydrogen and fuel cell projects at a merit review and peer evaluation meeting in early June. Read the proceedings. Also: A team from the University of Waterloo won the Hydrogen Education Foundation's 2016 student design contest.

WHO'S LISTENING? The FBI is mentioned in passing and Apple not at all in the newly released National Privacy Research Strategy‚Äč. "Privacy is surprisingly hard to characterize. A full treatment of privacy requires a consideration of ethics and philosophy, sociology and psychology, law and government, economics, and technology," the White House document says.."Research is needed to help bridge the gap between statements of principles and effective implementation,"

AI STRATEGY: The White House is holding workshops around the country with top computer scientists to learn more about the benefits and risks of artificial intelligence. An event this week in Pittsburgh drew experts from a number of universities, as well as from DARPA, IARPA (Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency) and NSF to discuss such topics as safety requirements, algorithms, and mathematical models and reasoning. Presentations should be available soon. See videos from Artificial Intelligence for Social Good.

ASEE AND COMMUNITY ACTIVITIES

STAYING POWER: ASEE has done extensive work on retention and time-to-graduation rates over the previous several years. A good distillation was recently done by consultant Cindy Veenstra. "The study of graduation rates is multivariate and complex; the colleges’ cultures, admission policies and student support/engagement activities all contribute to the variation. An engineering college with a 90% first year retention of its freshmen can expect a 5-year graduation rate of 72% while an engineering college with a 75% first year retention can expect a 47% graduation rate." See the full content.  

'ENGINEERING-ENHANCED' LIBERAL EDUCATION: ASEE, with financial support from the Teagle Foundation and expert guidance by leading education consultant Sheila Tobias, has launched a website highlighting case studies that examine the benefits of greater integration between the liberal arts and engineering. Find out more.

eGFI Summer Reading: Is your school hosting an engineering camp, bridge program, or professional development session for K-12 teachers this summer? Jump-start the learning with eGFI (Engineering, Go For It), ASEE's award-winning magazine for middle and high school students. Filled with engaging features, gorgeous graphics, and useful information about engineering colleges and careers, eGFI aims to get teens fired up about engineering. To purchase copies, go to http://store.asee.org/  For bulk purchases or other inquiries, contact eGFI@asee.org or call 202-331-3500.