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December 3, 2016



More than 2,300 American scientists, including 22 Nobel Prize winners, have sent an open letter to President-elect Donald Trump and Congress urging them to respect science, NBC reports. "They are especially worried about government interference in their work and about policies that could reject scientific fact — notably climate science." The letter stresses that "creating a strong and open culture of science begins at the top," with agencies "led by officials with demonstrated track records of respecting science as a critical component of decision making" and who recognize that "diversity makes science stronger." It urges that "bedrock" laws such as the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act "retain a strong scientific foundation." Congress and the administration should "adhere to high standards of scientific integrity and independence in responding to current and emerging public health and environmental threats [and] provide adequate resources to enable scientists to conduct research . . . and effectively and transparently carry out their agencies’ missions."

The Washington Post, meanwhile, carries a headline: "Scientists are really, really worried about Donald Trump," and the Atlantic reports on how Trump, with congressional support, could derail science-based regulations.

In a milder tone, leaders of 29 research and academic institutions - including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, the American Geophysical Union and the Association of American Universities - are urging Trump to name a science adviser quickly.

NOT BASHFUL: Rep. Andy Harris, right, a conservative Republican representing Maryland's Eastern Shore, appears to be openly campaigning for the post of National Institutes of Health director. An anesthesiologist who practiced at Johns Hopkins, he tells Science: "I have conducted both clinical research and basic science research. And I have the background in the political arena to understand how funding occurs, how policies can change in new directions, and how reform can be accomplished.”

MORE ADVICE FOR TRUMP: Organizations representing high tech companies say in a letter that as he invests "in traditional infrastructure based in concrete and steel, we urge also investing in technology infrastructure. Such investments that enable new advances can be an avenue to prosperity and international competitiveness just as much as rebuilding roads and bridges will contribute enormously to our economy."

UNLIKELY ALLIES? Sen.-elect Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) soon to join the Appropriations Committee, tweets that he'll "fight against funding cuts" to NASA’s climate change research program. Politico suggests he could gain support from an unexpected quarter: Trump's daughter Ivanka "wants to make climate change — which her father has called a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese — one of her signature issues, a source close to her told Politico. The source said Ivanka is in the early stages of exploring how to use her spotlight to speak out on the issue." 


NEXT-GEN ELECTRIC MACHINCES: The University of Houston is among the winners in a Department of Energy program to advance technologies for energy efficient electric motors. Houston's $4.5 million grant will go toward "a metal organic chemical vapor deposition process to achieve four-fold improvement in superconductor wire performance at high enough temperatures where nitrogen can be used as the cryogenic fluid." See the dozen other projects.

CONFERENCES' 'IMPORTANT ROLE': The Office of Management and Budget has revised its strictures on government scientists' attendance at conferences, saying "it is critical to continue to recognize the important role of mission-related travel and conferences in supporting operations." Agencies "should pre-approve, as appropriate, employee attendance at known recurring conferences, especially at nongovernment sponsored conferences." Read the memo.

$76 MILLION FOR CYBERSECURITY: The National Science Foundation's Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace (SaTC) program is spreading that sum among 241 projects across 36 states and 129 institutions, touching "on all aspects of the field." Three big projects, funded at $3 million each, are: Living in the Internet of Things (Indiana University and University of Washington); Verifiable Hardware: Chips that Prove their Own Correctness (University of Virginia, New York University, University of California, San Diego, Yale University, and CUNY City College); and Computing Over Distributed Sensitive Data (Harvard University, University of Buffalo).

ROBOTICS 2.0 WEBINAR: The original National Robotics Initiative (NRI) "emphasized the realization of collaborative robots (co-robots) working in symbiotic relationships with human partners. The NRI-2.0 program significantly extends this theme to focus on issues of scalability: how teams of multiple robots and multiple humans can interact and collaborate effectively; how robots can be designed to facilitate achievement of a variety of tasks in a variety of environments, with minimal modification to the hardware and software; how robots can learn to perform more effectively and efficiently, using large pools of information from the cloud, other robots, and other people; and how the design of the robots’ hardware and software can facilitate large-scale, reliable operation." Register for the Dec. 6 webinar.

QUANTUM LEAPS: The National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering's Quantum Grants Program aims for "a profound (quantum) impact on the prevention, diagnosis, or treatment of a major disease or national public health problem through the development and implementation of biomedical technologies within 10 to 12 years." It seeks "projects that have a highly focused, collaborative, interdisciplinary, milestone-driven approach targeted at solving a major medical or public health challenge through technological innovation." Learn more

DEATH OF AN INNOVATOR: Erich Bloch, a Holocaust orphan who immigrated to the United States, earned an electrical engineering degree while pumping gas and cleaning laboratory equipment, and went on to pioneering achievements at IBM and NSF, died Nov. 25 at 91. As NSF director from 1984 to 1990, he played an integral role in NSFNET, which gave rise to the Internet, and was instrumental in creating the Engineering Research Center and Science and Technology Center programs, the agency says. "He was a strong advocate for research and championed funding for high-risk, revolutionary projects." See obituaries in the Washington Post and Science


DEFENSE BILL MAY BE VETO-PROOF: The compromise National Defense Authorization bill that emerged from a conference led by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Mac Thornberry (R-Tex.) "is expected to easily pass the Senate, heading to President Barack Obama’s desk for signature with what could be veto-proof majorities in both chambers," CQ reports. The measure passed the House Friday 375-34. Here are highlights from the conference report:

  • Manufacturing engineering education grants: Awards can be made to industry, not-for-profit institutions, institutions of higher education, or to consortia of such institutions for "multidisciplinary instruction that encompasses the total manufacturing engineering enterprise" including "classroom activities, laboratory activities, thesis projects, individual or team projects, internships, cooperative work-study programs, and interactions with industrial facilities, consortia, or . . . other activities and organizations in the United States and foreign countries . . . ."
  • Permanent authorization of the Rapid Innovation Program.
  • Authorization for the National Defense University and Defense Acquisition University to enter into cooperative research and development agreements with
    universities, not-for-profit institutions, and other entities.
  • A pilot effort to enhance interaction between the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the military service academies.
  • A pilot provision allowing DARPA and R&D labs to "waive on a temporary basis any regulation, restriction, requirement, guidance, policy, procedure, or departmental instruction that would generate greater value and efficiencies
    in research and development activities, enable more efficient and effective operations, and enable more rapid deployment of warfighter capabilities.

'COMPETES' ON A FAST TRACK: The latest incarnation of the landmark measure, the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (S. 3084), "may easily pass in the Senate and House" by the middle of next week, reports Amy Scott, co-chair of the Coalition for National Science Funding. The compromise waters down the House-endorsed "national interest" requirement, saying that NSF's intellectual merit and broader impacts criteria themselves "assure that the Foundation's activities are in the national interest . . ." The bill also says NSF should commit to transparency, accountability and clear and consistent public communication regarding the national interest of each grant and cooperative agreement.


Graphic by Jennifer Pocock; click here for a larger version. 


THE RAPID PACE OF TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE offers "continually evolving avenues" for research sponsored by the Federal Transit Administration, a National Academies advisory committee says. "One such avenue concerns the means by which innovative transportation services and advancements in automated and connected vehicle technologies can be exploited to extend the availability, reach, and capacity of transit system services." Read the letter report.


ATTENTION, WOMEN POST-DOCS: The L’Oréal USA For Women In Science fellowship program awards five post‐doctoral women scientists annually with grants of $60,000 each. Applicants are selected from a variety of fields, including the life and physical/material sciences, technology (including computer science), engineering, and mathematics. Applications will open on November 28, 2016 and are due by February 3, 2017. The application and more information about the L’Oréal USA For Women in Science program can be found at www.lorealusa.com/forwomeninscience.

SAFE ZONE ALLY TRAINING WEBINAR SERIES – Level 2: Take part in creating a positive and inclusive environment for LGBTQ individuals in STEM by joining ASEE for three free Level 2 Safe Zone Ally Training webinars. Building upon the Level 1 webinars presented in Spring 2016, ASEE is offering a  one-hour “deep dive” on LGBTQ and engineering culture December 6. Register today. Missed Level 1? View the slides and recording-on-demand here.

CALL FOR PARTICIPATION: WORKSHOP ON BUILDING RESEARCH CAPACITY FOR STEM FACULTY DEVELOPMENT: Building Research Capacity for STEM Faculty Development is an NSF-sponsored working conference that brings together experts from around the country to develop a national research agenda focused on faculty development in the STEM disciplines. February 16-18, 2017 at Clemson University. Apply 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.