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                                                               March 21, 2020  



As the Senate and White House worked toward a national rescue package worth up to a reported $1.4 trillion, organizations representing major research institutions urged Congress to increase research spending at federal science agencies by some 15 percent, or $13 billion, to prevent students and researchers from going broke, to restart closed laboratories once the pandemic eases, and to cover other unanticipated costs to the research enterprise, Science magazine reports. They're likely to get at least some of that. Earlier this week, the White House included new money for a number of science agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, Energy Department's Office of Science, and the National Science Foundation, in an overall request for $45.8 billion "to address ongoing preparedness and response efforts." In their appeal to Congress, the university groups suggest that the massive pandemic-related spending bill now being negotiated offers an opportunity to “allow our members to continue to lead in the battle against COVID-19 [coronavirus disease 2019] and ensure that our other research on behalf of the American people will not suffer during these unprecedented times,” according to Science.

LOOSENING THE RULES: Tthe White House Office of Management and Budget "issued a new directive that gives universities the flexibility they are seeking to deal with disruptions to research caused by the coronavirus pandemic," Science reports, quoting Wendy Streitz, of the Council on Governmental Relations, as saying, “It’s almost exactly what we asked for.” 

HOPE FOR A DEAL TODAY: Drafting of COVID-19 economic rescue legislation was set to accelerate today with the aim of finishing by late afternoon, CQ reported, "Any agreement reached in the Senate would have to also get through the Democratic-controlled House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has been in regular contact with Schumer and Mnuchin, according to aides." But Pelosi told fellow Democrats in a letter Friday that a bill put out earlier in the week by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was "a nonstarter" as written. "Any response package must greatly increase unemployment insurance and Medicaid, help small businesses survive, expand paid sick and family leave and put money directly into the hands of those who need it most," Pelosi said. Democrats are also pushing for a "stabilization fund" to help states and localities meet budget shortfalls, CQ reports. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) reported in late afternoon that a deal had been reached on unemployment compensation.  

See a comprehensive 19-page rundown by Lewis-Burke Associates of actions and announcements throughout the federal government related to COVID-19.

TOO LITTLE FOR S&T, HOUSE LAWMAKERS TELL DoD: Defense News reports that at a hearing March 11, members of the House Armed Services Committee "expressed deep frustration with the levels for early science and technology funding in the fiscal 2021 budget request . . .  in what could be a precursor to Capitol Hill increasing those numbers." The Pentagon requested $14.1 billion for basic and applied research --6.1, 6.2 and 6.3 accounts--which falls $2 billion below what Congress appropriated for fiscal 2020. That includes $3.5 billion for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. See a video of the hearing.


PANDEMIC DATA CHALLENGE: The White House is joining several several institutions in a call to action to AI experts. They're seeking "new text and data mining techniques that can help the science community answer high-priority scientific questions related to COVID-19. These questions include What do we know about COVID-19 risk factors? What do we know about virus genetics, origin, and evolution? What do we know about non-pharmaceutical interventions? What do we know about vaccines and therapeutics? The COVID-19 Open Research Dataset contains all COVID-19 and coronavirus-related research from PubMed's PMC open access corpus using this query (COVID-19 and coronavirus research); additional COVID-19 research articles from a corpus maintained by the WHO; and bioRxiv and medRxiv pre-prints using the same query as PMC (COVID-19 and coronavirus research). Learn more about the challenge.

EMERGENCY FUNDS AT NIBIB: The National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering has joined a National Institutes of Health announcement that "funds may be available for applications based on a presidentially declared disaster under the Stafford Act, a public health emergency declared by the Secretary, HHS, or other local, regional or national disaster." Learn more.

SOFTWARE TOOLS FOR OPEN SCIENCE: NIBIB has supplemental funds to enhance these tools. The website notice is somewhat garbled. Further checking with the agency might be wise.

RATE CUTS FOR STUDENT LOANS: According to Lewis-Burke Associates, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has announced that all federal student loan borrowers with federally held student loans will automatically have their interest rates set to 0% for a period of at least 60 days. In addition, each of these borrowers will have the option to suspend their payments for at least two months to allow greater flexibility during the national emergency. Student loan servicers have also been directed to grant an administrative forbearance to any borrower with a federally held loan who requests one. The forbearance began March 13 and will be in effect for a period of at least 60 days.

MORE WORK NEEDED: When it comes to enforcing Title IX--which bars sex discrimination, including sexual harassment--five science funding agencies "have taken actions, but need complaint procedures, overall plans, and better collaboration," says the Government Accountability Office. Together, the agencies reviewed--National Science Foundation, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Energy, NASA, and Department of Agriculture--fund the bulk of STEM research. DOE and USDA "lack finalized procedures for complaints and thus cannot ensure they are consistently handling complaints." Those two, plus NASA, "may be missing opportunities to obtain information for Title IX oversight." The agencies agreed with GAO's 17 recommendations. 

$25 MILLION FOR PLASTICS RECYCLING R&D: The  Bioenergy Technologies Office and Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO) within the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy are jointly funding “BOTTLE: Bio-Optimized Technologies to keep Thermoplastics out of Landfills and the Environment.” DOE sees a need for novel polymers that are designed for infinite recyclability; innovative deconstruction pathways for existing polymers that generate high-value products; and a consistent framework for evaluating carbon and energy efficiency across potential material flows and transformations." The program is part of DOE's Plastics Innovation Challenge. Learn more. Also: Find out about accomodations for applicants duriing the emergency.


Source: World Health Orgnization, which is regularly updating its dashboard. Minutes after this graphic was created, the number of countries affected had risen to 185. See updates on R&D here.

Source: Government Accountability Office, Report to the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, House of Representatives, Sexual Harassment in STEM Research.


COPPER VS. STAINLESS - WHERE DOES CORONAVIRUS LINGER LONGEST? Investigators enlisted by the National Academies "tested the viability (survival) of virus after controlled aerosolization and on a variety of surfaces. The aerosol (particles smaller than 5 microns that can float in the air) showed viral detection up to 3 hours post aerosolization. Following surface contamination, the virus could be detected up to 4 hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to 2-3 days on plastic and on stainless steel. These results are consistent with the plausibility of both aerosol and surface (fomite) transmission of SARS-CoV-2. The difference in survival on copper (4 hours) and on stainless steel (2-3 days) is noteworthy. Note that this study excludes what is probably the most common route of spread, direct droplet transmission by cough or sneeze, or even exhalation by an infected person." The experts also examined studies on the COVID-19 incubation period. See the report. Other reports in this series looked at the incidence of the disease among young people and social-distancing interventions.


Note to
As a service to engineering schools conducting online classes due to the coronavirus, the April issue of Connections will be devoted to innovative and practical tools and techniques to adapt laboratory teaching to a virtual classroom. Please send examples to m.matthews@asee.org


Training Tomorrow’s Engineers to Combat Climate Change

April 15 at 1 PM, ET: In support of Earth Day 2020, tune in for a new webinar and learn how two NSF-funded projects, RISE-UP and ReNUWIt, are training tomorrow’s engineers to build resilience and combat the effects of climate change through robust interdisciplinary initiatives. Register today: http://bit.ly/2Tlt4F9

Storytelling to Advance Research and Teaching - 

April 9 at 1 PM, ET: What’s your story? Tune in to learn how storytelling techniques can be used to propel your research and teaching, helping you communicate research impacts, write proposals, share best teaching practices, and teach difficult concepts. Learn more and register at http://bit.ly/3c99jba.

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