October 22, 2011


Fallback options are being floated in the event that the bipartisan House-Senate deficit-reduction panel fails to agree on its required $1.2 trillion in budget savings. With a month to go, the Supercommittee shows little sign of progress. The alternative to a deal would be automatic cuts -- a so-called sequester --  in 2013 falling equally on national security and domestic programs.

One possibility, CQ reports, is an agreement falling short of $1.2 trillion. An $800 billion deal, for instance, would require a potentially less painful $400 billion sequester. In another scenario, defense hawks might try to circumvent automatic cuts to the Pentagon: They could attempt to change the sequester or use appropriations measures to restore anticipated defense cuts. "But that would be extremely difficult," writes CQ.

ON A ROLL: The Senate is due to vote Nov. 1 on a "minibus" appropriations measure that combines fiscal 2012 Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science, and Transportation-HUD spending bills. This would fund the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). So far, there's been no move on the floor to restore Senate appropriators' cuts to NSF and NIST. Passage of the minibus would open the way for a House-Senate conference. House appropriators have been more generous toward the science agencies.

A REPUBLICAN WELCOME: Foreign students with advanced STEM degrees who get hired by a U.S. firm in their chosen field would be immediately eligible for permanent residency under legislation introduced by Rep. Raul Labrador (R, Idaho). Our colleague David Mitchell reports that employer-paid fees would cover administrative costs and also go into a fund to help stimulate American students' interest in STEM. Labrador was an immigration attorney before entering Congress. His bill has five GOP cosponsors.  Read more here.



NANO SAFETY GUIDELINES: The multiple agencies participating in the National Nanotechnology Initiative have updated their 2008 health and safety strategy. The new document offers "a more robust risk assessment component" that incorporates product life-cycle analysis and ethical, legal, and societal implications, according to the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Principles aim to base risk assessment and management on "sound science."

SIRI'S PROUD PARENTS: OSTP's Tom Kalil and Kumar Garg point out in a blog post that the virtual personal assistant featured in Apple's new iPhone "is a direct outgrowth" of federally funded research -- specifically, a "Personalized Assistant that Learns" project backed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The new feature is called Siri. People will be able to ask it to book a table, make an appointment or answer a question using information from multiple search engines. Kalil and Garg say many experts believe the technology "will transform the way we interact with information technology."


BROADENING PARTICIPATION: The National Science Foundation has posted FAQs for new university faculty considering applying for Broadening Participation Research Initiation Grants in Engineering (BRIGE). Among the answers: Maternity leave doesn't count as part of the three-year eligibility period.

MATERIAL WORLD: NSF's Materials Genome Initiative for Global Competitiveness aims to deploy advanced materials at least twice as fast as is possible today "at a fraction of the cost." Learn more.

FRAME OF MINDS: The National Institutes of Health is encouraging U.S. institutions to collaborate in research training with institutions in low- and middle-income countries. Framework Programs for Global Health Innovation (FRAME Innovation) aim to foster innovation in health products, processes and policies. Learn more.

SHARING THE PAIN: The National Institutes of Health has put together various options for coping with tough budget times, including: limiting the number of research program awards per investigator, the total amount of awards per investigator, size of awards, and salary support. Extramural research chief Sally Rockey lays out some of the choices.

Meanwhile, the Association of American Universities and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities have joined in a letter urging appropriators not to set a minimum number of new and competing NIH research grants, not to lower the salary cap, and let NIH proceed with its restructuring plan.


ALL IN GOOD TIME: It's likely to be the New Year before the world learns what a National Research Council panel has in store for America's research universities. Headed by Bank of America Chairman (and industrial engineer) Charles O. Holliday Jr., the committee has been tasked by key members of Congress to identify "the top 10 actions" needed to maintain excellence in research and doctoral education. Its report went out to external reviewers this week.

ALCHEMY OF SUCCESS: What makes an "innovation cluster" work? According to a report of an Academies symposium, it's a "culture of entrepreneurship emerging from dense networks of trust and cooperation that reaches across multiple organizations." Innovators develop a "common vocabulary and grammar." NSF's Deborah Jackson opines on innovation "ecosystems" in Prism.

NOT GETTING IT: The nation “still seems unprepared or unwilling to respond effectively to climate change,” a new National Research Council report says. Yet the reality of climate change “lends increasing urgency to the need for effective education on earth system science, as well as on the human and behavioral dimensions of climate change, from broad societal action to smart energy choices at the household level.” Read more.

WORKFORCE TRAIN WRECK: That's what National Academy of Engineering President Charles Vest projects will result from the fact that African Americans and Hispanics, who together comprise about a third of college-age kids, earn less than 13 percent of engineering degrees. In an Oct. 16 speech, he's generally gloomy about engineering education. Noting poor retention ("We lose 50 percent of the women. And we lose 50 percent of the men") he says that "across the entire system, we are failing in some combination of inspiration, motivation, and learning."

Check out a report on community resilience to earthquakes here.


IN ONE FELL SWOOP . . . GOP presidential hopeful Ron Paul would wipe out the Energy Department's Office of Science, NIST, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, according to his deficit-reduction plan. The Texas congressman would also cut some $7 billion from the National Institutes of Health, ScienceInsider's Jeff Mervis reports, and end research funding at the Department of Agriculture.


2011 ANNUAL CONFERENCE PRESENTATIONS: Plenary and Distinguished lecture presentations from the 2011 Annual Conference in Vancouver, Canada are now available on the ASEE website http://www.asee.org/conferences-and-events/conferences/annual-conference/2011/program-schedule/conference-highlights

K-12 WORKSHOP - PROPOSALS SOUGHT. ASEE's Ninth Annual Workshop on K-12 Engineering Education - “Employing Engineering for STEM Learning”. The event will be held on Saturday, June 9, in San Antonio, Texas, one day before the opening of the annual conference. Proposals will be accepted November 1, 2011 through January 27, 2012.

Watch the K-12 Workshop website for updates: http://teachers.egfi-k12.org/2012-asee-workshop-on-k-12-engineering-education/

EXCLUSIVE: ASEE has negotiated a special arrangement with Bulletin News that will allow you to receive White House Bulletin, the comprehensive daily news summary that brings the nation's powerbrokers up to speed on the morning's developments, while providing an inside roadmap for future decisions. The Bulletin focuses on the plans being formulated behind closed doors in the Executive and Legislative Branches and pieces together the specifics to keep subscribers ahead of the curve on emerging issues. Over the last 18 years, White House Bulletin has attracted a paying readership that includes the country's most influential government and business leaders, including the top officials in the Executive Branch, members of Congress, major trade associations, the media, and Fortune 500 executives.

White House Bulletin will be a must-read for academics and industrial leaders seeking to understand the changing policy environment in Washington, for faculty members trying to stay abreast of the ups and downs of funding agencies, and for students seeking a concise way to keep up with events in a turbulent world.

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NAVAL RESEARCH INTERNSHIPS: The Naval Research Enterprise Internship Program (NREIP) is a 10-week summer research opportunity for college and university sophomores, juniors, seniors, and graduate students at a Navy lab under the guidance of a mentor. It provides stipends of $5,250 (sophomores); $7,880 for juniors and seniors and $10,500 for grad students. U.S. citizenship usually is required, but permanent residents are accepted at some labs. Students can apply online at http://nreip.asee.org/. The deadline is Jan. 6, 2012.

HOT OFF THE PRESS! The 5th edition of eGFI (Engineering, Go For It), ASEE's inspiring magazine for K-12 students. The new edition will present readers with a multifaceted picture of engineering by offering briefs on different engineering disciplines, first-hand accounts from engineering students, teachers, and professionals, and tips on how to prepare for, finance, and succeed in pursuing an education in engineering. Since its launch in 2003, eGFI has reached more than 1.7 million readers. To inquire about sponsorship or to place advance orders, contact Grace Hill (g.hill@asee.org; 202-350-5760 or GoForIt@asee.org).


EDITOR: Mark Matthews; CONTRIBUTORS: Jaimie Schock, Michael T. Gibbons, David Mitchell, William E. Kelly, Thomas K. Grose