January 27, 2012


The smaller U.S. military envisioned in the Defense Department's FY 2013 budget will "have to be prepared to be able to leap ahead technologically," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, at left, said Thursday. The budget "leverages . . . new concepts of operations and advances in space, cyberspace, special operations, long-range precision strike capabilities." Panetta spoke of "protecting or increasing investments in cyber capabilities, the ability to project power in denied areas, special operations forces . . . homeland missile defense, and countering weapons of mass destruction. In order to protect vital investments in the future, we protected science and technology programs as well." The defense cuts, mandated by last year's Budget Control Act, are drawing criticism from influential Republicans.


Comparison of the Pentagon's 2012 and 2013 Budgets:

                 12         13          14           15           16           17

FY 2012  $553    571         587        598          611         622

FY 2013    531    525        534         546          556         567

Change     -4%     -8%        -9%       -9%         -9%        -9%

See a transcript of the briefing by Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey (pictured above right); Deputy Secretary Ashton Carter transcript; Pentagon fact sheet.

A COUNTER VIEW: "Reform of defense R&D could save tens of billions of dollars while increasing support for the basic research that has powered the American economy, from radar to the Internet." So writes Subrata Ghoshroy, an electrical engineer and research associate at MIT who spent a number of years as a Hill staffer and defense analyst at the Government Accountability Office. While it's "politically dangerous" for members of Congress to oppose defense R&D, much of what's called R&D "is not research in the sense that it produces scientific and technical knowledge widely applicable inside and outside the Defense Department." A large part of it "revolves around building very expensive gadgets that are often based on unsound technology and frequently fail to perform as required."

'RACE TO THE TOP' FOR UNIVERSITIES: President Obama is proposing a $1 billion competitive grant to spur governors and state legislators to keep tuition affordable and improve student outcomes, according to CQ. A second $55 million competitive grant program would go to public and private colleges and nonprofit organizations that develop plans to boost higher education attainment. Speaking today at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), Obama said: "We are putting colleges on notice: You can't assume that you'll just jack up tuition every single year. If you can't stop tuition from going up, then the funding you get from taxpayers each year will go down."

CHOPRA LEAVING WHITE HOUSE: The administration's chief technology officer, who has sought to make government more efficient through information technology, is "widely expected" to run for lieutenant governor of Virginia, according to the Washington Post.

LIVING EXAMPLES: Honored by First Lady Michelle Obama after the State of the Union were two entrepreneurs whose presence symbolized the administration's drive to attract and keep well-trained immigrants in the United States: Mike Krieger, a Stanford-educated Brazilian who cofounded Instagram; and Hiroyki Fujita, a Japanese native who got a Ph.D. in physics from Case Western Reserve and founded Quality Electrodynamics in Cleveland. Read more.


SOURCE: National Science Board, Science and Engineering Indicators 2012


OPPOSITION BUILDS TO PUBLICATIONS BILL: Ten library and open-access advocacy groups plus the Modern Language Association have joined opponents of the Research Works Act, HR 3699, sponsored by Reps. Darrel Issa (R-Calif.) and Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.). The measure would bar federal agencies from disseminating any private-sector research work without prior consent of the publisher and also block policies that require authors or their employees to assent to dissemination of a private-sector research work. The bill is backed by the Association of American Publishers, although some members have dissented.

CONTINUING FINANCIAL PRESSURE: That's what the majority of colleges and universities will continue to face, Inside Higher Ed reports, citing Moody's Investors Service. Pressures include "state and federal funding cuts, concerns about costs among students and families, falling demand, and balance sheet illiquidity." Moody's sees a stable outlook for "a small number of highly rated colleges and universities." 

EMPLOYERS UNIMPRESSED: "University Grads Don't Make the Grade" is the title of a report based on a survey of "500 elite business decision-makers" by the research firm Global Strategy Group. The executives say recent graduates "fall short of expectations on highly valued attributes like problem-solving, collaboration and written communications skills, while exceeding expectations on little-valued social media and technology skills." Adds one respondent: New grads "don't have a great work ethic." The survey was commissioned by the design firm Woods Bagot.

CENTER FOR SUSTAINABLE ENGINEERING: A partnership of Syracuse, Carnegie Mellon, Arizona State, and Georgia Tech, the center is holding two workshops for faculty members who teach engineering courses in Syracuse June 4 and 5 and June 7 and 8. NSF will cover expenses of the workshop, ground transportation, food, and lodging, but participants will have to pay their own way to Syracuse. Learn more from Carol Stokes-Cawley at cestokes@syr.edu or Cliff Davidson at davidson@syr.edu. Or apply.


SHALE BOOM'S ORIGINS: A report by the Breakthrough Institute traces the technology that made the shale oil and gas boom possible to research funded three decades ago by the Department of Energy in the Ford administration. A Penn State geologist, Terry Engelder, is quoted as saying, "Funding from the federal government had a huge impact on the evolution of the industry."

MORE SUPPORT FOR HOMELAND SECURITY S&T:  Northeastern's president, President Joseph Aoun, has been joined by 11 other university leaders in appealing to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to support research by DHS's science and technology directorate in the FY 13 budget. Congress took a big bite out of S&T in FY12. The presidents write that S&T "collaborates with university partners to protect our nation's ports, coasts, borders and transportation infrastructure, prevent terrorist and cyber attacks and help make our communities more resilient."

ABOUT THAT LOW GRANT SUCCESS RATE: The 18 percent success rate -- an all-time low -- among researchers seeking National Institutes of Health grants is not just a matter of increased competition, ScienceInsider reports. True, there was an eight percent rise in proposals last year, but this included a 17 percent increase in proposals for shortterm R21 grants. "The mainstay for most labs is the larger R01," the investigator-initiated grant. Read more on research chief Sally Rockey's blog.

CHECK OUT . . . Why the National Science Board wants clearer explanations of the National Science Foundation's merit review criteria.

The NSB is holding a two-day meeting Feb. 2 and 3, but no agenda has yet been posted.


SCIENCE PROGRAM OVERLAP: The Government Accountability Office has surveyed 209 STEM programs administered by 13 different federal agencies. It found that 83 percent of them "overlapped to some degree with at least one other program in that they offered similar services to similar target groups in similar STEM fields to achieve similar objects." They need to be "well-coordinated and guided by a robust strategic plan."  The GAO study may give Congress reason to cut the $3 billion spent on the programs, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports.


SCRUTINY OF EPA: Jerald Schnoor, left, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Iowa, will be among witnesses Feb. 3 when the House Energy and Environment subcommittee holds a hearing on Fostering Quality Science at EPA: Perspectives on Common Sense Reform. The panel is chaired by Maryland Republican Andy Harris. The hearing will be webcast. 

CYBERLAW: Comprehensive bipartisan cybersecurity legislation could hit the Senate floor as early as February, CQ reports, the product of "years' worth of negotiation and discussion."


NANO WORRIES: Even as nanomaterials have become a billion-dollar business, not enough is known about their safety, the National Research Council says in a new report. For instance, NRC says in a press release, "little progress has been made on the effects of ingested nanomaterials on human health and other potential health and environmental effects of complex nanomaterials that are expected to enter the market over the next decade." The report lays out a strategy for coordinated research. Read "Peril in Small Places," Prism's cover story on nanosafety.

NEW EXEC: Bruce Darling will become executive officer of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council, succeeding William Colglazier. Darling is now vice president for laboratory management at the University of California. Read more.


SEEKING REVIEWERS OF SUSTAINABILITY TEXTBOOKS: ASEE is participating in an initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Education to address the Big Sustainability Questions in the classroom. Major textbook publishers are looking for names of potential reviewers who would be paid for suggesting ideas about how to educate for a sustainable future. These ideas will be used as examples and themes in textbook revisions.  Names can be forwarded to EducationForASustainableFuture@gmail.com.

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.

Individual workshops should prominently feature hands-on classroom activities, provide take-home or classroom-ready materials and be designed to engage participants in interactive exercises. Workshops that offer tangible material to attendees, in addition to written material, are specifically solicited. Proposals addressing 1.) elementary/primary grades and 2.) demonstrated methods for involving practicing engineers and engineering students in the classroom are also sought.

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

HOT OFF THE PRESS! The 5th edition of eGFI (Engineering, Go For It), ASEE's inspiring magazine for K-12 students. The new edition presents 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).


NPE 2012, put on by SPE, a plastics industry trade association, bills itself as the world's largest plastics conference, exposition, and technology exchange. Students are now encouraged to enter. Designs can be of any product, for any purpose, from any country. The deadline for entries is Feb. 1. Details can be found on the student information page.


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