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The Week of August 13
Start your week fully informed with a preview of what's ahead in science policy and funding along with a recap of last week's news.
The Week of August 13
(Image credit – NSF / Bill Petros Photography)
NSF Physical Sciences Advisory Panel to Discuss ‘Big Ideas’
The advisory committee for the National Science Foundation’s Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS) Directorate will convene Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss four of the agency’s “10 big ideas,” including those focused on quantum information science and multimessenger astronomy. NSF has issued a number of funding solicitations and awards over the past year related to these big ideas. For instance, last week NSF announced a $15 million grant to support development of the first “practical” quantum computer. It also has issued a new funding solicitation to create new quantum “foundries” that will use mid-scale research infrastructure to develop quantum materials and devices. Following their discussion of the big ideas, the committee will meet with NSF Director France Córdova and the agency’s new chief operating officer, Fleming Crim, who directed the MPS directorate from 2013 to 2017. The meeting will be webcast.
ARPA-E Nominee to Face Senate Panel
On Thursday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is holding a hearing on President Trump’s nomination of Lane Genatowski to be director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy. Genatowski has spent his career in energy sector finance. As director, he would lead an agency the Trump administration has repeatedly proposed to eliminate. However, Congress has maintained support for ARPA–E and recently increased its funding to its highest level ever. Genatowski will be joined at the hearing by William Cooper, Trump’s nominee for general counsel at the Department of Energy.
Trump to Sign Defense Policy Update into Law
President Trump will sign the “John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019” on Monday during a visit to Fort Drum in upstate New York. Each year, Congress passes a new version of this legislation to update the nation’s defense policies, and moved unusually quickly with it this year. FYI will summarize many of the bill’s provisions relating to R&D and defense technologies in a forthcoming bulletin.
National Academies Convening Symposium on Local Climate Assessment
The National Academies is hosting a two-day workshop this week that will explore how state and local governments are “increasingly taking the lead on climate change assessments.” Individuals involved with California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment and other sub-national assessments will discuss strategies for engaging utilities and other local stakeholders in implementing proposed policy interventions. The event is sponsored by the California Energy Commission and the Electric Power Research Institute and will be webcast.
(Image credit – NASA / JPL-Caltech)
Planetary Science Decadal Survey Midterm Review Released
The National Academies released its midterm review of the planetary science decadal survey on Aug. 7. Completed in 2011, the survey is the guiding document for NASA’s Planetary Science Division for the period spanning 2013 to 2022. The review finds NASA has made “impressive progress” in implementing the survey’s priorities and affirms the agency’s Mars 2020 and Europa Clipper missions conform to its recommendations for cost-effective flagship missions. However, the review notes NASA is behind the survey’s suggested pace for selecting medium-scale and small-scale missions. It also warns that recent congressional directives to press ahead with an expensive Europa lander and institute an “Ocean Worlds” science program risk subverting the decadal survey process.
APS Report Calls for LEU-Fueled Reactors to Bolster Neutron Research
The American Physical Society released a report on Aug. 6 recommending actions to address the diminished U.S. capacity for neutron scattering research. It notes the availability of instrumentation for scattering research has declined since its peak in 1996 and that no high-performance research reactors have been commissioned in the U.S. since 1969. It observes that the highly enriched uranium (HEU) fuel employed in most reactors poses nuclear proliferation risks, which has contributed to their decline. The report recommends the U.S. increase its investments in neutron instrumentation to help compensate for its decreasing capacity for neutron R&D. It also endorses a shift toward using low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuels and calls on the U.S. to “initiate an effort to competitively design and build a new generation of LEU-fueled high-performance reactors.”
National Academies Planning Study on Future of US Weather Enterprise
The National Academies Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate (BASC) has announced it plans to conduct a study that will "outline a vision for the U.S. weather enterprise over the next 10-25 years." The study aims to identify community goals for the next decade and the critical investments, institutions, and coordination mechanisms needed to meet them. BASC is pursuing a crowdsourcing approach for financing the study and is seeking broad participation from government, industry, and academic stakeholders to reflect the complexity of the weather enterprise. To help frame the study, BASC held a workshop last week at the American Meteorological Society’s Summer Community Meeting.
On Aug. 10, President Trump announced his intention to nominate William Bookless to be principal deputy administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration. After receiving his doctorate in physics from the University of Wyoming in 1980, Bookless spent most of his career at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and served as the lab’s deputy associate director for its nuclear weapons program and associate director for safety and environmental protection. He was also a senior advisor to NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino from 2009 to 2012. In 2012, he became assistant laboratory director for policy and planning at Brookhaven National Laboratory. He retired from Brookhaven in 2015.
Trump Tells CEOs Many Foreign Students are Spies
According to reports by Politico and CNN, at a private dinner last week with a small group of business leaders, President Trump said foreign students represent an espionage threat to the U.S. One attendee told Politico that during a lengthy diatribe on China, Trump remarked that “almost every student that comes over to this country is a spy.” According to both reports, Trump also sought to assure attendees he would institute favorable visa policies for highly skilled workers and students. This year, federal officials have testified to Congress that the Chinese government uses some students as “non-traditional collectors” of intellectual property and other technical knowledge, often using legally legitimate methods. This is the first indication the issue has caught Trump’s own attention. In a statement provided to Inside Higher Education, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Chair Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) said Trump’s reported comments “feed into stereotypes that endanger Chinese and Asian American students” and “discourage these students from entering STEM fields for fear they’ll be targeted for the crime of studying while Asian.”
At a missile defense conference last week, Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin argued that using space-based interceptors to shoot down missiles in their boost phase is a “relatively easy technological challenge.” Griffin, who led technology development for the Strategic Defense Initiative under President George H. W. Bush, said he believes the interceptor concept has been “a victim of unrealistically high, uninformed cost estimates.” The main barrier, he asserted, is “it has not been the policy of the United States to deploy such systems.” The remarks come as this year’s annual defense policy bill directs the Department of Defense to develop a space-based missile defense system, subject to the availability of appropriations. Critics of the provision have cited missile defense feasibility studies conducted by the American Physical Society, an AIP Member Society, and the National Academies to argue that such systems are “impossibly expensive and vulnerable to simple countermeasures.”