FYI This Week highlights upcoming science policy events and summarizes news from the past week.
Construction is underway on magnetic coils for the ITER tokamak facility, an international project to investigate the prospects for generating energy from magnetically confined plasmas. The Department of Energy is currently developing a strategy that will shape its investments in follow-on fusion energy projects as well as more fundamental investigations of plasma behavior.
(Image credit – ITER Organization)
The American Physical Society’s Division of Plasma Physics is holding a weeklong meeting in Houston to cap off the first phase of a major planning exercise for the Department of Energy’s Office of Fusion Energy Sciences. The meeting will focus on finalizing a draft strategic plan covering both the pursuit of fusion power and plasma research unconnected to energy generation. For the domain of “discovery plasma science,” the draft report’s recommendations include building a facility capable of generating plasmas relevant to study of the solar wind, expanding the LaserNetUS program, and creating a complementary network for magnetized lab plasma experiments called MagNetUSA. For fusion science and technology, the report states its recommendations are “broadly consistent” with those of the 2019 National Academies strategic plan for burning plasma research, and include maintaining full participation in the international ITER project and the construction of a pilot fusion power plant in the U.S. The draft report’s recommendations also include construction of a Fusion Prototypic Neutron Source for materials testing, a “pre-pilot plant tokamak facility,” and at least one stellarator facility. In addition, it calls for creating a program dedicated to the exploration of energy generation through inertial fusion. Once completed, the report will be submitted to the federal advisory committee for fusion science, which will write its own report that will recommend priorities for DOE to pursue under different budget scenarios.
The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee is holding a hearing on Wednesday dedicated to “Industries of the Future.” Beginning last year, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has been using the phrase to denote five national priority areas: quantum information science, artificial intelligence, 5G telecommunications, advanced manufacturing, and synthetic biology. However, the office has not yet articulated an overarching plan for them and recently asked for input from the newly empaneled President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios will represent OSTP at the hearing, appearing alongside National Science Foundation Director France Córdova, National Institute of Standards and Technology Director Walter Copan, and two commissioners from the Federal Communications Commission. While senators on the committee are likely to welcome the White House’s push, some might also probe issues such as the possibility that 5G equipment will interfere with weather observations, a matter that has already caught the attention of Committee Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA).
Department of Energy Office of Science Director Chris Fall is making his first appearance before the House Science Committee on Wednesday at a hearing on the “next frontiers in energy research and scientific discovery.” Buoyed by a run of funding increases, the office has been pressing ahead with a series of major projects, including user facility upgrades, the flagship LBNF/DUNE neutrino facility, and the world’s first exascale computers. It also just announced the site selection for a future Electron-Ion Collider and has been developing major initiatives in areas such as quantum information science and artificial intelligence. Among the subjects that could arise is DOE’s implementation of the 2018 DOE Research and Innovation Act, which originated in the Science Committee and updated policy across the office’s programs. Committee members have also shown interest in DOE’s ongoing efforts to secure the research it supports against exploitation by foreign governments. Fall testified on this topic in November before a Senate committee.
The House Science Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday revisiting the role of science in understanding and responding to climate change. Last year, the committee dedicated its first hearing under its new Democratic majority to climate science and since then has approved a number of clean energy innovation bills. Members will hear from Rutgers University professor of human ecology Pamela McElwee, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Deputy Director Richard Murray, Fort Lewis College professor of environment and sustainability Heidi Steltzer, Environmental Progress President Michael Shellenberger, and World Resources Institute senior fellow Taryn Fransen.
On Wednesday, the National Science Board is publishing a report on the “State of U.S. Science and Engineering” as part of the Science and Engineering Indicators, its biennial collection of statistics and analyses. In the latest cycle, the board has revamped its approach to producing the Indicators, releasing parts of it individually rather than all at once, with the aim of providing more frequent and focused updates. It has already released chapters on the research workforce, science education, and publications output. Previewing takeaways from the latest release, a media advisory states, “Since the start of the 21st century, other nations, especially in East and Southeast Asia, have heavily invested in science and engineering education and grown their research and development enterprise as they adopt the American playbook that has brought the U.S. prosperity, underpins our national security, and has transformed our lives. This worldwide increase in S&E activity translates into a decline in the U.S. global shares of R&D investments, high R&D industry output, S&E publications, and other S&E measures.”
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The Department of Energy announced last week it is moving ahead with a proposal to transform Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, shown here, into a new nuclear science facility called the Electron-Ion Collider.
(Image credit – BNL)
The Department of Energy announced on Jan. 9 that it has selected Brookhaven National Laboratory as the site for the Electron-Ion Collider, a proposed nuclear science facility that the department estimates will cost between $1.6 billion and $2.6 billion. Brookhaven’s proposal for the collider calls for it to be built as a modification of the lab’s existing Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider. DOE granted the project initial approval on Dec. 19 and plans will be further developed over a period of years before the final go-ahead is ultimately given to begin construction. Provided Congress appropriates the needed funding, the department estimates the collider will take about a decade to design and build. The project was originally recommended in the 2015 Long Range Plan for Nuclear Science, and a 2018 National Academies report endorsed its scientific value. The only other contender to host the collider was the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Virginia, which would have built it as an extension of its Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility. According to DOE, Jefferson Lab will still be a “major partner” as the project moves forward.
On Jan. 10, the Department of Energy released its solicitation of proposals for the Quantum Information Science Research Centers called for in the National Quantum Initiative Act. The department states it expects to award up to five centers, which together will receive up to $625 million in funding over a period of five years. Final proposals are due April 10 and are to describe multi-institutional collaborations that employ multi-disciplinary teams and blend together basic research, engineering, and technology development. The National Science Foundation has already initiated its process for awarding a counterpart set of QIS centers.
The Department of Energy announced on Jan. 8 that it is launching an “Energy Storage Grand Challenge” initiative that aims to “accelerate the development, commercialization, and utilization of next-generation energy storage technologies.” The effort will comprise R&D funding opportunities, prizes, and partnerships, among other components, with the objective of sustaining American leadership in the field and securing a manufacturing supply chain that is “independent of foreign sources of critical materials” by 2030. DOE will manage the challenge through the Research and Technology Investment Committee it established early last year and plans to release a request for information to obtain stakeholder feedback on what specific issues the challenge should address.
Last week, the National Academies Space Studies Board released the statement of task for the upcoming planetary science and astrobiology decadal survey, which will set the field’s priorities for the years 2023 through 2032. While the survey will follow its predecessors in focusing on robotic missions to other planetary bodies, its additional focus on astrobiology is new and will encompass not only the search for life in the Solar System but also aspects of exoplanet research and the search for “technosignatures” of extraterrestrial intelligence. In addition, the survey will cover planetary defense, including both the scientific study of near-Earth objects and, for the first time, the hazards they present to Earth. Another new feature of the survey will be its consideration of planetary science opportunities involving crewed space missions, which has become a more important issue in light of NASA’s expedited plans to return astronauts to the Moon. The state of the planetary science profession will also be on the agenda, following in the footsteps of the astronomy and astrophysics decadal survey due for release about a year from now. According to the planetary science survey’s notional schedule, it will start accepting white papers from the research community next month and its leadership will be announced at the annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in March.
Update (1/14/2020): The National Academies has temporarily removed the statement of task from its website pending potential revisions.
The House Science Committee announced on Jan. 9 that Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX) has taken over as Energy Subcommittee chair from Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA). Lamb, who remains on the subcommittee, stepped aside after joining the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee late last year. In turn, Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) is taking over Fletcher’s previous role as chair of the Environment Subcommittee and giving up her job as Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee chair. That spot will be filled by committee member Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL), who was a physicist at Fermilab before joining Congress in 2008.
The House Science Committee approved the Promoting Research and Observations of Space Weather to Improve the Forecasting of Tomorrow (PROSWIFT) Act by voice vote on Jan. 9. The bill, which is sponsored by Reps. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and Mo Brooks (R-AL), is similar to the Senate’s Space Weather Research and Forecasting Act, which the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee advanced last April. However, before the committee approved the bill, it adopted an amendment introduced by Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK), which would require the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to establish a pilot program for obtaining space weather data from the commercial sector. Noting the program would expire after four years, Lucas said his amendment “balances the need to help ensure there is a market for a commercial space weather data with the existing roles of the federal government and the academic community.” A similar provision appeared in a previous version of the legislation that the committee advanced in 2018.
On Jan. 8, Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee released a draft framework for climate legislation that sets an overarching goal of achieving a “100 percent clean economy by 2050,” defined as reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. Titled the Climate Leadership and Environmental Action for our Nation’s (CLEAN) Future Act, the draft bill will include provisions covering the power, building, transportation, and industrial sectors as well as a focus on clean energy workforce development. Beyond setting various renewable power and emissions standards, the bill will feature several R&D-oriented provisions. These include creating an Assistant Secretary for Manufacturing and Industry at DOE who would coordinate the agency’s industrial efficiency initiatives, establishing a technology commercialization program for carbon capture and utilization, and creating a prize competition for direct air capture. The draft framework notes the committee plans to add provisions covering climate resilience, community transition, agriculture, financial issues, and international cooperation, among other areas. The committee expects to release the text of the draft legislation by the end of the month.
Last week, the White House released a draft memorandum with guidance for federal agencies on how to approach the regulation and oversight of technologies that use artificial intelligence. The memorandum is a component of the Trump administration’s AI initiative, which has been one of the Office of Science and Technology Policy’s foremost priorities. It instructs agencies to avoid adopting “unnecessarily precautionary approaches” and enumerates 10 principles they should consider when weighing the costs and benefits of potential regulations. U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios stated in an op-ed that the principles represent a “light-touch” approach to regulating AI that also aims to “protect privacy and promote civil rights, civil liberties, and American values.” The memorandum also provides examples of ways agencies can reduce barriers to the deployment and use of AI, such as increasing public access to federal data and models. Areas that are defined as falling outside the memorandum’s scope include the government’s own use of AI technologies and the regulation of far-afield AI technologies that could approximate human intelligence.
Know of an upcoming science policy event either inside or outside the Beltway? Email us at fyi [at] aip.org.
The White House Office of Management and Budget is seeking comments on a draft memorandum providing guidance for federal agencies on “regulatory and non-regulatory approaches regarding technologies and industrial sectors that are empowered or enabled by artificial intelligence.” The memorandum also includes guidance on ways to “reduce barriers to the development and adoption of AI technologies.” Comments are due March 13.
Bipartisan Policy Center is accepting applications for policy analyst position focused on energy innovation. The individual will work with the center’s energy project team, which researches “low-carbon energy technology development (including nuclear, carbon capture, carbon removal, and advanced renewables), deep decarbonization, energy infrastructure, and other related issues.” Applicants should have a strong technical and policy background and two to four years of experience in a relevant field.
The National Academies’ Space Studies Board is accepting applications from currently enrolled undergraduate students for its summer space policy internship. Among other responsibilities, interns will conduct short-term research projects that contribute to the board’s ongoing study projects. Applications are due Feb. 3.
For additional opportunities, please visit www.aip.org/fyi/opportunities. Know of an opportunity for scientists to engage in science policy? Email us at fyi [at] aip.org.
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