On Tuesday, the National Science Board released “The State of U.S. Science and Engineering,” a report that highlights trends from Science and Engineering Indicators, its biennially updated collection of statistics and analyses. The report states that while no nation is the “world leader in all aspects of S&E,” the U.S. serves as a “keystone” of the global scientific ecosystem in that it “bridges nations and geographic regions, connects demographic groups and disciplines, and links sectors together.” However, the report argues that to maintain this role, the U.S. must respond to urgent workforce challenges by addressing persistent inequities in science education, making higher education more affordable, and continuing to welcome foreign students and scientists. NSB is required to submit the S&E Indicators report to Congress every two years, though in 2020 it began publishing thematic reports on a rolling basis to provide more timely and focused updates. Reports previously released in the current cycle address topics such as STEM workforce, science education, academic R&D, and publications output. NSB is holding a briefing on the new report on Thursday.
The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology is meeting on Thursday and Friday, with the first day focused on efforts to improve measurement and monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions. A panel of five weather and climate experts will discuss the issue, including two co-authors of a multinational white paper proposing a satellite constellation architecture for monitoring carbon dioxide and methane emissions from space. White House science adviser Eric Lander highlighted the importance of global emissions measurements at the American Geophysical Union’s annual meeting in December, saying, “To get to net-zero by 2050, we’re going to need actual, near-real time measurements and monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions over the entire planet — so we can hold everyone’s feet to the fire, including our own.” The second day will focus on efforts to accelerate innovation in energy technology. The council will hear from a panel that includes Jigar Shah, head of the Department of Energy Loan Programs Office, and Harry Atwater, a professor at Caltech and director of the DOE-funded Liquid Sunlight Alliance. Other speakers include leaders of the Fusion Industry Association, the Clean Air Task Force, and The Engine, a science-focused venture-capital organization founded at MIT.
The House Science Committee is meeting on Wednesday to consider a set of bipartisan bills that could potentially be included in the innovation policy package that Congress is expected to finish negotiating this year:
On Thursday, the House Science Committee is holding a hearing on the progress of NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration program. The agency expects to undertake the program’s first mission this year, an uncrewed flight around the Moon, and it reported in November that a first crewed lunar landing is unlikely to take place any earlier than 2025. However, an internal audit released weeks later concluded that the previous goal of a crewed landing in 2024 is apt to be missed by “several years,” and it projected the program’s cumulative budget requirement for fiscal years 2012 through 2025 will be more than $90 billion. The Science Committee has consistently pressed NASA to provide firmer details about its plans and expectations for the Artemis program’s progress, and committee Democrats have also sought to steer the program to ensure it remains focused on the eventual crewed exploration of Mars. (Update: The hearing has been postponed.)
On Tuesday, a National Academies committee tasked with identifying opportunities at the interface of chemistry and quantum information science will hold its first open session to hear from its sponsors at the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy. The study committee will examine both how QIS could advance chemistry, such as through the simulation of chemical systems using quantum computers, and how chemistry could advance QIS by, for instance, developing molecular systems that enable more advanced quantum technologies. The committee will also identify interdisciplinary collaborations and laboratory infrastructure needed to drive progress at the intersection of chemistry and QIS. The panel is chaired by Theodore Goodson III, a professor of chemistry and macromolecular science and engineering at the University of Michigan.
The American Meteorological Society’s annual meeting begins on Sunday as a virtual event, after the rapid spread of the omicron coronavirus variant compelled its organizers to cancel most in-person events planned in Houston. The town hall sessions include discussions of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s plans to support the “emerging climate services enterprise,” the recently formed Interagency Council for Advancing Meteorological Services, and efforts to forecast and mitigate the effects of space weather. Among the keynote sessions is a panel discussion on compounding weather and climate risks, featuring, among others, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and White House climate science official Jane Lubchenco. AMS’ annual student conference will remain a hybrid meeting. (AMS is an AIP Member Society.)
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy released a report last week that proposes five new principles for maintaining scientific integrity across all federal agencies, building off an Obama-era push on the topic that outlined six principles for ensuring integrity in federal research. The new principles involve allowing scientists to “freely voice the legitimate disagreement that improves science”; applying scientific integrity policies across all of government, including agencies without a scientific portfolio, and to all employees, including contractors and political appointees; enabling scientists to actively participate in the decision-making process; supporting transparency in sharing science; and ensuring the consequences of violating scientific integrity policies are “on par with violations of government ethics.” The report responds to an executive order President Biden issued his first week in office that directed OSTP to review federal agencies’ scientific integrity policies and identify means to prevent “improper political interference.”
In laying out the new principles, the report points to a few notable examples of scientific integrity violations in recent years, including the scandal that erupted over political officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration criticizing local forecasters’ communication of Hurricane Dorian’s path, which contradicted statements made by President Trump. The report states that such violations “damage trust in both science and government” and “erode the morale and innovation of federal scientists and technologists.” The report defers on precisely defining what scientific integrity entails, noting that “policies must be tailored to the specific mission of each agency, while adhering to common principles across all agencies.” It also states that OSTP will work over the coming months to “develop a plan for the regular assessment and iterative improvement of scientific integrity policies and practices.”
On Jan. 10, Kate Calvin joined NASA as its chief scientist as well as in the recently created role of senior climate advisor. Calvin is an Earth scientist and earned a doctorate in management science and engineering from Stanford University. For the last 13 years, she has worked at the Pacific Northwest National Lab's Joint Global Change Research Institute in College Park, Maryland. She contributed to the institute’s Global Change Analysis Model, which explores the dynamics of the coupled human-Earth system, as well as a new Earth modeling system designed for use on the Department of Energy’s forthcoming exascale computers. At a press conference on Jan. 11, Calvin talked about her interest in connecting NASA's climate science research with other NASA projects and specifically mentioned how water reclamation systems on the International Space Station might be adapted to help communities facing water shortages, and how the space station's carbon dioxide removal systems might inform carbon capture technologies on Earth. Space physicist Jim Green stepped down as NASA chief scientist at the beginning of January after nearly four years in the position. NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies Director Gavin Schmidt had been serving as acting senior climate advisor since the agency created the position last February.
NASA announced on Jan. 11 that it intends to solicit proposals one year from now for astrophysics “probe” missions that would cost up to $1 billion to develop. The division has been contemplating initiating such a mid-scale mission class for years but was awaiting endorsement from the National Academies decadal survey process, which it has now received. The solicitation will follow the survey’s recommendation that the first probe mission provide either far-infrared or X-ray observational capabilities. In early 2024, NASA plans to select two or three mission concepts for further studies before making a final selection in mid-2025. Speaking about the announcement at a town hall event, Astrophysics Division Director Paul Hertz noted the $1 billion figure does not include certain costs such as the launch vehicle, which when added aligns the full cost of probe missions with the survey’s recommended $1.5 billion cost cap. Concerning the survey’s recommendation to begin preliminary work toward building a multibillion-dollar infrared-optical-ultraviolet space telescope, Hertz said NASA will immediately begin supporting relevant technology development and “precursor science.” Then, in “a few years” and pending budget availability, the agency plans to follow through on the associated recommendation to set up a dedicated program for maturing such flagship mission concepts.
The Department of Energy announced last week that it is creating a “Clean Energy Corps” comprising the current staff of more than a dozen offices and 1,000 new workers it expects to hire. The department is aiming to build a “team of industry veterans, experienced technical experts, and the next generation of climate leaders” that will work to accelerate clean energy R&D and the deployment of new technologies. To undertake what it states is the largest staff expansion in its history, the department is relying on a special hiring authority included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. DOE is set to receive $62 billion for clean energy initiatives through the new law, and its implementation will require DOE to dramatically scale up its project oversight capabilities.
On Jan. 11, the Senate confirmed information-technology policy expert Alan Davidson as the head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration on a vote of 60 to 31. Davidson has held policy-oriented senior executive positions at Google and most recently the Mozilla Foundation, as well as think tanks focused on technology policy. He was also the Commerce Department’s first director of the digital economy during the Obama administration. The digital economy will be the foremost topic on Davidson’s agenda as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provides over $48 billion that the agency must spend on projects to improve broadband internet services across the U.S. (The agency’s fiscal year 2021 operating budget for broadband programs was just $25 million, supporting 29 employees.)
Also, in its role as coordinator for federal users of radio spectrum, NTIA is confronting a series of disputes related to potential interference from advanced telecommunications equipment operating in newly opened frequencies. For example, concerns over potential interference with weather-satellite observations and the Global Positioning System have pitted various agencies against the Federal Communications Commission, the independent regulatory agency that licenses commercial spectrum use. Currently, the Department of Transportation and U.S. airlines are urgently alleging that the imminent launch of new national 5G wireless networks threatens frequencies reserved for use by automotive safety devices and aviation navigational aids. These ongoing controversies have raised calls in Congress and elsewhere for improved coordination across agencies in analyzing and allocating spectrum use.
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NASA’s Science Mission Directorate is accepting applications for the director of its Astrophysics Division. The director leads a staff of approximately 35 at NASA headquarters and oversees an annual budget of about $1.5 billion. Applications are due March 21.
The American Chemical Society is hiring a public policy specialist to support its government affairs team, splitting time between research support, policy analysis, and statement drafting. Applicants should have a degree in a relevant technical subject and between two and five years of experience, preferably in a government affairs role or on Capitol Hill.
The California Council on Science and Technology is accepting applications for its year-long fellowship in the California State Legislature. The program aims to increase the capacity of the legislature to develop science-informed legislation, while also providing fellows with first-hand experience with the policymaking process. Scientists and engineers with a doctorate or equivalent degree are encouraged to apply. Applications are due March 1.