The Monthly SWE Newsletter
April 2014
Public Policy

Enlightening Video Stories Reveal Science and Engineering Behind the 2014 Winter Olympic Games

The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently partnered with the educational arm of NBC News, NBC Learn, to release a 10-part video series called "Science and Engineering of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games."

The videos are the latest installment in NSF's and NBC Learn's Emmy Award-winning "Science of Sports" series. Narrated by NBC Sports' Liam McHugh, the enlightening and educational video collection delves into the physics, engineering, chemistry, design and mathematics behind the world's foremost sporting event.

The segments feature a variety of sports stories, as told by some of the world's top athletes and record holders, along with perspectives and innovative research from leading NSF-supported engineers and scientists. The series' diverse topics reveal how key engineering and science concepts and cutting-edge technology play an integral part in each athlete's respective sport, helping to maximize their performance at the 2014 Sochi Games.

The new "Science and Engineering of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games” include:

  • Alpine skiing and vibration damping: Skiers Heath Calhoun, Julia Mancuso with Kam Leang, a professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, and Tom Watson, of Watson Performance in Hood River, Ore., describe how advanced materials and engineering help reduce unwanted vibration, optimizing the performance of athletes.
  • Engineering competition suits: Speed skater Shani Davis. At the 2014 Olympics, long track speed skater Shani Davis will be wearing what may be one of the most advanced competition suits ever engineered. Under Armour Innovation lab's Kevin Haley and polymer scientist and engineer Sarah Morgan, of the University of Southern Mississippi, explain how competition suits help improve athlete performance by reducing friction and improving aerodynamics.
  • Engineering faster and safer bobsleds: Bobsledders Steve Holcomb, Steve Langton with Michael Scully, of BMW DesignWorks USA, and mechanical engineer Mont Hubbard, professor emeritus at the University of California, Davis, explain the engineering challenges associated with making sleds faster and tracks safer.
  • Injury and recovery: Skier Lindsey Vonn with biomedical engineer Cato Laurencin, at the University of Connecticut Health Center, describes his pioneering work in tissue regeneration, a field of research that could help athletes recover faster from knee ligament damage—the same injury that will cause alpine ski racer Lindsey Vonn to miss the Sochi Olympics.
  • Engineering the half pipe: Snowboarder Shaun White with mechanical engineer Brianno Coller, a professor at Northern Illinois University, explains how engineers design the half pipe so that snowboarder Shaun White can get more air time and allow him to perform tricks.

Each episode is available cost-free to teachers, students and the public at NBCLearn.com and NSF websites (NSF.gov, Science360.gov), accompanied by both science and engineering-focused lesson plans developed by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) for middle- and high-school teachers.

For additional information, visit here.

NSF Data Reveals Recent U.S. Research and Development Growth, also Shows Declines in Federal Funding for Research and Development

New data collected by the National Science Foundation (NSF) have resulted in an upward revision of the 2011 U.S. research and development (R&D) performance total, and further expansion of U.S. R&D performance is indicated for 2012. This new data puts U.S. R&D expenditures at $428.2 billion in 2011, an increase of $20.5 billion over 2010. The preliminary estimate of the 2012 U.S. total for R&D is $452.6 billion.

After accounting for inflation, R&D grew at a faster rate than the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2011. Preliminary data for 2012 indicates similar findings. This growth is in marked contrast to data for 2009 and 2010, which showed essentially no growth in R&D, even while GDP did expand both years. This data showed that the renewed increase in business R&D contributed most significantly to the improved U.S. R&D numbers for 2011 and 2012.

The new data is available here.

Despite this positive news, recent data also collected by the NSF indicates that the federal budget authority for R&D and the R&D plant budget together totaled $134 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2013, an estimated 7.1 percent decline from FY 2012.

The FY 2013 decline stems from federal spending cuts and sequestration mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011.

The average annual growth in R&D federal budget authority from FY 2007-10 increased each year at a rate of 1.6 percent. In contrast, between FY 2010 and FY 2013, federal budget authority dropped sharply (-3.1 percent in FY 2011, -0.4 percent in FY 2012 and -7.1 percent in FY 2013).

National defense typically accounts for at least half of the annual federal budget authority for R&D and R&D plant ($72 billion in FY 2013, or 54 percent). A sizable portion of the remainder goes toward the broad categories of health ($30 billion in FY 2013), space flight, research and supporting activities ($11 billion) and general science and basic research ($10 billion).

To review the data, visit here.

National Science Foundation Details U.S. Doctoral Degree Recipient Data

The National Science Foundation recently released a report titled “Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2012,” unveiling trends in U.S. doctoral education.

The American system of doctoral education is considered to be among the world's best, as evidenced by the large and growing number of international students who choose to pursue doctoral degrees at U.S. universities each year. Many of these students are among the top students in their respective countries.

Annual counts of doctorate recipients are a direct measure of the investment in human resources devoted to science, engineering, research and scholarship. These can serve as leading indicators of the capacity for knowledge creation and innovation in various domains. Understanding the themes outlined in this report is critical to making informed improvements in this country's doctoral education system.

Trends in the report can be examined in greater depth through accompanying online resources, including an interactive version of the report and 70 detailed data tables available as PDF and Excel files.

For detailed information, visit here.

NASA Offers Space Tech Grants To Early Career University Faculty

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Space Technology Mission Directorate is seeking proposals from accredited U.S. universities on behalf of outstanding early career faculty members who are beginning their independent careers. The grants will sponsor research into specific, high priority areas of interest to America's space program.

Aligned with NASA's Space Technology Roadmaps and the priorities identified by the National Research Council, the agency has identified topic areas that lend themselves to early stage innovative approaches. U.S. universities are encouraged to help solve space technology challenges, including:

  • Advances in flexible and form-changing machines. Soft machines are hybrids of soft and hard materials that are inherently resilient against impact and unexpected collision. Soft machines hold promise for performing in situations where flexibility is required and it is difficult to predict when contact may occur, such as when planetary rovers traverse extreme terrain or when robotic manipulators operate in close proximity to humans.
  • Creation of an innovative capability for manufacturing ground and space structures. This research topic area seeks technologies in materials design, process modeling and material behavior prediction that will lead to new lightweight and multifunctional materials and structures.
  • Development of low size, weight and power lasers that could be used for lower-cost, lighter-weight Earth science space platforms. Advanced lasers also may enable reliable, higher data rates while requiring less size, weight and power on future interplanetary space missions.

NASA expects to award up to five grants this fall, funded up to $200,000 each, per year for as many as three years, based on the merit of proposals and availability of funds.

Notices of intent to submit proposals to the Early Career Faculty Appendix of NASA's Research Announcement "Space Technology Research, Development, Demonstration and Infusion 2014 (SpaceTech-REDDI-2014)" are due Feb. 14. The deadline for submitting final proposals is March 14.

For information on the solicitation, including specific technological areas of interest and how to submit notices of intent and proposals, visit here.

SWE to Hold Capitol Hill Day March 5-6, 2014

The SWE Government Relations and Public Policy (GRPP) Committee will once again be organizing a spring Congressional outreach day on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.  Please consider attending this event, entitled “Diversity and Inclusion Drives Innovation in STEM,” which will be held March 5-6, 2014. This event will increase awareness of the need for and the importance of increased diversity and inclusion in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce.

SWE is taking the lead in organizing this event. To date, 32 STEM and diversity organizations are co-sponsors. SWE’s 2014 Capitol Hill Day will begin promptly at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, March 5, 2014 (there is an optional lunch at Noon) and conclude by 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 6, 2014. The meetings will be held at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill and in meeting rooms on Capitol Hill. This event is being made possible by a grant from the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation.

While there are no specific volunteer travel funds available for this event, some meals will be provided for attendees.

Please note: Space is limited and reservations will be handled on a first-come, first-served basis. Geographic diversity will also be considered.

If you are interested in participating or have any questions, please contact Paula Stenzler, GRPP Chair.

NIST Programs for Undergraduates, Teachers, Precision Measurements Announced

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is advertising available grants in a pair of programs aimed at undergraduate students and middle school teachers, as well as the latest round of the agency's long-running Precision Measurement Grants program.

The NIST Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program provides an opportunity for undergraduate students to spend a summer working with the NIST research staff on projects in a wide variety of disciplines at either the main NIST laboratories in Gaithersburg, Md., or its laboratories in Boulder, Colo. Applications are made on behalf of the students by their academic institutions. Applications must be received by Feb. 14. Full details of the program, rules and the application process are available at Grants.gov under funding opportunity 2014-NIST-SURF-01. For additional information, please visit the website.

The NIST Summer Institute for Middle School Science Teachers program is a two-week workshop at NIST's Gaithersburg, Md. campus, which combines lectures, tours and hands-on activities that educators can recreate in their own classrooms. The program aims to increase teachers' understanding of the subjects they teach, provide materials and resources to implement what they have learned at NIST in the classroom, enhance their enthusiasm for science, increase teachers' understanding of how scientific research is carried out and provide them with the opportunity to develop an ongoing network of scientists and engineers at NIST who will be available for consultation even after the NIST Summer Institute program has ended.

Public school districts or accredited private educational institutes in the United States and/or its territories that offer general science classes at grade levels 6-8 are eligible to nominate teachers to participate. Individual teachers do not apply directly, but through their schools or school districts. Applications must be received by March 12. Full details of the program, rules and the application process are available at Grants.gov under funding opportunity 2014-NIST-SUMMER-INSTITUTE-0. For additional information, please visit the web page.

Since 1970, NIST has sponsored its Precision Measurement Grants Program (PMGP). Awarded primarily to researchers at universities and colleges, the grants enable them to conduct significant research in the field of fundamental measurement or the determination of more precise values for fundamental constants of nature. NIST sponsors these research projects primarily to encourage basic, measurement-related research in universities and colleges and other research laboratories. The PMGP is also intended to make it possible for researchers to pursue new ideas in measurement science for which other sources of support may be difficult to find.

NIST anticipates funding two projects at most, depending on the availability of funding, for up to three years at $50,000 per year. Eligible proposers are accredited institutions of higher education; hospitals; nonprofit organizations; commercial organizations; state, local and Indian tribal governments; foreign governments; organizations under the jurisdiction of foreign governments; international organizations; and federal agencies with appropriate legal authority. Applications must be received by May 6. Full details of the program, rules and the application process are available at Grants.gov under funding opportunity 2014-NIST-PMGP-01. More information can be found on the website.

Budget Deal Passed, FY14 Appropriations Levels Under Discussion

Prior to their mid-December adjournment, the House and Senate passed legislation setting overall discretionary program funding limits for FY 2014 and FY 2015, which was then signed by President Obama. Passed with bipartisan support in both chambers, appropriators are now able to write final funding legislation for this fiscal year, which started Oct. 1.

The measure gives House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) a total budget of $1.012 trillion for all discretionary programs (including R&D) in FY 2014. Rogers and Mikulski are now tasked with finalizing funding allocations to their subcommittees. Determining these allocations will be difficult for some of the subcommittees, including those funding the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Department of Education. In general, the total amount of funding is viewed as sufficient for the FY 2014 appropriations bills.

Appropriators will have more money to work with as compared to the limit previously set by the Budget Control Act of 2011 since the measure reduces the mandatory budget cut (sequestration) for FY 2014. The measure’s level of $1.012 trillion is roughly midway between total spending with, and without, sequestration. Non-defense discretionary spending will increase 4.8 percent to $491.8 billion compared to what it is now under sequestration. Defense discretionary spending will increase 4.5 percent to $520.5 billion compared to what it is now under sequestration.

Congress returned to work Jan. 6 after the holiday recess. Time is limited for Members to vote on the FY 2014 funding legislation that will be in the form of a large “omnibus” bill or several smaller consolidated bills before funding expires on Jan. 15. While the agreement provides more funding for FY 2014 than would have been available under sequestration, it will still require some difficult choices. For instance, appropriators must reduce defense-related spending by tens of billions of dollars from their preliminary plans, with there being some concern that R&D funding might be reduced to protect military personnel and related benefits.

SWE to Hold Capitol Hill Day March 5-6, 2014

The SWE Government Relations and Public Policy (GRPP) Committee will once again be organizing a spring Congressional outreach day on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Please consider attending this event, entitled “Diversity and Inclusion Drives Innovation in STEM,” which will be held March 5-6, 2014. This event will increase awareness of the importance and need for increased diversity and inclusion in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce.

SWE is taking the lead in organizing this event and is in the process of reaching out to other STEM organizations to solicit their interest in participating. SWE’s 2014 Capitol Hill Day will begin promptly at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, March 5 (there is an optional lunch at noon) and conclude by 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 6. The meetings will be held at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill and in meeting rooms on Capitol Hill. This event is being made possible by a grant from the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation.

More details are forthcoming. While there are no specific volunteer travel funds available for this event, some meals will be provided for attendees.

Please note: space is limited and reservations will be handled on a first-come, first-served basis. Geographic diversity will also be considered.

If you are interesting in participating or have any questions, please contact Paula Stenzler, GRPP Chair.

New Reports Attempt to Show The Impact of Sequestration

Several new reports have been released that show the harmful impact of sequestration on the nation as a whole, including on U.S. scientific pursuits.

The first study sponsored by the Association of American Universities (AAU), the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and the Science Coalition (TSC) surveyed leaders from 171 public and private research universities. Seventy percent of the responding universities cited delays in research projects and experienced reductions in the number of new research grants. Also, 58 percent reported a negative impact on research-related personnel.

The Non-Defense Discretionary (NDD) United report offers data and personal stories from individuals from across the country who are impacted in a variety of sectors, including science, education, public health and job training. These stories include quotes from many students about how sequestration has made their pursuit of careers in scientific fields more difficult due to the lack of certainty about future funding.

A summary of the first study can be found here.

The NDD United report can be found here.

House Subcommittee Examines Draft Bill Supporting Federal Research and STEM Programs

The House Science, Space and Technology’s Subcommittee on Research and Technology recently held a hearing to review draft legislation that would reauthorize important research and science programs at several federal agencies. The draft of the “Frontiers in Innovation Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) Act” would reauthorize fundamental science and research activities at the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institutes for Standards and Technology (NIST) and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). In addition, the draft bill would direct the coordination of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education programs.

Research and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Larry Bucshon (R-IN) said of the bill, “The FIRST Act discussion draft affirms our commitment to high-integrity science and transparency of research results. As our country continues to face a fiscal crisis, part of our challenge is how to achieve the most benefit from our limited resources — both now and in the years ahead. We recognize that in a time of tight budgets in Washington, it’s even more important to preserve as much stability in federal funding as possible.”

The panel of four witnesses expressed a number of concerns with the legislation, including the lack of provisions to help spur regional innovation, the lack of authorization funding levels, the changes to NSF’s merit review process, the lack of a broadening participation provision to encourage women and minorities to enter STEM fields and the embargo period in the public access provision.

In her opening remarks, Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said, “this draft seems to be dominated in both tone and volume by everything that some of my colleagues believe NSF and scientists are doing wrong, and contains very little in the way of a vision for the future. I am also confused why the draft strikes two sections of existing law establishing broadening participation as an important part of NSF’s mission when the changing demographics of this country should make efforts to broaden participation in STEM a no-brainer.”

Related to the NSF merit review process, Dr. Timothy Killeen, president of the Research Foundation and vice chancellor for research at the State University of New York, said, “My personal experience with NSF is that it is a magnificent National asset. We don’t want to throttle it back, nor do we want to have the self-policing to where there are clear infractions of integrity and accountability. This is the delicate balance that you have to face.”

To review the FIRST Act, the witnesses’ prepared testimony and to view an archived web cast of the hearing, go here and click on the appropriate links.

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