Federal Science Partners Periodic Update

Mid-Term Elections Outcomes –Democrats will be in the majority in the House in the new Congress that convenes in January 2019, while Republicans have retained control in the Senate.   Out of the 424 House races called as of today, the Democrats have 226 seats and the Republicans have 198 seats with 218 needed to constitute the majority.  Of the races called so far Democrats have gained 31 seats.  At the current time, the current estimate is that Democrats will have 230 seats in the House, Republicans will have 205 seats.  In the Senate, Republicans appear to have increased their majority by 3 seats by winning North Dakota, Missouri, and Indiana. One Senate race, between Cindy Hyde-White (R) and Mike Espy (D) in Mississippi, is headed to a run-off later this month.  As this is written, the Senate race in Montana is still too close to call with about 2000 votes separating challenger Matt Rosendale over incumbent Senator Jon Tester.  The Senate race in Arizona also remains too close to call between Rep. Martha McSally and Kyrsten Sinema.  The Senate race in Florida between Governor Rick Scott and Senator Bill Nelson appears to be headed for a recount.

For those concerned about leadership of Congressional committees that oversee science agencies such as NSF, NOAA, and NASA, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) won his race against Beto O’Rourke.  Senator Cruz currently chairs the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness. 

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), chairman of the full House Appropriations Committee is retiring.  With the chairmanship moving over to the Democrats, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) is currently the most senior Democrat on the Committee.  Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) lost his seat to Lizzie Fletcher.  Rep. Culberson had chaired the House Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Subcommittee, the Subcommittee that funds NSF, NASA, and NOAA.  With the Democrats taking over the House, Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY) is the current ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee but whether he takes the chairmanship of this Subcommittee or some other Subcommittee will be decided in the coming weeks.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) is expected to chair the House Labor-HHS-Ed Appropriations Subcommittee, the Subcommittee that funds NIH.  Rep. DeLauro has been a strong supporter of funding for NIH, however there are many other agencies and programs in that bill that are also popular among Democrats and given the current restrictions in domestic discretionary spending, continued increases for NIH are likely to be difficult in face of competing Democratic priorities in this bill.

Another significant change will be at the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee where Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) is expected to become the new chair.  Rep. Lamar Smith is retiring.  As this update is written, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who has served in the Congress for 30 years, is trailing his challenger, Harley Rouda.  Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) is expected to be the senior Republican on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.  Rep Barbara Comstock (R-VA), the chair of the House Research and Technology Subcommittee which oversees NSF, lost her re-election bid.  It is important to remember; however, these committee and subcommittee leadership decisions will not be made for several weeks.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson released a statement already saying that she “cannot wait to get to work” and wants to call the committee the “Committee of the Future.” She listed three priorities, including:

·      Ensure that the United States remains the global leader in innovation, which will require attention to a wide range of activities: promoting effective STEM education solutions, engaging the underrepresented minorities and blue collar workers in the STEM fields, supporting a robust federally funded R&D enterprise and emerging areas of science and technology, defending the scientific enterprise from political and ideological attacks, and challenging misguided or harmful Administration actions;

·       Address the challenge of climate change, starting with acknowledging it is real, seeking to understand what climate science is telling us, and working to understand the ways we can mitigate it; and finally,

·       Restore the credibility of the Science Committee as a place where science is respected and recognized as a crucial input to good policymaking.

President Announces New National Science Board Appointments – On November 5, the President announced the appointment of seven people to fill available vacancies on the NSF’s National Science Board (NSB).  The individuals appointed include:  Maureen L. Condic, Suresh V. Garimella, Steven Leath, Geraldine Richmond, S. Alan Stern, Stephen Willard, and Maria Theresa Zuber to the NSB for six-year terms expiring in May 2024. Dr. Zuber and Dr. Richmond are re-appointments to the NSB for a second six-year term.

Department of Energy Announces Funding Opportunity in High Energy Physics – The Department of Energy has posted its latest funding opportunity in high energy physics (HEP) for FY 2019.  A copy of that solicitation can be found here.  The HEP program focuses on three experimental scientific frontiers: The Energy Frontier, where accelerators are used to create new particles, reveal their interactions, and investigate fundamental forces; The Intensity Frontier, where particle beams and highly sensitive detectors are used to pursue alternate pathways to investigate fundamental forces and particle interactions by studying events that occur rarely in nature, and to provide precision measurements of these phenomena; and The Cosmic Frontier, where non-accelerator-based experiments observe the cosmos and detect cosmic particles, making measurements of natural phenomena that can provide information about the nature of dark matter, dark energy, and other fundamental properties of the universe that impact our understanding of matter and energy. Together, these three interrelated and complementary discovery frontiers offer the opportunity to answer some of the most basic questions about the world around us.

Also important to the mission of HEP are three cross-cutting research areas that enable new scientific opportunities by developing the necessary tools and methods for discoveries: Theoretical High Energy Physics, where the vision and mathematical framework for understanding and extending the knowledge of particles, forces, space-time, and the universe are developed; Accelerator Science and Technology Research and Development, where the technologies and basic science needed to design, build, and operate the accelerator facilities essential for making new discoveries are developed; and Detector Research and Development, where the basic science and technologies needed to design and build the High Energy Physics detectors essential for making new discoveries are developed. The three frontiers and the three cross-cutting research areas are collectively the six research subprograms supported by HEP.  Letters of Intent are due by December 5, 2018 and the deadline for full proposals is January 22, 2019.

National Institutes of Health Announces Intent to Issue Funding Opportunity (FOA) for Bioengineering Research Partnerships – NIH intends to issue the Bioengineering Research Partnerships Funding Opportunity Announcement in January 2019 with an expected application due date in February 2019.   The FOA will continue to encourage bioengineering applications that will accelerate the development and adoption of promising tools and technologies that can address important biomedical problems.  The objectives are to establish these tools and technologies as robust, well-characterized solutions that fulfill an unmet need and are capable of enhancing our understanding of life science processes or the practice of medicine.  Awards will focus on supporting multidisciplinary teams that apply an integrative, quantitative bioengineering approach to developing technologies, and engage biomedical researchers or clinicians throughout the project.  The goal of the program is to support projects that can realize meaningful solutions within 5 – 10 years.  

NOAA Announces Funding Opportunity for Regional Ocean Acidification Observing -- The NOAA Research Ocean Acidification Program (OAP) is soliciting proposals for studies investigating ocean acidification monitoring strategies that would offer an observing system design that best characterizes and tracks ocean acidification within U.S. Large Marine Ecosystems (LMEs) optimized towards characterizing the conditions most relevant to ecologically and economically important marine species.   For more information, review the program solicitation available here

NSF Announces Funding Opportunities in Navigating the New Arctic (NAA) “Big Idea” – On October 25, NSF released a program announcement seeking proposals for its new initiative called, Navigating the New Arctic. NNA seeks innovations in Arctic observational networks and fundamental convergence research across the social, natural, environmental, and computing and information sciences, and engineering that address the intersection of natural, social, and built systems. NNA promotes initiatives that empower new research communities, diversifies the next generation of Arctic researchers, integrates the co-production of knowledge, and engages partnerships, particularly among international stakeholders. NNA also strongly encourages projects that include or focus on advancing STEM education and workforce development objectives on the scientific themes including: improved understanding of Arctic change and its local and global effects that capitalize on innovative and optimized observation infrastructure, advances in understanding of fundamental processes, and new approaches to modeling interactions among the natural environment, built environment, and social systems; new enhanced research communities that are diverse, integrative, and well-positioned to carry out productive research at the intersections of Arctic natural and built environments and social systems; and research outcomes that inform U.S. national security and economic development needs and enable resilient, sustainable Arctic communities.  NSF anticipates making 25 awards worth approximately $30 million under this solicitation.

NSF Announces Funding Opportunity for Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers (MRSEC) – NSF’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers (MRSECs) program provides sustained support of interdisciplinary materials research and education of the highest quality while addressing fundamental problems in science and engineering. Each MRSEC addresses research of a scope and complexity requiring the scale, synergy, and multidisciplinarity provided by a campus-based research center. The MRSECs support materials research infrastructure in the United States, promote active collaboration between universities and other sectors, including industry and international organizations, and contribute to the development of a national network of university-based centers in materials research, education, and facilities. A MRSEC may be located at a single institution, or may involve multiple institutions in partnership, and is composed of up to three Interdisciplinary Research Groups. 

In an effort to preserve balance in the nation’s materials research portfolio, proposals are sought that address complex materials problems that are intellectually challenging and important to society. Such proposals should belong to and/or broaden the current MRSEC research portfolio or aligned with DMR's participation in some of the NSF Big Ideas specifically including:  Harnessing the Data Revolution; The Future of Work at the Human-Technology Frontier; Understanding the Rules of Life; The Quantum Leap. In addition, potential research topics to broaden the current MRSEC portfolio include, but are not limited to: Use of supervised and unsupervised Machine Learning addressing materials science complex problems, and in particular as applied to traditional materials science problems in ceramics, metals, metallic alloys and others.

Finally, a few additional strategic research areas of DMR interest have also been identified: Synthetic Materials Biology: in such an effort biologists and system engineers work with materials scientists to identify materials challenges hindering advancements of Synthetic Biology, as well as to generate new Synthetic Biology approaches to materials development i.e., "Materials Biology"; Structural Materials under Extreme Conditions: this effort addresses fundamental challenges in ceramic, metallic, and polymeric materials and their composites for applications under extreme conditions; Recyclable Plastics and Alternative Materials for Sustainable Development: these efforts could include the development of intrinsically recyclable polymers, a better understanding of mechanical properties of recycled plastic products, strategies to improve the properties of recycled plastics, and materials alternatives for plastics.  Based on availability of appropriations, approximately $31.5 million is expected to be available to support 8 to 10 centers.

NSF Announces Funding for Data Science Corps – NSF has released a solicitation entitled, Harnessing the Data Revolution (HDR): Data Science Corps (DSC).  NSF’s Harnessing the Data Revolution (HDR) Big Idea is a national-scale activity to enable new modes of data-driven discovery, allowing fundamentally new questions to be asked and answered in science and engineering frontiers, generating new knowledge and understanding, and accelerating discovery and innovation. The HDR vision is manifested by a coordinated set of program solicitations resulting in an ecosystem of interrelated activities enabling (i) research in the foundations of data science; frameworks, algorithms, and systems for data science; and data-driven research in science and engineering; (ii) advanced cyberinfrastructure; and (iii) education and workforce development —all of which are designed to amplify the intrinsically multidisciplinary nature of the data science challenge. The HDR Big Idea will establish theoretical, technical, and ethical data science frameworks, and apply them to practical problems in science and engineering, and in society more generally.

The Data Science Corps is one of the components of the HDR ecosystem, focusing on building capacity for harnessing the data revolution at the local, state, national, and international levels to help unleash the power of data in the service of science and society. The Data Science Corps will provide practical experiences, teach new skills, and offer teaching opportunities, in a variety of settings, to data scientists and data science students. It will also strive to promote data literacy and provide basic training in data science to the existing workforce across communities. As a first step in establishing the Data Science Corps, this solicitation focuses specifically on enabling participation by undergraduate students in the Data Science Corps, by supporting student stipends for participation in data science projects and supporting integration of real-world data science projects into classroom instruction.  NSF anticipates that about $10 million will be available for between 8 to 11 awards.

National Science Board Statement on Security and Science – On October 24 the NSB released the following statement on security and science: 

Fundamental research is built on open exchanges of ideas and information. These scientific values mirror American ideals of freedom, a combination that has helped our country lead the world in technology, driven our economy and that, in turn, protects our freedom. As the Administration warned in its 2017 National Security Strategy, “Losing our innovation and technological edge would have far-reaching negative implications for American prosperity and power.”

While there are domains where openness can be detrimental to national competitiveness or security, the National Science Board (NSB) strongly reaffirms the principle behind President Reagan’s National Security Decision Directive 189 (NSDD-189): “our leadership position in science and technology is an essential element in our economic and physical security. The strength of American science requires a research environment conducive to creativity, an environment in which the free exchange of ideas is a vital component.”

This policy also dictates that “to the maximum extent possible, the products of fundamental research remain unrestricted,” and specifies that “where the national security requires control, the mechanism for control of information generated during federally funded fundamental research in science, technology and engineering at colleges, universities and laboratories is classification.”

This principle was reaffirmed by Undersecretary of Defense Ashton Carter in 2010, and earlier by Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Condoleezza Rice, who noted in 2001: “The key to maintaining U.S. technological preeminence is to encourage open and collaborative basic research. The linkage between the free exchange of ideas and scientific innovation, prosperity, and U.S. national security is undeniable.”

The National Science Board strongly agrees, and further emphasizes that the United States’ commitment to freedom of inquiry, innovation, and the marketplace of ideas has helped the U.S. grow, attract, and retain our world-class science and engineering workforce….

The full statement is available here.