American Institute of Physics: The Week of July 8, 2019

Science Committee to Spotlight Disappearing Glaciers and Ice Sheets

The House Science Committee has invited five scientists to testify at a hearing Thursday on the worldwide recession of glaciers and ice sheets. Alongside decreases in the seasonal coverage of sea ice, the retreat of permanent masses of land-based ice represents one of the most visible early effects of climatic warming. Melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet and the rapid deterioration of parts of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet are anticipated to be major sources of sea level rise over the remainder of this century and beyond. The disappearance of mountain glaciers, meanwhile, threatens to disrupt water supplies in many parts of the Earth. NASA, the National Science Foundation, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration all support research portfolios dedicated to studying these issues.

House Begins Floor Consideration of NDAA

The House is scheduled to consider its version of this year’s National Defense Authorization Act on the floor this week. The Rules Committee is meeting on Tuesday to decide which amendments will receive a vote, many of which relate to science and technology policy. The House is expected to pass the bill, sending it to a conference committee that will reconcile it with the version the Senate passed late last month. While neither the House nor Senate are entertaining major new R&D policy initiatives this year, numerous provisions under consideration would modify current efforts in areas such as research security, climate change resilience, artificial intelligence, microelectronics production, and quantum information science.

Export Control Conference to Focus on Emerging Technologies

The Department of Commerce’s annual conference on export controls begins this week with a spotlight on “emerging technologies, strategic trade, and global threats.” Responding to recent legislation, the department is currently developing export controls on emerging technologies, and identified 14 “representative” categories of interest last year, including quantum information technology, advanced materials, and artificial intelligence. A number of scientific societies and universities have warned that such controls could harm U.S. innovation if implemented too broadly. The department is also expected to implement analogous controls on “foundational technologies” but has not yet issued a notice of rulemaking. A number of major business associations have urged the department to provide 90 days for such a notice, as opposed to the 30 days initially provided for its emerging technologies notice. In a separate effort, the department recently implemented new multilateral controls in five emerging technology areas, including post-quantum cryptographic algorithms.

Science Committee to Consider Future of Space Station

NASA’s long-term plans for the International Space Station and other activities in low Earth orbit will be the focus of a hearing on Wednesday convened by the House Science Committee. The Trump administration has proposed to begin transitioning ISS operations to commercial entities by 2024, and in June NASA released a plan for expanding commercial use of the station and permitting private astronaut missions. Reacting to the plan, Space Subcommittee Chair Kendra Horn (D-OK) issued a statement indicating she intends to review the plan “as we thoughtfully consider the best pathway to transition beyond the long and successful operation of the unique ISS facility.” Among the witnesses for the hearing are the head of NASA’s human space exploration directorate, Bill Gerstenmaier, and NASA’s inspector general, Paul Martin.

Trio of Energy Research Bills Moving in House

On Wednesday, the Energy Subcommittee of the House Science Committee is meeting to consider three newly introduced research bills: the Solar Energy R&D Act, Fossil Energy R&D Act, and Wind Energy R&D Act. The text of the bills is not yet posted, though committee members previewed some of their interests and concerns at hearings on solar and wind technologies in May and fossil energy research in June. All three bills have Republican cosponsors, none of whom are on the Science Committee. At the May hearing, Subcommittee Ranking Member Randy Weber (R-TX) criticized spending increases recommended in the draft solar and wind bills, saying the industries are mature, obviating the need for intensified federal support for applied R&D in those areas.

Bipartisan Energy and STEM Bills on Deck in Senate

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is meeting Tuesday to receive testimony from two Department of Energy officials on a number of bipartisan energy storage and R&D bills, including the Better Energy Storage Technology Act, Promoting Grid Storage Act, Expanding Access to Sustainable Energy Act, Joint Long-Term Storage Act, and the Launching Energy Advancement and Development Through Innovations for Natural Gas Act. The Committee will also consider the Reducing the Cost of Energy Storage Act, which currently does not have a Republican cosponsor. Later this week, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will also hold a markup at which it will vote on the bipartisan Supporting Veterans in STEM Careers Act and Global Leadership in Advanced Manufacturing Act, among 11 other bills.

DOE Advisory Panel to Review Research Priority Reports

The Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee, which serves the Department of Energy, is meeting Thursday and Friday in Rockville, Maryland. Among the items on the agenda are discussions of two recently released National Academies reports. University of Texas chemical engineer Joan Brennecke will present on a study she chaired that outlines a research agenda for separations science. The field concerns the division of chemical mixtures into their distinct components and is employed in industrial and environmental applications, among other areas. Yale University chemist Nilay Hazari will discuss a separate study on research needs related to the utilization of gaseous carbon waste streams. Linda Horton, who heads DOE’s Materials Science and Engineering Division, will also report on a recent workshop the department sponsored on basic research needs related to manufacturing. Near the end of the meeting, Chris Fall, the newly confirmed director of the DOE Office of Science, will make his first presentation to a DOE advisory committee, offering a general update on the office’s activities.

NOAA Science Advisory Board Discussing New Tech

This week’s meeting of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Science Advisory Board will feature discussion of new technologies and data systems. The board will receive a briefing on the agency’s plans to establish an office that would coordinate the use of unmanned systems for ocean exploration and research. NOAA requested $4 million for the office in its budget request for fiscal year 2020, which would address requirements of the Commercial Engagement Through Ocean Technology Act signed last year. The agenda also includes a session on “data science and public-private partnerships” that will review cloud computing technologies developed by Microsoft and Amazon.

Additional Lunar Science Payloads Picked

NASA announced on July 1 that it has selected seven new science payloads and five technology demonstrations that will fly to the Moon on landers provided through the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. The 12 payloads join 12 others selected in February. A month ago, NASA also picked commercial lander missions that will convey as many as 23 of these payloads to three scientifically appealing destinations on the Moon’s near side between September 2020 and July 2021. The agency indicated at that time it would choose which payloads will fly on which landers by the end of this summer. NASA regards the CLPS program as pioneering a new model for missions that intertwines scientific and commercial activities and it intends for the program to pave the way for the crewed lunar landing planned for 2024.

STEM Education Proposals Proliferate in Congress

Last week, Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) introduced the Building Indigenous STEM Professionals Act, which would build on the federal government’s support for the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program to offer grant funding to STEM education programs for Native Alaskan and Native Hawaiian students. The legislation adds to a series of recently introduced bills focused on STEM education:

  • The Keep STEM Talent Act would waive caps on green cards for foreign nationals who earned a STEM master's degree or higher from a U.S. institution and are employed or have a job offer in a STEM field in the U.S. This bill would also permit foreign nationals who are applying for student visas to declare their intent to seek permanent residency in the U.S. after graduation. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and three other Democratic senators are sponsoring the legislation.
  • The DOE National Labs Jobs ACCESS Act would create a program that provides five-year grants for pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship training activities focused on technical skills needed at the Department of Energy’s national laboratories. Several members of Congress with DOE labs in their states are sponsoring the bill in the House and Senate.
  • The STEM K to Career Act would provide loan forgiveness to eligible full-time STEM educators and create a tax credit for certain employers that hire STEM interns. It also would require universities to allocate at least 7% of their federal work-study program funds to STEM students. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Eric Swalell (D-CA), who first introduced it in 2015.
  • Swalwell has also reintroduced the Fairness in Forgiveness Act, which would enable full-time employees of DOE’s national labs to participate in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.
  • The bipartisan Building STEAM Education Act and STEM to STEAM Act would direct the National Science Foundation to incorporate art and design components into certain STEM education programs.

Source: American Institute of Physics