A Periodic Federal Science Update

Department of Energy Requests Information on Advanced Manufacturing Traineeships:  The Department of Energy (DOE) funds university-led traineeship programs that address workforce training needs in key technical focus areas. DOE funded Traineeship Programs are designed and implemented to advance specific Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) workforce competencies required for DOE’s missions.  In July 2015, the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) released a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) to address emerging needs in graduate training enabling preparedness for the field of advanced Power Electronics Engineering careers beyond those in academia. As a result, EERE made two competitively-selected awards supporting five-year graduate-level programs in Power Electronics Engineering, leveraging existing DOE assets including the wide band gap National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) Institute, PowerAmerica. The purpose of this Request for Information (RFI) is to gather from industry, academia, research laboratories, government agencies, and other stakeholders on issues related to future EERE-funded and advanced manufacturing-funded graduate-level Traineeships. This RFI is not a FOA; therefore, DOE is not accepting applications at this time. All responses to this RFI must be received no later than 5:00pm (ET) on October 14th, 2016. The full content of the announcement can be found on the EERE Exchange website.

NAS Releases “Progress Report” on Implementing Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey:  While scientists have made remarkable advancements in astronomy and astrophysics since the beginning of this decade – notably the first detection of gravitational waves and the discovery of distant Earth-like Planets – unforeseen constraints have slowed progress toward reaching some of the priorities and goals outlined in the Academies’ 2010 decadal survey of these disciplines, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The report calls for NASA, National Science Foundation (NSF), and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) – the federal agencies largely responsible for funding and implementing these research activities – to maintain, and in some cases adjust, their programs in order to meet the survey’s scientific objectives. The 2010 survey, New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics (NWNH), identified an array of scientific and technical projects for the next decade that would trace back the formation of the first stars and galaxies, seek out black holes, reveal nearby habitable planets, and advance understanding of the fundamental physics of the universe. The new report is an assessment of the progress made thus far by NASA, NSF, and DOE on the suite of large, medium, and small scale programs given priority in the survey, including NASA’s Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) and the NSF/DOE’s Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST).

NIH Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) Community-based Data and Metadata Standards Effort:  This Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), under the Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) initiative, is to provide time-limited, catalytic support for activities necessary to develop or extend/refine data and metadata standards and/or related tools in areas relevant to the NIH basic, translational, and clinical research mission. Projects can support activities at any point in the data standards lifecycle and should build on existing partnerships, infrastructure, and resources whenever possible. Projects must demonstrate a compelling science community interest and need for standards efforts in the specific domain(s) of interest, as well as a plan for meaningful engagement of the end-user communities and relevant stakeholders in the process. The data standard and any associated tools or products developed should be made freely available to the scientific research community via a curated, searchable portal. Projects should address long-term maintenance and sustainability of the data standard after the period of the NIH award; issues to be considered include approaches for dissemination, evaluation, and updating/refinement. Both short-term and longer-term projects are eligible.

NIH BRAIN Initiative: Foundations of Non-Invasive Functional Human Brain Imaging and Recording:  This funding opportunity announcement (FOA), in support of the NIH Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, aims to support transformative discoveries that will lead to breakthroughs in understanding human brain function. Guided by the long-term scientific plan, BRAIN 2025: A Scientific Vision, this FOA specifically seeks to support efforts that will revolutionize our understanding of the biological activity underlying, and bioinformatic content of, data collected using contemporary non-invasive functional brain imaging techniques. The hope is that these transformative discoveries will lead to breakthroughs in understanding the dynamic activity of the human brain.

White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Issues a Call to Action to Improve STEM Education: As part of the release of the President’s 2017 Budget proposal, the Administration highlighted a comprehensive STEM for All effort, which prioritizes three areas for investment in STEM education to expand access and opportunity for all students: Improving STEM teaching and supporting active learning; Expanding access to rigorous STEM courses in middle and high school, including in computer science, and; Addressing bias and expanding opportunities for underrepresented students in STEM

The first component of this STEM for All effort is implementing effective teaching strategies in STEM classrooms at all levels, including those that incorporate research insights about active learning. Active learning strategies, in which students must engage, think, and solve problems, have been shown to increase retention of knowledge; develop higher-order skills such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation; and increase student retention in STEM fields. Active learning strategies include experiences such as: Authentic scientific research or engineering or software design in the classroom to help students understand the practice of science, technology, and engineering and promote deep learning of the subject matter; Interactive computer activities to support students’ exposure to trial-and-error and promote deep learning; Discussions to encourage collaboration and idea exchange among students; and Writing to generate original ideas and solidify knowledge.

On August 17, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy issued a call to action to educators in K-12 and higher education, professional development providers, non-profit organizations, Federal agencies, private industry, and members of the public to participate in a nationwide effort to meet the goals of STEM for All through the use of active learning at all grade levels and in higher education. In issuing a call to action for active STEM learning, OSTP is seeking commitments to implement active learning strategies in STEM fields as well as actions and efforts that will encourage others to do so, including: (1) incentives for PK-12 educators and higher education faculty to implement active learning strategies, (2) investment in professional development opportunities for instructors at every level of education, and (3) training materials and resources for educators to promote the help them use active learning.  Learn more about this Call to Action here.

National Science and Technology Council Issues Report on Improving Consistency in R&D Data Reported by Agencies:  Virtually every analysis of U.S. scientific and technical activity uses as its foundation the data on Federal research and development (R&D) spending collected through the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) surveys of Federal agencies. The data are used by government, academia, industry, and a host of nonprofit analytical and advocacy groups as the primary source of information about Federal spending on R&D. These data are also used by Federal agencies, the White House, and Congress as the basis for making budgetary and policy decisions about the Federal R&D enterprise. As a recent National Academies (2010) report states, the data are "used to reach conclusions about important and fundamental policy questions, such as whether a given field of research is being adequately funded, whether funding is balanced among fields, whether deficiencies in funding may be contributing to a loss of U.S. scientific competitiveness, and which agencies are most important for the health of a scientific discipline." For all of these reasons, it is important for these data to be accurate, timely, high quality, and to be collected as efficiently as possible. On August 11, the National Science and Technology Council’s Committee on Science released a report describing the steps agencies are taking to insure the consistency, accuracy and quality of R&D data being reported.  Download a copy of this report here.